Thursday, December 4, 2014

Doing More Of What Makes You Happy
A post by Lynne Suprock

This past October, Sallianne shared the heartfelt inspiration behind what will be the 2015 ART IS YOU mantra.  Many of you know that one of our treasured art sisters, Allison Stilwell, passed earlier this year, but left us with memory and the hope to live what we more of what makes us happy, and to grow and blossom in kindness.

 I do often wonder why we lose sight of what is wonderful in our lives and neglect the happy.  Are we too busy, too fixated, too sad or angry about something?  Do the worries overcome us? Have we lost something, or someone, or ourselves? As many of us know, life is just too, too short for all those not being happy moments. 

 While we live and breathe, we have been blessed with the potential for doing wonderful and great things.  No one accomplishes their best or can help others to rise above, if they are sad or unhappy themselves.  What should we do to get out of that funk?

So the answer just might be to find what makes us happy and do more of it, right?  We want more of the kind of happy that is like the flame that kindles our heart, or like the rain that washes us anew.

While much can be said about being happy, what makes one person happy is not always the same as what makes another happy.  As well, doing more of what makes you happy doesn't actually mean, having more of what makes you happy.   You have to find the happy, engage the happy, and then spread it all around to other people in the hopes of making them happy too.  Doing more of that kind of happy is a good thing.

OK so maybe happy also comes with a few indicators.  Let's review.

There are various levels of smiles that can most certainly occur. On a happy scale of 1 to 10,  the grin, comes in at a 1, and the uncontrolled belly buster laugh scores a 10.

There might also be the warm, wonderful feeling of serenity, or even the explosive nature of excitement, as if a child at an amusement park, that comes over a few happy people. 

Happy makes for more productive moments, more enjoyable moments, and more special moments, that remain with us and become some of our most wonderful and precious memories.

And I think we can all agree that happy makes us feel better generally.  If we need to heal or regroup, we do better if we can find and surround ourselves with what makes us happy.

A few of the things I do this time of year to make me happy include quite a few right brain endeavors.....photographing winterscapes, singing those holiday carols (off key, of course), cooking something new, petting and snuggling with my cats, visiting friends and family who I don't have time to see much the rest of the year, and organizing, organizing, organizing.  (oops that is definitely left brain happy!)

one special happy snuggle kitty

What I plan to do in 2015 is a bit more art related happy.  I am going to play with my paints for a change, and seriously begin sewing again.  I will make pilgimages to see art sister friends, support new art girl businesses, and visit my grand baby.  I am going to play the piano when I cannot sleep, and I am going to throw out ALL the shoes that don't fit, and Zentangle some of the pairs that do.  I am going to make art from the heart gifts and continue to give them away to those who could use a smile.

Most times, hands down, I definitely find my happy when I teach.  That's why Art Is You, in fact, is one of my happy places. Where better to pass along your happiness than at an art retreat, either as student or teacher, embracing the moment and sharing oh, so much, with kindred spirits?  

So what are some of the things you do that make really, truly make you happy? Can you do more of it, and how do you pass it along?

Share some of what you do to make you happy and try to do MORE of it in the coming year.    

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Art is You Stamford: Mary Beth's Stencil Girl Dance Party

About halfway through the evening of cake and doodling and stencils and laughter, Mary Beth danced by me, shaking her thang, and said, "This is exactly what I hoped it would be!"

Who would have guessed how well dancing + doodling go together, right? But, oh, my, they do. The fun was contagious. Way up in the bar on the next level, in fact, a young man sitting on a stool was swaying in time to our music, and sedate couples out for a stroll stopped to look over the railing (we invited them to come on down and join us, but maybe next time). Somewhere in the hotel, a dog sang along.

In case you're not familiar with Stencil Girl designs (and how is that possible?), you can go here. And if you somehow missed the fun, keep on scrolling for a little peek and an invitation to our next Dance Party~~

Community in Solitude

I recently posted a photo on Facebook:
For us introverts, this makes perfect sense. It's not that we don't ever want to be around other people; it's that it's something we have to plan for: it can be exhausting, even if we love you. It can make us grouchy, even if we're having a great time. It can make us seem rude even when we're working really, really hard to use all our social skills and our Big Girl Manners.

For me, being in the midst of a fabulous, thriving, involved art community—say, a town with all my favorite creative people—would be overwhelming. I'd want to be involved, but after a while, I'd have to hide out in my closet with a book and some cats. Therefore, I've discovered, art retreats are perfect: they last for a little while, and then you get to go home and be by yourself BUT: you're home by yourself but you're surrounded by the people you like best.


OK, so I can speak only for myself, but for me, this is the way it works: I love few things more than sitting and stitching, and I like doing it in public (if no one forces me to interact too much), and I most especially love doing it with other people sitting around doing whatever they do: knitting or sketching or painting or beading or whatever. And that's what I get to do a lot of at Art is You. In the evenings, people gather in the lobby or the bar, esp. in Stamford where there's a nice, big space with lots of comfy places to sit and big coffee tables for spreading out your stuff, and they bring whatever they're working on and a glass of wine and hang out. People show each other how to do stuff—Juliana Hudgins was showing people how to use her Jewel Loom, and I showed Keith Lobue how to do teensy little mending stitches for his fabulous vintage coat—and sometimes they talk and sometimes they sit and listen, and it's relaxed and people are laughing and it's just the best. (And because there's usually a largish group, when we introverts have had too much stimulation, we can sneak out and go to our room and breathe quietly.)

And then, when I get back home, and I'm sitting by myself (well, not really: I never sit by myself because as soon as I sit down, the cats immediately hear the sound of a lap being formed and materialize from out of nowhere to claim me as furniture), I'm imagining what everyone else is working on because I know that, somewhere, someone I know is doing something fabulous at that very minute. Maybe Kecia is weaving. Maybe Mary Beth is editing video. Maybe everyone I know is doodling in their journals. Wherever they are and whatever they're doing, though, there's something in the air, something that now flows through the ether, like a creative web that's running amongst us. My friend Wendy believes that there's a river of creativity flowing through the universe all the time, and we can step into it whenever we want. River, web—however you like to think of it. I like to imagine we've added to it and that now, no matter where we are or how far away we are from everyone else on the planet (that would be me), our creative spirits are connected and are weaving wonderful new stands of our web.

For us introverts who also crave a creative community, it doesn't get much better than this.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Art Retreat Fun - By Elizabeth St Hilaire Nelson

Today marked the end of an AMAZING art retreat in Petaluma, CA called Art Is…YOU. This was the first time I have taught for Salianne and Ellen. In fact, this was the first time I ever heard of Art Is…YOU, but it's been going on across the US and in Australia for a number of years now.   Read On ...

Sunday, October 12, 2014


Whether it was a brush, a needle or a weeding spade, Allison Stilwell lived what she loved, but in her last days she created an artistic composition that passed not from her hands but from her lips and it now sits for all of us in our hearts and minds.  

Mantras of LOVE AND LIFE!

In 2015 we want you to stand up and do more of what you love!

In 2015 we want you to act in kindness!

We are honored to dedicate 2015 to Allison Stilwell's Opus...

We dedicate 2015 to Allison's Act of Kindness - AAOK

Together we will record our AAOK's...

Together we will do more of what we LOVE!

Together we will come - united in acceptance, love, family and most importantly in ART

Please join us as we celebrate 10 YEARS OF ART AND FAMILY!

Friday, October 10, 2014

I Can Die Happy

You know how, every once in a while, you have one of those optimal experiences that make you think that if you were to walk out the door and step off the curb and accidentally find yourself in the path of a speeding semi, whereupon you'd be immediately flattened, you would go out being totally pleased with the world? That feeling? I've felt that on a number of days, like the day my husband and I walked into a voodoo shop in the French Quarter in New Orleans, and I saw one of my voodoo dolls hanging from the ceiling, twirling slowly in the breeze from the ceiling fan. And I told Sal and Ellen this morning that if I go today, I will die happy, because our Morning Motivator this morning was perfect in every way.

I've been interviewing artists since 1991, when I started writing for Rubberstampmadess. The artists I interview are almost always really nice people, talented and generous. Often, however, I don't know anything about them ahead of time. Every once in a while I'll be given an assignment to write about someone I have heard about, and that's always fun. But one time, over a dozen years ago, I was given the assignment to write about Lisa Lichtenfels for Art Doll Quarterly, and I'm sure that, alone in my office, I squealed out loud. Of course I knew who she was, and of course I was familiar with her work. I had her book, Figures in Fabric: The Sculptures of Lisa Lichtenfels.  If you're at all familiar with figurative sculpture, aka art dolls, you know Lisa's amazingly lifelike soft sculpture work.

So I got to write about Lisa, and I was so fascinated by her work and her life that I asked her to be a contributor to my book, Living the Creative Life. Very generously, she said yes, and finding out more about her life, which really is an amazingly creative one, was a delight. Imagine my excitement this year when I found out she was going to be here at Art is You teaching a workshop. And when Sal agreed that having her as a Morning Motivator was a wonderful idea. Whoa!

We met last night in person for the first time, and this morning we did the motivator, and just let me say this: Lisa is funny. Omigod funny, the kind of funny where if you were just watching her and couldn't hear what she was saying, you might think she was just talking. But if you have the sound track, you realize this is someone with the kind of sense of humor that's not only hilarious, but kind and generous, as well.

Oh, yeah: don't forget smart and insightful, too. Do I sound like a total Fan Girl? You betcha. Her advice to artists was spot on, and I'm lucky that I was there to hear that part, the part where she talked seriously about the magic of living a creative life. It was one of those moments when the laughter stopped and you could hear a pin drop while she talked and then, when she finished, everyone broke into spontaneous applause. One of those priceless moments.

That's why we call them Morning Motivators, and this morning's was Lisa's gift to us.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Art Is Stamford, Here We Are!

And now we've all moved east, from Petaluma to Stamford, Connecticut, back to Art is You roots and what Sal calls, "Our East Coast Girls," only she says it in that fabulous accent of hers, so it comes out "Our East Coast Gulls," which I love.

We had our first Morning Motivator this morning, and it was wonderful: we start off with Getting to Know You, where we get up (with a microphone this time, too!) and tell a little about ourselves. I love hearing where people are from and what they love to do and why they're here. My favorite, of course, is when they share their Secret Unappreciated Talents, which range from fabulous singing to doing a chicken imitation to touching the tip of your nose with your tongue to still being able to do the splits (yes, we get real-life demos of all these things, and I'm so sorry if you've missed any of these).

Here's where we have the Morning Motivators and evening activities, which is a really nice, big space:
 Tonight we'll be doing Teach Me! and I'll have more about that later in the week. I can't tell you about it now because it's the very first time we've done this, and I have absolutely no idea what kinds of things we'll learn. I can't wait to find out. I'm bringing spoons, is all I know.

Here are Sal and Ellen in Command Central, with boxes and bags, notes and aprons and art and who-knows-what-else. This is where everyone comes to ask questions and find out where they're supposed to be when they're not sure where they are. Command Central, indeed.
Now I'm off to gather up some stitching and go hang out in workshops, sitting and stitching and reveling in the good vibes. The energy is palpable, and I get to go be right in the middle of it and report back~~

Friday, September 26, 2014

Jane LaFazio's Fabulous Fabric Adventure

OK, so the workshop was actually called Text and Textiles, but then I didn't actually *take* the workshop. I have, in fact, taken only 1 1/2 workshops in all the years I've been hanging out with mixed media people. I am so not good in workshops. But I love Jane's work, and I love being around other people who are stitching, and getting to  spend the day doing that was too enticing to resist. Jane generously let me come hang out in her classroom, and I sat with Tonia Jenny and pretty much spent 6 straight hours stitching. It was perfect.

Jane is a kind and generous and inspiring teacher, plus her classroom looks like this, which is what heaven looks like to stitchers:

These were her classes examples, and you can imagine what fun it was to get to watch her demonstrate all these techniques:

So that was something I've never done before, and isn't that amazing? I've been to tons of art retreats on both coasts over a dozen years, and this is the very first time I've spent the day hanging out in a classroom and absorbing the good vibes. And it was marvelous, and now I'm wondering what else there is that I might be missing. I think I'd better go find out, don't you?

If you're not here with us, we hope we see you in Stamford or somewhere along the Art is You trail next year. If you can't make it in person, though, we're always here online, sharing as many of our adventures as possible with.

Oh: to finish for now, let's have a photo of  The Official Art is You Photographer in a fedora for Pink or Punk Day:

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Floats & Flotillas: Way More Fun Than You'd Ever Imagine

Because, really: if someone invited you to come make a ship that would actually float and gave you a bag of stuff from the recycling store and told you you had an hour to work with a group of strangers to make it work, you wouldn't expect big fun and random hilarity, now, would you?

"No, Ricë, we wouldn't."

I know this is what you'd say because it's what I thought, too; but what we didn't take into account = artists, a long day behind them, cake, and *wine.*

Well, alrighty, then! That's a whole nother thang, as we say in Texas. And indeed it was. It was, in short, a total hoot. And way cute!




Intoxicated! (or pretending to be, re: pirates)
Below, Chef Danny, Our Judge:

 The launch:
The race:
The finish:
As of this writing, I have no idea who won, but you know what? It doesn't matter a single little bit. It was fabulous fun, more than I would ever have expected. If you missed it, I'm so, so sorry. I hope there's another one, and I hope you get to participate. And, truly, I hope this: that you remember to bring lots of duct tape and pipe cleaners. The really long, twisty ones.

Opening Day at Art is You Petaluma

Yesterday was officially the first day of Art is Petaluma 2014, and things are already hopping. We had a big crowd for breakfast and the first Morning Motivator, which is always lots of fun. This first one is called Getting to Know You, and it's our chance to reconnect with people we've met before and meet new people and find out stuff we didn't know about pretty much everyone. Here's the card we give people when they register:

My favorite part is the last one, about secret unappreciated talents. Some people say they haven't discovered theirs yet, and some have talents that are unappreciated but not secret, and then we have the others, the one like mine: I can imitate a cat so well my own cats will run up and sniff my mouth. I assume it's to see if I've swallowed a kitten, but it might just be that I'm making so much noise that they're worried I may begin to froth at the mouth and attack them all. Whatever. I demonstrated this talent, but I was immediately outstripped by the demonstration of imitating a chicken, which was most excellent and surely unappreciated, since few people grasp the wonder that is chicken-ry. Someone sang for us, and she was beyond fabulous.

Others had talents we wanted to see, but they said they'd demonstrate later in the day, after happy hour, perhaps: doing the splits, hula dancing, playing a tiny, tiny harmonica. You should make sure you're alert so you won't miss any of these when they occur, perhaps spontaneously in the lobby. What I love about Getting to Know You is that it's an easy way to break the ice. Most people here aren't shy, but some of us are, and it can be tough to go up and introduce yourself to strangers, ask if you can sit at their table, ask if you can borrow a pen or an X-acto knife or a piece of tape. But if you've sat next to someone who imitated a cat in heat over scrambled eggs and toast, it's much easier to talk to them later. I mean, really: what could you *not* talk to them about?

I try to get everyone to show up for the Morning Motivators. Sure, you've have to get up a little earlier. Sure, it's not quite like having your coffee in your jammies in bed. Sure, it's a pain to schlepp your stuff down to the meeting room. But it's worth it: it's one of the few times when all you have to do is sit, be entertained, and feel like part of a family. For the rest of the day you're going to be sawing and soldering, painting and cutting and glueing, stitching and slashing, but for that first hour, all you have to do is relax into the joy and energy of your tribe, your people, your art family.

Join us today, when I'll talk about publishing with Tonia Jenny, my editor at North Light Books. We'll talk about getting published, and there will be time for questions. And, of course, coffee!

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Gearing Up for Art is You in Petaluma

Today everybody else is hard at work doing physical stuff: setting up tables and putting plastic down on the floors and painting the walls and—oh, wait. In truth, I have no idea what they're doing because I'm up here in the room, going through photos and thinking about what a marvelous time we've had so far, and they're down there doing whatever it is they do. Which I will go find out soon enough, but not now. Now I want to tell you what we've done since we flew in Saturday night. Sal and Ellen picked us up in the van at the San Francisco Airport at some late hour. It was 10 pm here, I think, so that would have made it midnight for us. We got here, got settled in, and went to sleep at some other late hour, and four hours later we were all in the van again, driving back to the SF airport to pick up Andrea and Michael deMeng, who'd been up since The Crack o' Dawn flying in from Vancouver. But they looked fabulous:
Then we went to The Buena Vista, a little cafe on the water, which is famous for its Irish Coffees. So of course we all had to have one, right?
 That's Sal, of course, above, and Andrea and Michael, below.

 Then we went to the Golden Gate Bridge, which is even cooler up close and personal. We got to hike around, and I walked out on the bridge, thinking, of course, of earthquakes and wondering what it would feel like to be walking on the bridge during one. The only one I felt when I lived in California was one that occurred while I was in bed asleep—I woke up to my mother and father piling on top of me, thinking to save me, I guess, by cushioning me from falling debris. As it was, I was in more danger from being squished by parents than by a collapsing building. Anyway, the bridge:
Then we got to go to heaven, also known as Dharma Trading. I'd never been there, but I've ordered a veritable TON of stuff from them over the years. It was wonderful and funky, and a fellow Dharma fan/shopper came up and asked, "Are you Ricë?" and that was really cool. She reads my blog over at The Voodoo Cafe and knew of my love of Dharma. I think we need secret handshakes. I put in some polite requests (floss sold by the cone, a higher quality cotton jersey, stuff like that) and the nice woman wrote it all down just as if I weren't some stranger off the street wanting her to order stuff and not buying a single thing. I've got an order in the works at home, though, and it's not like I'm not a pretty steady customer. Hahahahahahahaha. Man, is that an understatement. . . .

So that was the first day, and I figured anything else would be anticlimactic, but, oh, honeys! I had no clue, because yesterday was just The Best Day Ever.

We got up again at some ungodly hour I don't even know, and we met in the lobby—Sal and Ellen, Michael and Andrea, me and The EGE—and we drove to Benecia, where we met up with the fabulous Sharon Payne Bolton and visited her studio, which is the kind of place you could wander around in all day long and never see everything, and then we were standing around visiting when Sharon pulled up in her fabulous Motor Coach. She was our guide and driver for the day, and her coach was prepared with snacks and flowers and wine and coconut fizzy water and music and good friends and pretty much every single thing you could want for a fabulous adventure.
Sharon's coach is a magical vehicle, with kitchen and bathroom and bedroom, and she pilots it expertly along the twisty little roads of the wine country, past trees with their leaves just beginning to turn and vineyards with vines laden with grapes ready for the harvest, and it was the best road trip EVER. Seriously.

Sharon's husband, Captain Harry, is best friends with Beau Barrett, who owns Chateau Montelena Winery, which you've heard of if you've seen the movie Bottle Shock. We met up with Richard and Jane Salley and had a tour and then went out to the little island for a wonderful lunch with wine.
 The food was good, the wine delicious, the weather perfect.

Here're Captain Harry and Sharon, looking amazing as always:
Then, late in the afternoon, Sharon drove us through the Napa Valley back to the Academy where the Captain teaches and they live on campus, and he cooked for all of us—salmon on the grill, salad, rice pilaf, all of it delicious and just perfect (with, guess what! more wine!)— and gave us a moonlight tour of the Golden Bear, his ship. Which is a reallyreallyreally big ship. Very big. Way big.

It was a marvelous day, perfect in every way. We couldn't have asked for it to be better. The weather, the food, the sights, the wine. But you may have already guessed what was the best part of all this. A lot of people went to a lot of effort to arrange all this, to take the day and create a wonderful adventure for people from all over: Connecticut and California, Canada and Texas and Australia. And we all met up and spent the day together laughing and talking and catching up. That's the amazing thing about this world we live in, this big world and then this much smaller world of mixed media art and then this even smaller world of Art is You, where there's a community of people spread out all over the globe that every now and then gets to come together and meet up and share adventures. And tomorrow more of our friends will be here from lots more far-flung places, and we'll hug and laugh and talk and Make Stuff, and it will be marvelous fun, as it always is when Sal and Ellen get together and create their world of Art is You. We can't wait to see you! XO

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

What Will You Make Room For?

Yesterday FedEx came and picked up two hefty boxes—over 100 lbs total—of Stuff that's now on its way to Art is You in Petaluma, which, by the way, is NEXT WEEK: yay!

Most of what was in the boxes was books. Lots and lots of books, many of them review copies from various publishers. But there was other Stuff, too: art and some projects. It was the kind of Stuff you certainly would never toss out or recycle, and you wouldn't want to donate it because you know there are people out there who would love to have it and would get good use out of it if only you can connect it with them. So I'd been waiting with all this Stuff in bins, and getting it out of the house was pretty huge, you know?

And after the nice young FedEx guy hauled out his trolly and took all this Stuff away, an amazing thing happened: I had An Idea. Sure, we get a lot of ideas, but this one seemed to come from nowhere, because it certainly wasn't something I'd been thinking about. Suddenly, it was just there.

[OK, an aside: on Saturday I'd bought a second-hand (or 3rd or who knows) jumper, one that had originally been hideously expensive. I brought it home, washed it, dyed it, and planned to wear it over jeans. But yesterday morning I suddenly had the idea to make a pattern from it and make some more, and I went out into the storage building and found enough already-dyed linen to make not one, not two, but FOUR of these in all the colors I love most. I made the pattern, sewed up the first jumper, tried it on, tweaked the pattern, and then laid out the fabric so I can start on #2. All this in between and around writing the first big draft of an article for an assignment. It was, in short, A Really Good Day.]

What I firmly believe—what I have come to believe in just the last year or so, as I follow this path I seem to have found myself on—is that as I get rid of Stuff that's been sitting around or hanging on the wall or filling shelves, it makes room for something else. Not more Stuff, oh, goodness, no! I have no desire to go out and buy new stuff. I seem to be over the part of my life where I enjoyed finding things to bring home. The only kinds of things I like to bring home now are the things I need to make clothes. I don't know why, but there it is.

What fascinates me is that the more Stuff I get rid of—and, as I've said many times, I've gotten rid of a ton of stuff, probably literally—the more ideas I have and the more energy and the more excitement about life and making and thinking. They say that Stuff expands to fill the space available to it, and maybe that's what's happening here: Stuff took up a lot of space, both physical and mental (cleaning it, storing it, insuring it, sorting it, digging through it to find other Stuff), and as it goes away, the other things—ideas, inspiration, energy—expand to fill the space that's become available.

Whatever. I'm not all that concerned with why this is happening; I'm just happy it's happening, and I'm like any other new convert: I want to spread the good word.

So: what do you wish you had more room for? (And, yeah, I know that sentence ends with a preposition, and we don't care, do we?) What is there that you've pushed to the back burner, the back of your closet, the back of your mind? An idea for a book? A design for a quilt? Jewelry-making tools you used in college? A collection of fabulous paper you planned to use Someday? What is it that could expand in amazing ways?

OK, let's do a for-instance here. Lots of people tell me they'd like to get back to sewing. Not that there are tons of people who want to sew, but people see me sewing in public and see how happy I am doing it, and it sparks some Good Sewing Memory (well, OK, not for everyone: lots of us have really icky memories of being forced to make buttonholes in jr. high home ec., but we'll just put those out of our minds, right?) I tell them, "Then you should!" and they alwaysalwaysalways say something like, "Well, I'm not sure where my sewing machine is," or "If I could put a sewing table in the dining room, which we haven't used since Reagan was in office," or "I've got so many projects started that I can't even find my fabric stash." Things like that. What I'd like to say to them next is: "If you got rid of all the crap you've got stored in your house and garage and attic and closets and spare bedrooms, you'd find what you need and have room to do whatever you want." But you can't tell people their stuff is crap. We have to figure that part out for ourselves, in our own time: that all this Stuff we've bought and brought home and saved so lovingly really doesn't matter a bit in the big scheme of live and love and joy.

The truth is that if you're busy and have a job and/or a family and/or a house, you don't have the time or energy to hunt for stuff when you have an idea or clean off space to set up your tools. You get an idea you'd like to pursue, and then you start thinking about where stuff (pins, fabric, scissors) might be and what you'd have to do to set up (set up the folding table for cutting the fabric, clear off the table to set up the sewing machine, move the lamp from the den to have better light), and you push that exciting idea out of your head because, frankly, it's just too much work. Do that often enough, and guess what? The ideas give up on you. They stop coming because they know they won't be welcomed and embraced. If every time you get an idea, you get frustrated and overwhelmed by all the things you'd have to do to follow it, ideas stop seeming like Good Things and start seeming, to your poor, cluttered brain, like Very Bad Things.

So please find me in Petaluma next week and talk to me: what would you do with some empty, bright, airy space? What would you hope would come to fill it up in the very best of ways? Let's talk; I have ideas!

Monday, August 18, 2014

A Simpler, More Creative Life: Let's Talk About (omg) Money

I just snorted. Seriously: sitting right here, typing the title, I snorted. Not because money doesn't have anything to do with a simpler, more creative life. It does. But because I'm pretty much the last person on the planet who should talk about money, like, ever. So I'm *not* giving advice here. No way. I'm just going to talk about my own experiments and adventures around money.

I've interviewed Teesha Moore a number of times for a variety of things (articles, podcasts), and once she said that in her life, pretty much everything she's ever touched has turned to gold. Not literally, of course. But she's an entrepreneur, and a good one, and all the various things she's started have done well. I admire this a lot. I am not an entrepreneur. I'm the opposite of one of those, whatever that opposite would be. A nontrepreneur? The idea of starting a business doesn't fill me with excitement; it fills me with sheer terror. While others salivate at words like "spreadsheet" and "DBAs" (Doing Business As) and "profit" and "5-year plans," I break out into a cold sweat. It's not that I'm a financial idiot or a basket case. No. I have no debt. We have insurance for pretty much everything. But when one of my jobs ended last year, one that was roughly half my income, I had to really think about what I was going to do. Midland, Texas, where we live, is in an on-going economic boom. If I wanted to go out and find a job, I could. Not a job doing what I love, but a job. Teaching English or subbing or working in animal care. Something I've done before. Even though I'm Of A Certain Age (when it's tough to find a job), the businesses here are desperate for workers because so many have gone to the oilfields.

But I didn't want to do that. Here's a confession that I would have never, ever made even five years ago, but hearing a friend say it made it possible: I didn't want to work that hard.

Whoa. Talk about something making you sweat: admitting that, that I don't want to work that hard, is still tough. But it's the truth: I want to do what I love (writing, talking to people about creativity, stitching) as much as possible and not spend more time making money. Money is not bad, and I need money, just like everyone else. But what I realized I wanted to do was not to figure out how to make more, but to figure out how to need less.

What does this have to do with you and your creative life, you ask. Sure: if you work less, you have more time. But beyond that? If, for instance, you want to be able to attend certain fabulous art retreats and would like to be able to save enough to do that. Or you want to buy a loom so you can make bigger pieces and maybe start to sell them, but you need to save up to get the loom you need. Like that.

I started by really looking at the things I was spending money on. Granted, I wasn't spending a lot of money on them, but considering that I didn't make a lot, anyway, every bit was something to consider. I looked at my website, for example. I never updated it. I didn't like it. I didn't need it (since I don't sell anything). So I got rid of it. I think that getting rid of the website and starting to simplify my life at about the same time was a much bigger step than it sounds. The website didn't cost a lot, but it was over $100 a year, and the bigger deal was that it was a huge mental weight. I always felt guilty for not keeping up with it better, but because I didn't use it and didn't like it, I had no interest in trying to make it cooler or up-to-date. Getting rid of it was like having a huge burden lifted off my shoulders. I have a blog (free) and Facebook presence (also free), and they don't demand stuff from me like a website did (figuring out how to lay out a page, for instance).

Jazzed, I started looking at other stuff. I was already trying to get rid of stuff—clothes, shoes, bags—so that everything I own is something I love. That makes it much easier to stop buying stuff, even stuff that makes me go, "Oooooooo!" like acid green Keen's sandals, the waterproof hiking ones that are good for your feet and so comfortable and that you can really justify because—just stop it!


We have two vehicles, both of which are getting up there in years and mileage. The older one has 120,000 miles, and I had been thinking that when it finally goes, we'd have to replace it. But I hardly ever drive anywhere any more: I stay at home most days, writing and stitching. When I have to do errands, I can usually get my husband to combine them with his, or I can let them accumulate and then do them all at once, maybe once a month. If we have only one car, that will mean less gas, less maintenance, less insurance. We live within walking distance of the library, the post office, the bank, the fabric store, the pharmacy—pretty much everything except a grocery store and the veterinarian.

Anyway, you get the idea: I'm looking at everything, from what I own to what I spend to where I go to how I get there. It all began for me as it can for you: I started by thinking about how I want to spend the rest of my life. What's my passion? What's most important to me? I see other people my age working as much as they can for as long as they can so they can buy a retirement house and maybe a boat. Maybe for them, that's their passion. Maybe saving up to travel the world is their passion. Maybe, though, you're like me, and your passion is making. Looking at everything that takes you away from that and figuring out what you really don't need/want that much? I hope it's as eye-opening for you as it has been is (I think it's a never-ending process) for me.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Living In Generosity is Good for You

I'm sitting here stitching, trying to finish up a project. In order to do that, I need to have a reason to sit in one place. Road trips are excellent for this. So is sitting and talking over wine at the wine bar we frequent. What's not excellent for this is sitting at home, trying to stitch. If I'm here, I can think of a million things I need to do, from making another cup of decaf to checking the laundry to sending an email to editing the last paragraph I wrote this morning.

So, sometimes, when I reallyreallyreally need to finish something, I watch a bunch of TED talks, and that's what I did today. I watched a playlist about happiness, and most of them were interesting and thought-provoking if not necessarily astounding or earth-shaking. There was one that really got me thinking, though: how generosity makes us happy.

OK, so all of us who attend Art is You know about Sal and Ellen's projects around Living in Generosity, and most of us who have participated will agree that helping others feels really good.  It turns out there have been studies that show this is kind of universal, this bump we get from giving.

It was the kind of revelation for me that made me stop with my needle in mid-stitch, mouth open in that "Aha" way where you realize something you hadn't thought about before. What I realized is that something that may have contributed to my increased level of happiness in the last, oh, five or ten years could well go beyond the stuff I've done about stress reduction and worrying and decluttering, all the way to giving stuff away. I've written before about giving away stuff, so I won't go into detail here. Suffice to say I've given away a ton of stuff, from art supplies to (as I mentioned before) a car to  diamond jewelry. Just a whole range, and to a whole range of people, from those I've never met to those I know in real life but not very well. Hardly anything went to anyone I'd known more than a year, so it wasn't as if I were dispersing things to lifelong friends or beloved relatives. Nope. I just gave myself the task of finding people who would enjoy things I didn't need any more.

And, as I said last time, one of the things I learned is that it's fun. It's really fun to give things to people. It's fun to donate money to a good cause, but it's also fun to have something you love that needs a new home and then try to find the home it needs. You know: you can wear it and wait until someone raves about it and then give it to them. You can post a photo on your blog or website or Facebook or Pinterest and see who really seems to love it.

Or you can just put stuff out there, like the Art Abandonment things people do at the retreats (I abandoned a lot of things in Olive Branch, and it was fabulous fun).

OK, here's a story that makes me smile: I had a typewriter key bracelet I'd had made back before I learned to solder. It said CREATE, of course, and I wore it but had realized I didn't need it and it needed a new home. We were having coffee at the Cafe du Monde in the French Quarter, and a young woman at the next table admired the bracelet. I took it off and let her try it on, and she was telling me that they were there on their honeymoon and it was their first trip. You know. And when she took the bracelet off to give it back, I said no, it was hers, a gift for her. She cried, which always unnerves me, but it was happy crying, and I like to imagine she wears the bracelet and it recalls for her all the happy memories of their honeymoon in New Orleans.

So. That's one story. You probably have one of your own. If not, maybe you can think of something you'd like to do. And if you don't have any ideas, Sal and Ellen can certainly help.

Not convinced yet? Then watch the TED talk and be inspired: