Friday, September 19, 2014

back to school

I've been trying to maintain a back-to-school vibe in the studio for the last couple of weeks. I went roaring in on September 2, with the idea of throwing off the remnants of summer vacation mode and kicking some ass. I threw a bunch of stuff, and got down to the work of it. Then I had this horrible, dark realization: I want to make new work and grow as an artist, and here I am working on a cake stand... again.

I think this thought sent out some weird energy out into my studio, because for the rest of the week I managed to "accidentally" crack, break, chip and snap every single piece I had thrown. By the end of the week, with virtually nothing left that was salvageable, I just had to laugh at myself. When it comes to monkey wrenching, my subconscious knows exactly when and how to bring everything to a grinding halt. Talk about back to school.

I spent a couple of days walking in circles, and then just decided to face it: I've gotten lazy, I like my comfort zone, and everything I think I've learned about being a perfectionist nutcase doesn't mean that much unless I apply it to my work and duke it out with my demons.

I started again this week, with the idea of trying for a balance: some safety zone work so I can feel like I'm actually accomplishing something, and pushing on some new things so I can hold myself accountable to being an actual artist and not just a producer.

It's uncomfortable, like stepping into a slightly too-steamy hot tub. I know it's going to be good at some point, but right now it's just really freaking hot. As I was having these uncomfortable moments, I kept reminding myself that this is what learning is like sometimes: you feel like everything is a mistake, but if you keep trying you eventually get some finesse, or find your way to a better path.

All new work eventually becomes a safety zone.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

quit your day job? maybe not.

A couple of months ago I was asked for advice on quitting a day job as a teacher to become a full-time potter. I've been screwing around with a response, trying to couch my answer in such a way that I don't squash anyone's dream, or offer stupid pat answers that you can get anywhere. In my draft queue, I have 3 posts al lined up and ready to publish that answer this question, and I can't quit put my finger on the button because I think all the posts basically soft-pedal the answer and make for a sucky read.

I can't base the answer on my own experience because I think my experience is not the norm, and there are a lot of reasons for that. For starters, I have never had a job that gave me health insurance, paid days off, a retirement plan, or hope for career advancement. For me to quit and pursue pottery was not a sacrifice of any kind of security.

Also, I am very talented at what I do. It was clear almost immediately when I started working with clay that I had a gift, and I advanced far more quickly than any of my classmates through the basics and up the learning curve. I had a job as an assistant within 18 months, because I was good enough to assist a professional potter that quickly. I have four close friends who make a living at pottery, so one may be fooled into thinking that anyone who is good at pottery can make a living at it. The thing is, these four friends are also supernaturally talented. Their work is copied and emulated by ceramic artists all over the country, if not the world. They are outliers.  I am an outlier.

I also know a few people who make a living at pottery who are maybe not the most talented or have the most artistic vision, but they work harder than anyone else. They endlessly promote themselves through social media, maintain multiple websites for selling, are constantly researching to figure out what to make next, go to every show they can get into, take every opportunity to show their work whether it pays or not, are expert production potters, and are in their studios 50-60 hours a week.

And by the way, the people I know who are supernaturally talented work this hard too.

To start your own art-based business takes a certain type of person to succeed, and you need to have a hard and honest look at yourself to know if you are that person. For someone considering quitting a teaching job, you have to ask yourself, "Did I become a teacher to answer a calling to teach, or did I become a teacher because it's a safe gig with lots of time off?" It's one or the other. Teaching is challenging, and people only do it because they love it, or because the few known perks outweigh the difficulties. If you have a calling to teach, it would be a shame to quit, because you will likely never be as good or bring as much to the world as a potter that you will as a teacher. If you teach because it was a safe gig and you couldn't figure out what else to commit to, then I would say you are likely not going to enjoy the pressure, insecurity, uncertainty, lack of time off, and hard physical labor of a full-time pottery studio.

There are a lot of self-promoting people out there with a book or program to sell you who will tell you that the best thing you could ever do for yourself is quit that day job, follow your passion, and that anyone can do it.  I will even admit to buying into this type of thinking in the past, and there may be some blog posts to prove it. But it's not true. Not everyone can do it, and it's not necessarily the best way to live either. I'm not even going to go into the pitfalls turning your passion into profit.  I've written about that plenty of times before. But there is nothing wrong with being an artist, and having a day job. In fact, thinking you are not an artist because you have a day job is a cop-out and buying into someone else's definition of an artist. Maybe the culture says that you are not a real artist unless you are killing yourself pursuing it full-time, but the culture is full of shit and doesn't know what it's talking about when it comes to your life.

And I don't know what I'm talking about when it comes to your life either. So if you really want to become a full-time potter or artist of any kind, bank as much money as you can, make a plan, build up your resilience to failure, and fucking do it already.

Wednesday, September 03, 2014

the problem with perfection

When people tell me they are a perfectionist, I take note. I am a recovering perfectionist and I’m interested in what being a perfectionist means to other people.  I generally regard perfectionism as a neurotic condition and I want to offer support, if possible, and learn more about letting go of perfectionism within myself.

Often people will say they are perfectionists with a little bit of pride. Proclaiming yourself a perfectionist is a sort of humble brag, because you are subtly sending the message that your standards are high, higher than most. And if your standards are higher than most then your work is probably better than most… right?

I’ve struggled with my own perfectionism because I believe my desire to be perfect and make perfect things has held me back from being a fully realized artist more than any other one of my tendencies. For me, being a perfectionist means rarely deriving satisfaction from the work I make because it’s not as good as I want it to be. That striving to be better is a trait of many artists, and I don’t think there is anything wrong with seeing how the work you just made would be even better if you did “x” differently. It’s called innovation and it’s how you get from A to Z and make amazing work. Amazing work doesn’t just come out of nowhere. Amazing work comes from lots of small failures and having the tenacity and drive to overcome each small failure. The problem with perfectionism is failure is often regarded not as a step forward, but as a sinkhole.

My studio is filled with half-realized ideas that did not come out as planned, so I drop it. My head is filled with ideas I’ve never tried because my perfectionistic fear-monger picks it apart before I give myself a chance to experiment. I started recognizing this tendency a while ago, and I’ve taken steps to recognize the voice of perfection, and dismiss it.  That voice disguises itself as a helpful friend who just wants you to make good work, and it's easy to confuse it with your intuition.

Given all the time I’ve spent thinking about perfectionism and trying to track it within myself and other people, I have some more ideas about the drawbacks of being a perfectionist:
  1. Being a perfectionist is just not fun, because you are more focused on controlling the outcome rather than focusing on the process. As an artist or creator of any kind, you gotta love process, because to make anything takes time and attention to take each step toward completion. If you lose your way with that and focus too much on how it's not perfect before you are even done, you've crushed your own creative joy. Keep doing that, and the Muse gets reluctant to come around.
  2. Unrecovered perfectionists will often try to use their perfectionism as a way to justify not sharing or completing their work because "it's not good enough yet." Perfectionism and procrastination hang out at the same club. They don't like to acknowledge each other because perfectionism thinks it's too good for procrastination, and procrastination doesn't like to acknowledge anything, but if you look closely they are swaying their hips to the same beat.
  3. All of us have holes in our hearts that we are trying to fill, and perfectionists have a hole in their heart that they are trying to fill with an impossible ideal. Clinging to an impossible ideal doesn't fill your heart, it seals it off and makes you defensive and careful. As artists and creators, we must unseal our hearts wherever we have resistance so we can communicate the truth and beauty of what we are hiding in there.
  4. Most perfectionists I know are workaholics. Again, these traits go to the same club, but they are besties, taking pride in one another. Like many "isms," perfectionism and workaholism function more as crutches rather than genuine support, and disguise our inner feelings of unworthiness and judgement.
  5. Being a perfectionist means living with the constant fear that you are never going to be good enough, and people are going to find out. While striving to be a perfectionist may temporarily soothe our troubled souls, in the end there is only you, imperfection, and the choice of whether or not to accept it.

I love that people like Brene Brown are spreading the concept of the gift of imperfection so widely. I hope that on some level it's changing the way we all think about ourselves and the world.  As I was thinking about how to finish up this post this morning I was asking myself what I think the greatest gift of imperfection is. My answer (to myself) was that being imperfect gives us the opportunity to keep trying, keep going, and keep the fires burning. There's no where to go from perfection because... it's perfect! You can't grow and learn from there, it's done. What do you think about the gift of imperfection? Put your perfectly imperfect answers in the comment box.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

new work this weekend

A little last minute self-promotion: this weekend (July 12 + 13) is the Palo Alto Clay and Glass Festival. I will be there. Booth116. With a bunch of new work! And maybe a new dress if I can find some time to zip out somewhere and pick one up. I hope to see you there. Don't forget your sunblock.








Wednesday, June 25, 2014

little fame rush

I'm having a little fame rush right now. I was recently interviewed in front of an audience by Ben Carter for his Tales of a Red Clay Rambler podcast, and it was posted yesterday. You can listen to it right here. The conversation centers around writing on a blog, using social media as an artist, burnout, and what it means to share your world with customers and fans. I get a little tongue-tied sometimes, that's why I like writing so much.  I listened to myself talk and I only winced a couple of times. I'm like most people-- I hate the sound of my recorded voice, but somehow the voice I heard didn't sound like my voice so I was okay with it. I have a moratorium on self-hate right now and listening to yourself talk for an hour without wanting to punch your own self in the face is a pretty good test.

Listening to the interview I had a few moments of wishing I had elaborated on a few things or shared some more thoughts. It was like listening to an interview where you are thinking, "Ask this question! What about that, ask about that!" Only I was thinking, "Answer this! Why didn't you talk about that?!"

I'm going to listen to the interview again and take some notes on things that I want to elaborate on, and I will write a post about it, or maybe a few if I need to.  If you listened to the interview and you have some follow-up questions or something you want me to talk more about, please feel free to post here or send me an email. I said in the interview, and I will say it again here, that part of my mission is to share as much information as possible about running a pottery business, making a living as an artist, and all the challenges that go with that. I want to be a resource of support and information, so send me your questions or share your thoughts.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

the rush hour of life

I heard an expression the other day: "We are in the rush hour of life right now." It refers to people in mid-life who are busy raising the next generation, working their asses off at whatever job they're doing, making big money decisions around buying a house or how to invest retirement money, and caught in a metaphorical traffic jam with everyone else doing the same thing.  Inching forward, honking their horn, anxious to get where they are going.

I feel slightly outside of this rush hour because I can avoid the literal rush hour-- my studio is a 30-second walk from my front door-- and I've managed to dodge a lot of adult responsibilities that other people take on, like mortgages and kids. But I still feel a lot of pressure to accomplish and to get things done, and it makes me anxious.

I'm going through an anxious period right now. I have a lot of ideas for work, things I want to make, and I want to corral all of these ideas into a nice long list titled "Things to Make." But the ideas will not be organized in this fashion. Every time I try to sit and make a written list or even draw pictures, I get so bored I forget what I'm doing. And boredom is my kryptonite, so it seems pretty useless to try and control the process in this way. Something in me wants to stop thinking, and start making.

But I feel rushed. I just want to be making stuff in the studio all the time to quell this feeling of rush and anxiety. The late spring light makes it easy to work later and later and I even found myself trying to get into the studio to work over the weekend, which I know is a habit that leads to workaholism, which leads to burnout. I keep asking myself, what is the rush? What is the point of rushing anyway? What is the good in rushing through anything, which is ultimately rushing right toward the end of our lives and death?

Being rushed is mindless. It's answering the call to our most ego-driven self which wants to accomplish and get ahead, literally and figuratively. Ask yourself right now: are you being a thoughtful person when you are trying to rush? Are you truly engaged in the flow of life around you or are you trying to frantically swim faster than the current is carrying you?

Having the presence of mind to not rush is the opposite, it's mindful. It's taking the time to question our deadlines, our timelines, and what we are truly trying to accomplish. I'm usually running a few minutes late whenever I go anywhere, and as is my habit, I rush to get to my destination. But I've stopped speeding through yellow lights because I want to remind myself to give every task the time it needs and deserves. Trying to shave off 40 seconds is crazy.

I have a hard time believing in any kind of god I've been told about. But I've always felt a presence of a creative force in my life, which can feel like the highest, most enlightened version of myself, compassionate yet completely detached from the things which drive me. Whenever I start displaying symptoms of rushing-- heart rate elevated, chest and face tightening, snappishness-- I ask this presence for help.  The same thought comes beck to me every time I ask, "You are right where you are," which reminds me that yes, I am where I am and also, right in where I am. I'm right where I'm supposed to be, even if my ego thinks differently.

Friday, May 16, 2014

lack of gratitude

This is a gratitude tree in my neighborhood.
I found it on my walk two days ago.
I've been thinking about gratitude, and the lack of it I've been feeling lately. I'm catching myself having a lot of unpleasant thoughts with a whiny edge. Things like wondering why a person didn't write me back to place a possible order, instead of thinking about the person who did just place an order for the exact same thing. Or worrying about a super slow week on Etsy and thinking it's all over for me, I'm washed up, instead of thinking about the super fat order I got off my website. Or wanting to resist a deadline and feeling like it's impinging on my work, instead of thinking about how it's all a part of my work and how fortunate I am to have meaningful work at all.

I think these are are pretty normal thoughts and I don't expect to be a perfect person and not have them. But I'm just noticing how crappy it makes me feel when I whine to myself, or when my ego starts squawking that I deserve better, more, now. It's been worse lately since I am going through a transition with my work, I've made choices to not take on so many orders, and I'm uncomfortable with it since I have no idea where that's going to land me financially over the next few years. Or artistically. Or anything else.

The man who planted it told me it's
been there since the recession
started almost 5 years ago.
There's part of me that has complete faith that the changes I've made in my work and personal life are going to take me where I need and want to go, and that place will also bring me more peace and a deeper expression in my art. And there's another part of me that craves success in the form of wider recognition, steady accolades, and financial rewards. This part of me can be very ego-driven and is never satisfied with what I have. It takes my ego about 2 minutes to forget the good thing that just happened to me and start demanding more. It makes me feel tremendously ungrateful.

It's very annoying and emotionally draining to listen this voice and for a while I was smacking it around and telling it to shut the fuck up. Well, that never works, the voice just gets louder. I've been doing some reading on the study of gratitude, the tremendous benefits it brings to your life in the form of better health and more happiness.  The recommendation to feel more gratitude is to simply keep a gratitude journal, write a few things down every day that you are grateful for.

I couldn't believe I didn't notice it
until a couple of days ago.
I've done this before for a few days, and then I lose interest or focus. But since I am trying to detoxify myself from ingratitude, I took this as an opportunity to buy myself a new notebook and get serious about it, and I've been writing 5 things in the morning, in the afternoon, and again before I go to bed. I'm committing to doing this everyday for at least a month, and I'm hoping it has a positive long-term impact on my attitude.

I'm feeling gratitude right now that I have people who read my blog. I'd love it if you would help me with my gratitude work over the month by telling me what you are grateful for.