Three human interactions left me feeling more unsteady on my feet this week. Each time i fortified myself and wound up on better ground after the spasm passed, but each incident left a deep impression. They echoed the dance we all perform: balancing on the delicate wire that slides between hope, confidence and optimism on one side and despair, vulnerability and surrender on the other.
The first interaction: a nice couple walked into the studio and found the range of work that i do a little overwhelming. The husband, in particular, laughed with some combination of delight and doubt as i described the book i am currently writing (in response to his question, “What is the writing part of the Pottery, Art and Writing Studio?”) and asked that i prove that i write poetry. That is easily done – i have a few memorized and when pressed further could call up on my computer the file with this year’s poems.
“Do you ever finish anything?” He laughed, “Because this is too much for one person.”
While i instantly provided him with poetry collections, paintings, sculptures and pottery to purchase – all finished – i had to hide my deepest reactions. Internally, i wobbled. He hit a large vein of insecurity in me. Sometimes projects – paintings and writing in particular – must wait until i have the time and the right energy to finish. Some stories are not meant for bright, sunny days. Pottery can be a bully, demanding my time to the detriment of other forms of art. If my mood is good, i am not going to edit a hundred poems about despair. Unfortunately, i am not always in the right mental space to create a large sculpture of a joyous, loving angel.
However, describing my process began to sound like a list of excuses or some form of laziness. So many pieces sit undeniably unfinished, perpetually in progress, scattered throughout the studio.
After he left, i felt vaguely uncomfortable in my skin. Suddenly, i was the unfinished project. Could the vast swaths of pieces in the mid-point of creation mean that i am not truly an artist at all? The thought itched my brain until i was in bed, curled up under covers, feeling woefully incomplete. So, i made a list of all the things i’ve finished in 2013 (not counting the pottery, because there were hundreds and hundreds of pieces in that category). i have finished a business plan, restructuring my finances to make the business more viable, drafts of two novels, three collections of poetry, and hundreds of poems as yet uncollected. Even my house has been reorganized and purged. By the time i got ten items into the list, i fell asleep inside a wave of contentment. Things do get finished. i awoke the next morning feeling more at peace with myself as a creature being constantly created.
The second interaction: i was talking to another artist. She is in a very different place than i am economically and physically. This is really all i can do effectively, in part because my mind and heart are aligned to art and writing in a way that makes other jobs almost painful. Quite literally, there is nothing else i would rather be doing. While i long for love - a relationship and a family - more than i can say, if i had to give up my art for those things, i would be unable to make the sacrifice. This drive continues even as i struggle with my health and my body’s ability to function. Working for myself is one of my better options - i can moderate my activity depending upon my energy, pain and inspiration.
These differences lead our conversation into uncomfortable terrain. She visualizes her path forward much differently than the road i am traveling. And, she is having remarkable success. i admit that she might have a much better sense of how to sell art and how to structure a life in general than i do.
That said, i could not accept her dismissal of my ideas and change course. i am continuing down the road i had marked for myself. i have begun to advertise, focus more on the online store, to treat my art as much like a business as i can without completely surrendering my own ambitions for what i create.
Keeping myself in the position where i can continue to make art requires a certain amount of magical thinking. i believe advertising will help because i am an artist doing good work. The complete and obsessive stubbornness that i focus on my artwork becomes a benefit, because i believe success will only happen when i pour my heart into this endeavor. While her certainty that specific things i am doing are not useful shook me, it did not cause surrender.
At this stage in my life, i’m beginning to realize that it can be a good thing for someone to question my plans, my assumptions and my determination. Being shaken up can help me see things more clearly. Not every piece of advice can be taken – although i try to give each consideration. A few times i have been inspired to change direction and others i have become more comfortable continuing on with the choices and plans i have made. This time, her strong opinions had the latter effect. What is right for me is not for her, and vice-versa. The difference does not make either of us less determined or less of an artist. In a very real way, neither of us is wrong and neither right; we both move forward using our individuality, determination and circumstances as our guides.
The third interaction was with a doctor. It shook me by reasserting something i know all too well: this life i lead is a gift. My ability to make art is not a given, it could go away. My mobility could get worse; my health issues more of an impediment. i have already gone through spells where my brain hasn’t worked well enough to write. As we spoke, gratitude shot down to my bones. My entire thought process became protective: how to keep myself working, how to create as much stability in this chaos as i can. i am so grateful for the ability to do what i love and knowing it could change makes it all more precious. It makes my drive to work even more profound.
While i was in the middle of this entry, a customer came to the studio. She fondled nearly every bowl and nearly wept at not being able to buy them. At no point did she complain about my prices; she talked about how they were just. i work as hard as i can to have my prices be reasonable while not actually putting me out of business, so her understanding gratified me. Alas, she is being hit hard financially. She asked if i had seconds, damaged pieces, anything that might be in her price range. And at that point i realized, i will never be a great business person. She got a discount much bigger than i should have given. But, i was feeling grateful for all i have. There are hard times all around right now – and i know that bowl is going to a good home. Just the smile on someone’s face can make me realize there is a purpose to all my adverting and obstinance.