Have you ever been frustrated? Hands high up in the air, higher, so I can see them…OK. That’s a lot of hands. So when were you last frustrated? Last week, yesterday, five minutes ago, just now when you couldn’t get the kitty riding the vacuum clip to load and clicked on this instead? I get it, but hear me out, just for a minute. I’ve got a remedy and it’s a sure-fire way to make frustration disappear. Want to know how I discovered it? I got frustrated…
I flew to the US this month to purchase a home I found online. It was pretty near to perfect; nestled in a lovely cul-de-sac with nearby schools and parks and easy access to shopping, yet close to nature. I was certain it was “the one” I should buy for our upcoming move to State College. My realtor previewed the place and let me know it was in great condition so I booked my ticket, boarded a flight the next morning and flew from Stockholm to Newark. I then rented a car, drove four hours, got a few hours of rest and woke up the next morning early to go see the place.
Sure enough it was exactly what I wanted. It had character, good flow, a studio art space, a well-lit kitchen with stainless steel appliances. Hours later I was pre-qualified for a loan and had made my offer. The house had only been on the market three days. I knew everything was going to work out according to plan.
But as I sat down to lunch with my realtor, eating Mongolian BBQ, her phone rang. It was the owner’s realtor, someone else had made an offer just before me and they were friends of the owners. The owners were going to take the other offer.
I offered more money but still no deal. I was stunned. The jet lag and lack of sleep were settling in fast and my head felt numb. I couldn’t believe it. How could this possibly happen when I knew this was “The Place?” I’d flown all the way from Sweden to get this house and it was sold.
My realtor sympathized with me, for a split second, but as soon as our shrimp was finished she got me back out on the road to resume the hunt. There were other homes to see and she was hopeful I’d find just the right one—she’s awesome. But inside I was feeling off track and out of sync. MY house had sold, and not only that, another house I’d kept in mind as a second option, had sold too! That made for two homes I wanted sold in less than a week. State College isn’t LA. Homes don’t fly off the market like hotcakes. What was happening? Talk about frustration!
Earlier in the month I’d sat down to dinner with my “life planning” friends, the friends I’ve mentioned in a previous post where we discuss our life goals at the beginning of each month (they’re awesome too). This month, the word I’d chosen to guide me through any impending disaster was “EXPLORE.” Explore encompassed a virtue that I knew I’d need if I was to make choices and figure out my future. And it was in this moment that the word came flashing to my mind…explore, explore, explore.
My frustration turned into exploration.
I thought about what I wasn’t thinking about…OPTIONS. I did have options. But what were they? I got quiet with myself and really thought about what I wanted. Where did I want to live? Where did I want to wake up each morning? Asking questions was the start of my exploration.
In art class we have a philosophy, when we’re stuck or blocked we experiment. Experimentation/exploration is huge. It’s the key on which the art world turns. Without it art wouldn’t happen. Van Gogh wouldn’t be a thing. ‘Starry Night,’ would have nary a star. We must experiment to evolve. Every artist gets stuck and they all know to get unstuck they have to be willing to make a shift, even if it’s incorrect, because changing the lines can get you to where you need to go. When one small part of a drawing changes, everything around it looks different. Until you make a change you can’t tell if the drawing is working or not working. You must draw then erase, redraw, or change an angle. But first, you have to be willing to put down that line, even if it’s the wrong line because until you try you won’t know.
With this principle in mind, I decided to keep looking and expand my search. Start shifting lines. I needed to see all possible angles of my dilemma. In the process, I realized I’d never thought to consult my parents about my decision to move. When my mom was diagnosed with cancer last fall, I’d made the decision to move to State College when Cooper went to Iraq. But a lot had changed within the year. Her tumor counts had miraculously gone from almost 5,000 to 16 and frankly she had more energy than I did (granted I was jet lagged), but still! When I sat down and asked my parents how they felt about me moving to a warmer climate, somewhere that I could still visit them and they could visit me in the winter, they didn’t hesitate to say, “Do it!”
Though I was led to Pennsylvania because of the house, it turns out what I really got was clarity about my future. Frustration gave me the opportunity to explore other options.
With every frustration in life, if we keep the mindset of “What else can I do?” we will find there’s a lot more available to us than we think. What we assume to be the “right path,” might only be a stepping-stone to the right direction.
Helen Keller said, “When one door of happiness closes, another opens; but often we look so long at the closed door that we do not see the one which has been opened for us.”
No one needs to stare at closed doors, staying frustrated.
If your plan didn’t go as planned then it wasn’t the best plan.
Look around. Make a shift. See what else is in front of you or behind you. Is there anything you’ve overlooked? Is there a conversation you need to have?
My best advice to guide you on your path is this, “Stay close to anything that makes you glad you’re alive.” –Author Unknown.
Don’t get frustrated because you worked hard or spent time or your hard-earned money doing the “wrong” thing. Be grateful for whatever experience you gain. See each stepping-stone as a place of grace to take you to your ultimate journey—and hey, it’s all a journey. Experiment. Ask yourself: What feels good way down deep in my soul? Change frustration to exploration and there’s no doubt you’ll find your answers.
Featured Artwork by Lana Wimmer, “Born to Explore.”
P.S. I will be moving to sunny St. George in the desert of Utah by Zion’s canyon. Hello sunshine, hello happiness.
“Man cannot discover new oceans unless he has the courage to lose sight of the shore.”
― André Gide
Recently I had dinner with two talented and very dynamic friends, expats that live in Stockholm. We met at my friend’s house with the intention of discussing our life goals—BIG big stuff people. We dubbed it our “Life Planning Party,” and chuckled to ourselves because it was also just plain FUN.
With a notebook and pen in hand, and an honesty that’s rare among women, we each shared our current biggest “conundrum.” We opened up about what was challenging us the most and what was causing us to struggle and stall in reaching our desired destinations. Between forkfuls of quiche Lorraine, we shared our frustrations and when the quiche was gone and our conundrums out on the table; my discussion leader and friend posed this important question, “What is it that you most want to feel?”
Sigh and deep breathe. Hmmmm….
Okay, notice she didn’t ask…what can you DO about it, or what do you THINK should happen…she went right to the source of our souls answers—our feelings. Our gut is an oft-overlooked source of information and truth, but it will never steer us wrong.
So what did I want to feel? Besides happy, everybody wants to be happy. We tossed around ideas until we each honed in on one simple word that captured exactly how we wanted to feel. And let me tell you, when my word surfaced, it was like finding my fairy godmother’s wand–magic.
This was my word, “fulfilled.” It’s exactly how I wanted to feel. No matter the situation, if I was writing, painting, mothering, cooking, spending time with friends, I wanted it to be fulfilling.
With the word fulfillment in hand, wouldn’t you know, my conundrum unraveled itself. Moments before I’d been confused and anxious, but now all that melted away under the illuminating rays of truth–my truth. I wanted fulfillment.
So the question became…what is fulfilling to me? And what isn’t. And how do I structure my day to get what I want?
Armed with my core intention, I set three goals and objectives to accomplish in the coming month. We each did, then took turns sharing. Stating out loud what I was going to do made me accountable, but more importantly, with friends to listen, I wasn’t setting impossible goals—goals that would make me crash and burn in despair when I wasn’t able to accomplish the equivalent of hiking Mount Kilimanjaro in a day.
Bare in mind, these are friends, they’re not going to tell me I’m a big loser if I don’t do what I say I’m going to do. Because the point of this exercise was to set an intention in life and to leave space for life to happen–leave room for the unexpected. Which face it, as moms, as friends, as busy women, we encounter the unexpected every day of our lives. We need to be flexible enough to recognize when another direction is better or when we need to press pause.
As my friend would say, “There are many versions of you.” It’s about finding the one that fits with your life and circumstances. In five months I won’t be living in Sweden anymore, I’ll be back in the US and my life will have changed (yet) again. With each move we’ve made, from Greece to Austria to The Netherlands and Sweden and back and forth from the US, I have lived one of those versions of myself, adapting and figuring out who I am in each place and time. It’s helped me realize a person can be happy almost anywhere doing all different sorts of things. It’s about discovering what you really want to feel and shaping your life to fit your core intention. (Go ahead and read that sentence again and let it sink in.)
My “runner” friend has participated in some incredible competitions. She’s raced 100K in terrain I wouldn’t even hike through. But nonetheless, she’s finding her Swedish Running Club a bit of a challenge. She shared their mantra:
“Dare to finish last.”
I love this because it means you’re trying and that’s what counts. The pressure is off but the goal is on. It’s about doing something and being happy in the process, no matter the outcome. If the idea of not finishing or finishing last has prevented you from starting on something you want to do, then DARE to finish last. Give up the fear in exchange for what you really want. For me it’s being fulfilled.
“Strength doesn’t come from winning. Your struggles develop your strength. When you go through hardship and decide not to surrender, that is strength.” (Unknown)
Have a conundrum?
What do you want to feel?
Remedy: Dare to finish last.
(Above painting by Lana Wimmer, title: Distant Shore.)
I hope you’ll take a moment to read and listen to the amazing voice and words of my friend and Finnish singer Jonna. She has an incredible story and message to share. That is why I’m posting her blog here today, for you to get inspired, listen to her music and if you want to, pre-order her album. We all need a SOUND MIND. Thanks Jonna!
Have you ever thought how powerful music can be? How it can bring a smile on your face or give you something to think about?
I am a fairly young woman still (32 years old) but I have had my fair share of challenges and struggles in life…an alcoholic mother with bipolar, parents divorce, my own divorce, my mother’s death and a challenge to keep my depression-prone mind healthy.
We don’t often talk about our mental challenges with other people, but I know that having a sound mind is something that many people struggle with. I wanted to write music that could bring mental health awareness by openly talking about those negative feelings and thoughts that can cloud our happiness.
My first single release “Still Breathing” from the album “Sound Mind” is about depression. How one can feel so helpless with those negative thoughts and emotions. I personally think that being aware of those thoughts is the first step to recovery.
Once I had realized that those negative thoughts were not the same as me, I could either choose to listen to them or throw them out of my mind. I decided to do the latter and wrote the song “Out of My Head” about it.
I noticed that I felt happier when I tried to find things to be grateful for in my everyday life. While sitting in my car in traffic I would stop and try to hear the beautiful silence underneath the traffic hour. Or while walking to the bus, I would keep my eyes open for the beauty around me, such as sun beams shining like diamonds in the snow. Those moments put a smile on my face and I wanted to share them with others in my song “Smile”.
Even if one doesn’t have depression or some other mental illness, having a sound mind is not something we can take for granted. Just like having a healthy body, in order to have a healthy mind, we need to nourish it and exercise our “muscles.” Learning to forgive easily is one of those muscles that help us have a sound mind. Or if we feel like we’re entitled to judge others, we clearly have something to work on in ourselves. Also not being too hard on ourselves is something that can help us acheive greater happiness.
Three songs “Art of Forgiveness”, “In My Shoes” and “Proud of me” all help me think healthy thoughts and have a sound mind.
This album has been my journey through my struggles and I truly believe that it can touch other peoples lives as well. If you want to help me in this cause, you can get your own copy of the album today. You can pre-order it through my crowdfunding campaign.
I started an indiegogo campaign so that I could cover the final costs of the album and release it this spring. The campaign will end on the 21st of February 2015.
Here’s a link to my campaign page: http://igg.me/at/jonna/x/8814822
And you can watch my 2 min video about the campaign here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tfMUepy3E4k
Thank you so much for reading. Hope these thoughts were helpful and wish you a very happy new year 2015! Remember, luck is an attitude!! Keep thinking healthy thoughts! :)
If you haven’t thrown out your Christmas Tree yet, then you still have time to enact one of Sweden’s oldest and most well-known Christmas traditions, Plundering the Tree, Julgransplundring. Think of it as a Viking raid on your Christmas Tree, only with candy. Yeah okay, I’ll explain. Just so you know, it’s about the most fun you can have in a night, aside from Christmas, (which is tough to beat).
Here’s what you do…gather up some fun folks. Families, neighbors, anyone Swedish you happen to know. Invite them to dinner; ask everyone to bring a handful of individually wrapped candy. Easy right? Here’s some of the crew that got together at my friend’s house.To make it easy, serve hotdogs Swedish style with shrimp and mayo on top. Not a fan? Have it your way, beans and cheese or ketchup and relish. The point is to eat pig products. I’m not sure why, but Christmas time is when you eat ham or “korv,” as they call hotdogs and this is more about serving something simple.
When everyone has eaten, throw away the paper plates, (if you’re Swedish you’ll recycle). Then get to the good stuff. Everyone lays their candy on a table so each person can select a handful of their favorites and stuff an empty toilet paper roll. Stay with me here…you’re going to make a candy ornament, a smällkaramell. You do this by wrapping the roll in tissue paper and adding colorful stickers and ribbons. Here’s what the tissue paper looks like before you add the roll.Even the teenagers were happy to get in on this craft project.
Here’s a finished one around Maggie’s neck. Now undecorate your tree. Everyone can help. This is handy. Christmas will get put away in a jiffy. Be ready with a basket to collect your decorations, lights too, then pull the tree away from the walls or windows and center it in the middle of the room so you have space to dance around the tree. Here’s our helpful bunch. Everyone puts their candy ornaments on the tree, then forms a circle holding hands. Someone starts the music (that will probably be you), and you all begin dancing! A simple Google search will turn up the traditional songs. Here are two links you can clink on for the most popular ones.
Små grodorna-little frogs (A song about a small green frog and how funny he looks.)
Mormors lilla kråka-Grandmas old crow (A song about a crow that can’t drive.)
Keep in mind the songs are silly kid tales, (the same ones sung at Mid-summer). You won’t achieve enlightenment, but you will have fun. Just sing and dance around and enjoy the occasion. This part of the evening can last for a while…in olden times Swedes not only danced around the tree, they danced through every room of the house and into the neighbor’s house, but unless you’ve forewarned your neighbors, I’d stick to your own rooms, if you know what I mean. Don’t think this is just for kids either, adults have fun too.
After about 20-30 minutes, most everyone is ready to collapse or eat candy. So stop the music and do THE ROCKET! Oh my goodness this is loud. This is fun. This is crazy!! This is even crazier if you drink Schnapps (good thing we didn’t, we were all Mormon in this group so it’s apple cider for us). Now stomp your feet and clap your hands, fast, faster, even FASTER, and FASTER, then shout like you’ve just been shot off on a rocket to the moon or you’re on the scariest thrill ride of your life. “Ahhhhhhhhhh!” If the walls aren’t shaking it’s not loud enough. LOUDER!!!
Whew! Okay, it’s over. Time to raid the tree! No more rules, (unless you made some up). Get the candy and join the brouhaha or step aside. Dig in and enjoy!
With the tree empty, it’s ready to toss, so ask some helpers to finish the job. Unless of course, it’s fake, then don’t. For the grand finale, throw down a blanket on the floor and put your gingerbread house on top (every Swede has one). It’s time to smash the house. Someone with a heavy fist can take a whack. When bits go flying, grab a piece.
The wonderful thing about Julgransplundring is that each part of the evening is significant, each activity or decoration has meaning. In olden times, the Swedish people were poor. They didn’t have money to decorate a tree so they used the most beautiful things they had, shiny red apples. The children waited all Christmas long to toss out the tree and get their “treat.”
They made ornaments out of straw as a way to celebrate and give thanks to the harvest. Using the straw to make something beautiful, like a star, paid homage to the great worth of the crop. The other common decorations Swedes make out of straw are goats. Before Santa Claus, it was a goat who brought the presents.
In olden times, during the long and restless winters, kids and adults played jokes on one other. For fun, they would attach an insulting note to a rock and throw it in through the neighbor’s open door. Literally, “hurling” an insult.
Tomtar are another iconic symbol of a Swedish Christmas. They are short little elfin creatures that bring good or bad fortune to a family. It used to be, if a family’s pig died, or some other misfortune happened around Christmastime, that people would say the family didn’t take care of their tomtar and make him good warm porridge. It was important to feed your tomtar porridge and even today, Swedes eat this rice pudding dish for breakfast on Christmas and all through the season. You can see some of our Swedish (and German nutcrackers) on display. Our tomtar is sitting on the left and he ate plenty of candy and cookies for Christmas, in fact I’m blaming him for most of what was eaten.
What I love most about these yearly rituals is that they bring people together, both culturally and socially. Traditions are fun, but more importantly, they provide a link for our children to the past and the future. It doesn’t matter what tradition you establish, silly or serious, chose something to create lasting memories with your family and friends. Our traditions often change, depending on which country we live in, but my hope is that one day my kids will look back on Christmas and New Year’s as a time that brought us closer together and gave us a better appreciation for the culture of Christmas all over the world.
Not so long ago, 2015 was the date of the dun, dun, dun…FUTURE. As kids we imagined this future while reading copies of Boy’s Life, sketching our hovercraft (that would be built with mom’s Electrolux). Our village of Sea Monkeys would be grown by now with families of their own…the best laid plans. Then again, I don’t think the world was ready for our flying vacuum, or communities of Sea Monkeys.
What is the world ready for? What are you ready for? Are you making plans?
The thing about making plans is that they rarely go as planned. It’s fantastic to set goals and work hard, but it’s important to leave room for what you can’t plan…life. Take your schedule with a healthy dose of trust, knowing that life will always give you twists and turns. Map the journey but don’t get discouraged when you take a wrong bend; it’s leading you to the scenic route you didn’t even know existed.
Back in college a professor assigned us to write a list of 100 things we’d do in our lifetime. He told us to “dream big.” I was young enough to take the assignment seriously. Eighteen and immortal, my list was longer than 100 things…ha! I was going to change the world and on top of that make a million bucks before I turned thirty, get a Ph.D. in marriage family therapy and open a clinic, and yes read ALL of the classics. Good intentioned stuff. Afterwards the professor told us if we accomplished even a quarter of what we’d written on our lists, we’d be some of the most successful people around. But as I’ve come to experience life, I realize now his advice, however well-intentioned, was wrong.
Because “success” doesn’t come from ticking off a to-do list and it’s not about how much money you make or the degrees you acquire or the stuff you can cram into your days. Success has nothing to do with reading the classics, although it can, if it’s what you truly love and want to do.
Success has to come from within. It’s got to be your own vision of what you want for your life, not what someone else has defined or what society has defined. And here’s what my professor never told me about success (but I’m telling you): You can’t have it all. Not all at once and maybe never.
Alain de Botton in his lecture, A Kinder, Gentler Philosophy Of Success, shares this philosophy:
“You can’t be successful at everything. We hear a lot of talk about work balance. Nonsense. You can’t have it all. You can’t. So any vision of success has to admit what it’s losing out on.”
There is wisdom in accepting that you can’t do everything and anything. Knowing this will prevent guilt and discouragement. Thinking you can somehow balance a career and motherhood and eat vegan and keep up with Pinterest and still make time for yoga and whatever else is just not reality. It’s not fair. It’s like trying to enjoy the ocean view while you’re drowning.
Had I stuck to the list I wrote in college, I’d be in a very different place now. I wouldn’t have moved outside the US–I’d have been too busy getting degrees and forging my career–I might not have even had four children, I would have never met the people I’ve become friends with around the globe or gained an education gleaned by experience. I would have missed out on the best BEST parts of my life!
We use the term “Dream Big,” but what does that mean? How big? Why does it have to be so BIG? What would happen if we dreamed small…focused on one small but meaningful goal/project/endeavor and gave our energies to that?
Vincent Van Gogh said, “I am still far from being what I want to be, but with God’s help I shall succeed.”
In Van Gogh’s lifetime he never felt successful but he stayed passionately in pursuit of his one goal, his personal vision and gave the world not only his art, but perhaps more importantly, a model for what success means.
It’s important to strive. We should always be learning, always stretching ourselves. But stay open to the possibilities. Van Gogh also said, “I’m not an adventurer by choice but by fate.” In life we’re all fated to be adventurers. We all sojourn. Not one of us has the map from beginning to end. We forge ahead and when we reach unfamiliar terrain we have to slow down and take it one step at a time. But wherever you are in your journey, be thankful you’re on it. Be grateful you’ve got today and the next to be where you are, even if you’re not where you want to be yet.
The Roman philosopher Horace admonished,
“Whatever hour God has blessed you with, take it with grateful hand, nor postpone your joys from year to year, so that in whatever place you have been, you may say that you have lived happily.”
I’ve got my goals for 2015. I’m sure they won’t all go as planned, but I’m equally certain that whatever happens it will be exactly what needs to happen for me to grow and learn. What matters most, is that I’m with the people I love, doing the things I love. “I tell you, the more I think, the more I feel that there is nothing more artistic than to love people.” Van Gogh
“Be the author of your own ambition,” Alain de Botton says, “Make sure [y]our ideas of success are truly [y]our own.” If you do that then 2015 is going to be a great year; you can plan on it!
The 30-hour ankle is done. Actually, it’s never done. To get it perfect, I could have spent another several hours making tiny, minute changes that would still not have produced an exact match to the original Charles Bargue copy. But in the end, that wasn’t the point–to make a perfect match. The point was to get it as close to the original as possible while achieving something in the learning process. The point was to train the eye.
What I learned: Slow Down. Drawing requires the mind and the body to work together. The visual sense must first register what it sees so the hand can listen and the pencil can respond. It’s all very step 1, step 2, step 3. You can’t rush it or you’ll miss things. Patiently layering the HB graphite, I could achieve the necessary depth to transform the lead into the smooth soft stone of the cast.
The lesson of slowing down is essential and one I hope to remember. The other take-away: Art, as in life, will never be complete. When Sammy Davis Jr. was asked which of his songs was his favorite, he responded, “the next one.” There’s always more. It’s what we call self-mastery and it’s what makes life worth striving for: We don’t live to create, we create to live.
Creativity is an ongoing evolutionary process. It is a birthright. All children are born with the innate gift to create. They’ll do ANYTHING. Paint macaroni and string it on necklaces, run their hands through finger paint, glue glitter to paper hearts. We don’t need special permission to pick up a pen and write, or a pencil to draw. Everyone has a story. Everyone has something to contribute.
If you think time is the enemy, your wrong, resistance is. Slow down. What do you want to create? The process of making anything, if done slowly, can be art. Art transcends time itself.
Vincent Van Gogh said, “If you hear a voice within yourself say ‘you cannot paint,’ then by all means paint, and that voice will be silenced.”
As I move onto my next project, the words of Chuck Palahniuk, Fight Club, come to mind…
“I say let me never be complete, I say may I never be content, I say deliver me from Swedish furniture, I say deliver me from clever arts, I say deliver me from clear skin and perfect teeth, I say you have to give up! I say evolve, and let the chips fall where they may!”
The process of learning means you do something before you actually know how to do it. In other words, it’s just fine to make a mess. And messes I’ve been making. In my drawing course, I’ve been drawing an ankle for over 15 hours. Not all in one go, but during intense intervals of concentration. An ANKLE people! Which at one point looked like a cankle, but okay…and it seemed so simple at first. But now that I’ve spent ALL this time seeking total perfection, on an ankle, my view of drawing has changed everything; I mean everything. I’ve learned something, and it’s not just about drawing an ankle. I’ve learned I’ve got to respect my mistakes.
Mistakes are the starting point. They’re necessary–not figuratively, but in reality. When drawing, the artist has to make some initial marks on the paper in order to find the point of measurement to affix the plump line. The plumb line is the line that runs through the middle of the drawing and never, ever, EVER, changes. All the other points and marks originally made…they change. Those original marks are erased and adjusted hundreds of times. By definition they’re mistakes, but they’re not because you needed them. You get what I’m saying? In order to begin, you had to begin. The artist doesn’t just start the sketch at the perfect point, not usually, no way, it’s guess work and after years of training the eye, it goes faster, but it still starts with guess work.
“Creativity is allowing yourself to make mistakes. Art is knowing which ones to keep.” –Scott Adams
The drawing technique I’m referring to is the genius of Charles Bargue, a French artist who introduced his Cours de dessin (drawing course) in the late 1800’s. Since that time, his method for learning how to draw has been the standard used by countless artists, including Van Gogh.
The process is a very slow one. You can’t rush things. Seeing takes time. The artist’s eye must notice every curve, contour, slope, angle, turn and trajectory, while keeping in mind that anything can be changed. Every mark is a chess piece. Make a move and it sets off another. Draw and redraw. Match after match.
During the final stages of my sketch, I realized something about my ankle wasn’t right. The angle of the bone protruding from the tendon was a millimeter too narrow. How had I missed it? In a fit of frustration, I erased a long portion of my line just before my instructor came to critic my work. The first thing he asked when he sat at my easel was, “What happened to your line?”
I explained. It was “off” so I’d erased it. His response was a moment of clarity for me: “Always redraw the new line before you erase the old. Use the former as a guide. You must have respect for the lines you put down. That is what you chose to create, so respect it.”
Without the form of the bone, it was difficult to judge what else was going on in the picture. I needed the line as a reference point for the other distances and relationships. As I began to fix it, I considered my rush toward perfection, my frustration, and the word “respect.” Had I ever thought to respect the lines, the ones I’d been erasing? Had I seen the process for what it was—the objective—helping me become the artist I want to be?
That question led me to other questions. What else in my life had I drawn and what parts had I erased? Did I have respect for my choices, the ones I made using the skill set I had and the judgment I was capable of at the time?
And what about the lines I was drawing now with my actions–the path I was creating. Where was my plumb line?
The answers have come slowly over the past few days. What I’ve concluded is that living in an imperfect world doesn’t diminish my faith, it strengthens it. I can believe in a God who trusts in the process, a God who allows imperfections to exist so we can master the art of living. God never changes so we can. His love is constant. We aren’t. God doesn’t hold the measuring stick; He is the measuring stick…we chose where to plot the points.
My guess is that too often we view our mistakes as weaknesses, as something that is wrong. We think if we were better, more talented, gifted, intellectual then mistakes wouldn’t happen to us. Instead of respect, we regret the decisions which have shaped our learning process. But in the big picture of who we are, the mistakes are part of the final product—they’re beautiful.
“Have no fear of perfection—you’ll never reach it,” said Salvador Dalí.
Perfection takes time, if it’s even possible. I don’t know. Maybe it is achievable in some aspects of life, but if it is to be achieved, then it can only be reached by making mistakes. One of my favorite artists Monet, once remarked, “My life has been nothing but a failure.” If that is true, then your greatest triumphs might just be your biggest mistakes. Respect where you’ve been. Use it as a guide for where you want to go. Erase and adjust. And so on…
“What are you willing to give up? How teachable are you?” Hans, my instructor asked, before we even put pencil to paper. Last week I began my art course at SARA, The Stockholm Academy of Realistic Art, a preliminary course intended for artists who want to apply to their three-year intensive program. I’d determined I was ready to take my art to the next level, but I’d been afraid too. Making this step took not only courage, but a lot of juggling with our family’s schedule. I was making a sacrifice and so were they. I’d made an investment in myself. I was here to learn, but I was also feeling the fear.
“The most difficult obstacle,” Hans continued, “is your own mind. Your mind will tell you it can’t be done, voices will urge you to give up…you’re too old, you’re too inexperienced, you’re not a quick learner, this is too impossible, the standards are too high.” I could feel my head nodding. I’d heard similar voices.
Steven Pressfield, in his book “The War of Art,” calls this “resistance.” Resistance kicks in whenever we try to do something better, different, innovative, or “or evolve to a high[er] station morally, ethically, or spiritually.” If you’ve ever met with negative voices in your head, you know what I’m talking about. Pressfield’s rule of thumb: “The more important a call or action is to our soul’s evolution, the [more] Resistance we will feel toward pursuing it.”
“He who fears to suffer, suffers from fear.” –Proverb
Success depends on getting out of your own way. Sometimes you just have to keep your head out of it. Put the ego in the back seat and let your soul drive. As we went around the room introducing ourselves, we were told to say our name and why we were in the course. Most said they were there to improve their “hobby.” One young blond Swede with hunched shoulders said he was going to “give it a try,” see how he liked it. The instructor said: “I don’t like the word try. You’re going to do it.” Gulp.
Another guy said he was scared to death to be there, but that he wanted to be an artist. His voice shook a little. I could feel his fear because it mirrored some of my own self-doubts. I admired his courage.
But fear isn’t all bad. Fear is the starting to point to great things. It’s what we feel when we risk change. If we stop at the point of fear, resistance wins. But if we know what we’re up against, know what fear is—the gateway—then we can perceive fear as a message. Fear is pointing the way to exactly where we need to go.
If you feel a lot of fear, then take it in degrees. Don’t set yourself up for failure. Dream BIG, but start small. In my drawing course we don’t begin with rendering the full human figure, we begin by copying a two-dimensional illustration of a hand. We spend enormous amounts of time training our eyes, breaking down the complex into the abstract. We look at the shapes of things, notice where they are in relationship to each other. It’s the way the Old Masters studied their craft, a technique that has been passed down through the ages. The standards are extremely high, but no one is expected to attain the skills overnight.
And what is the benefit of doing what we’re afraid of? The benefit is that you live. You LIVE and live more fully!
“If you deliberately plan on being less than you are capable of being, then I warn you that you’ll be unhappy for the rest of your life.” –Abraham H Maslow
Remaining stuck in fear will cause all kinds of problems. They’ll take on different names, different forms, you’ll assign different reasons for the chaos in your life, blame others, anything that will make you forget what you wanted to do in the first place. Resistance will tell whatever lie you will believe… until you stop listening.
“Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one’s courage.” –Anais Nin
NOW, is a fantastic word. It’s the word we need to combat resistance. Because NOW, is now. Not yesterday or tomorrow and you can start now, to do whatever it is that you want to do. You don’t have to wait for anything. You don’t have to wait for problems to end, or children to grow up, or for the sun to come out, or for the holidays to be over… to begin. You just start now. Start small. Dream big. Take a risk. What is fear telling you not to do? Go do it.
Yeah, okay…I’m going to go draw now.