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The Story You Tell and the Power of Your Tribe

by Luann Udell on 3/16/2017 12:31:08 PM

This post is by Luann Udell, regular contributing author for FineArtViews. She's blogged since 2002 about the business side--and the spiritual inside--of art. She says, "I share my experiences so you won't have to make ALL the same mistakes I did...."  For ten years, Luann also wrote a column ("Craft Matters") for The Crafts Report magazine (a monthly business resource for the crafts professional) where she explored the funnier side of her life in craft. She's a double-juried member of the prestigious League of New Hampshire Craftsmen (fiber & art jewelry). Her work has appeared in books, magazines and newspapers across the country and she is a published writer.

A month ago, my husband was cycling on a bike path, when he ran over a stick. It jammed in his derailleur and broke it. Fortunately, I was a phone call away and retrieved him (and the bike) quickly.


Yesterday, the exact same thing happened AGAIN. (He swears it was the same damn stick, but I don’t believe that.) Unfortunately, I am thousands of miles away, in Keene, NH. And he had to walk home, in his bike shoes.

Life has a lot of sticks just waiting to jam up our derailleur…er, life. And in the last month, we’ve run over a lot of them.

The already sky-high rent on our home here in Santa Rosa, CA was raised, eating up almost half our income. We now have two large dogs and three cats. The rental market here is as tight as it is expensive, and it will be impossible to find a landlord willing to rent to us. As former home-owners for 27 years, it’s embarrassing to find ourselves here. (We did find a place, a much smaller place. As soon as I get back to California, we have to pack up and move.  
My art will be on hold for awhile. Again. But bookmark this, I’ll return to it later.)

My husband’s employer’s company has 3-4 months of funding left, and there will be no more in the pipeline. All sources have been exhausted. The tech industry does not readily employ people in their 60’s.  
Jon’s best option is to strike out on his own. But this is an expensive place for our second reboot in three years, and it’s a little scary.

My art sales have slumped. (This is not unique to me, I know, and not entirely of my making, but there you go.)

One of our children is struggling here in Keene. It sounded urgent enough for me to book a flight out here, to see what I can do. It is cold here. Really, really cold. Like 10 degrees when I woke up, and more snow, with winds gusting to shove that snow right up my nose. 

My daughter just announced she’s getting married this summer, in the middle of Tennessee (best spot for the solar eclipse).

And that wonderful shared studio space at that incredible artist enclave has disappeared. My friend and I have extremely different visions for how the space should work. To preserve the friendship, I told her I needed to step away. But it all blew up in my face. My friend is deeply hurt by my decision. With all the other setbacks on my plate, I can’t afford the oxygen to fix this, even if that were possible.

That is the story.

But here is the other side of the story I chose to tell.

My old tribe here in Keene is holding me together in so many ways. They know who I am, they know what to do.

These trusted friends will hold my tender heart, and my huge artistic vision, in their gentle, loving hands, until I can take them up again.

Let’s go way back, to the beginning of my art career. I took a workshop from wise woman Deborah Kruger, on creating an artist support group.

The premise was, “Women can do it all. But not necessarily all at the same time.”

When life throws big effin’ sticks in our path—sickness, death, divorce, job loss, a big move—there is only so much we can handle. Sometimes the first thing that gets put on hold is the very thing that nourishes our heart and lightens our soul: Our art.

Good friends will hold that vision of you: Your goals, your process, your abilities, your path. When you are ready (even if you think you’re not), they will gently remind you who you are. And help restore you to yourself.

Now let’s look at the other story I choose to tell:

Gift #1 Though we have not built that precious network of friends here in CA, it’s in process. And a friendship of 20 years led to our next home. It will only be available to us for a few years. But that will give us the space to figure out where we go from here. They know we have pets, too. Yay!

Gift #2 The painfully broken friendship gave me clarity on a better way to be there for my child. I will not force him to take care of me during this difficult time, no matter how hard it is to listen sometimes. I need only be present, for now. If that hadn’t happened two days before I left, I would have blundered on as I have done in the past. It was a lesson that arrived just in time to be a better mother.

Gift #3 As I make time to meet up with these good friends, each one has an insight for me. I hear the exact words I need to make it through the day. As I bemoaned the fact that I’d fallen into another situation I should have recognized—again—a friend exclaimed, “I just LOVE my life lessons! I love them so much, I learn them all over again. And again. And again!” 
I laughed for the first time in days.

Gift #4 As I share such wonderful insights with the next friend I meet up with, it’s just what they need
 to hear, too!

Gift #5 We have already realized the rewards of our life reboot. Jon’s got his game back, reconnecting with old allies, and finding new ones. The work he’s doing is the work of his heart—collaborating with users to create the tools they need to make their own work easier. The projects are timely, extremely relevant, and deeply-rooted in bettering our culture.

As we consider our next steps--as our reboot is rebooting--Jon and I realize it will be easier this time. For example, we are only moving across town, and we can break it down into small loads. And the new neighborhood will have all the features we treasure in this one.

Gift #6 My art will go on hold again, though hopefully not for long. OTOH, if we should have to leave Sonoma County down the road, I’ll only have to walk away from a few years of audience-building here. Not three decades, like our first move!

Gift #7 My Keene tribe is still here!

Gift #8 I’m passing on the gifts! 
When I was living in Keene, I never thought of connecting my tribe members! (I know, I know—“DOH!!”) Two of my meet-ups organically overlapped yesterday, and two friends met each other for the first time. The synergy was astonishing. One had the exact information the other needed to take a step forward in a new career. The other recognized not only a new, rich resource in the first friend, but an ally. Both were validated anew to themselves as they recognized the same qualities in each other: Passion, integrity, professionalism, creativity, emotional maturity, and a wicked sense of humor.

I’m now working on getting all of these core people together, if not on this trip (though we’re trying!) then the next. In between, there’s Skype and Google Hangout. We’ll figure it out.

#9 And now I’ve shared this gift with you,
 faithful readers.

I've shared how sometimes, the seeds of a new beginning are buried in the deep past, and sometimes, even in the most recent hardship. The way to your next step is not carefully hidden in the great universe; it is often right under your nose. The words you need to hear are already sitting in the heart of someone who may cross your path—today.

And when the world feels like a hard and hopeless place, there may be someone standing next to you who will offer exactly what you need to get through it. Holding your dream, your beautiful vulnerable open heart, tenderly and lovingly, until you are ready to pick them up again.

Your bonus gift for subscribing today!
 Here are some of the wonderful words I’ve heard, in addition to the ones I’ve already shared. There will be more!

“Breath until you’re surprised.” 
This came up in a conversation about an ancient breathing/meditative practice that helps people heal from trauma, grief, and abuse faster. I sense there's something deliciously deeper here that will reveal itself in time. It’s still sitting with me, and I love it.

“It’s only blood.”
 In a discussion about letting go of old family conflicts that may never be healed. If the family we’re born into is difficult, we can choose to create our own family.

“This ain’t your first rodeo. You don’t have to be the clown.” 
A discussion about me trying to make myself smaller so I can make insecure people feel better.

“You don’t have to go to every fight you’re invited to.” 
No explanation needed.

"I sit with uncertainty everyday, until Clarity makes her presence known." Every. Single. Day.




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Related Posts:

Chaos Theory, The Weather, and You

Finding Your Tribe

Many Hands Make Life Work

Little Words of Wisdom

All Filled Up and Nowhere To Go

Topics: art appreciation | FineArtViews | inspiration | Luann Udell 

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Dorothy Thompson
AMEN! Thank you for this inspirational piece.

Mark Brockman
Life can be a b/!$and. Sometimes all we can do is take a deep breadth, find your center, let it wash over you, because most likley it won't last. i learned some time ago that sometimes you can not fix a situation, but all you need to do is listen. You may not be able to pick your relatives but you can pick your friends. A path may be Rocky and steep, but you'll probably be stronger at the end. There are dark emotional valleys, but time lightens them up. Nothing is forever, sadly that goes for good things as well as bad, but if I count the bad things and the good things that have happened in my life, there are far more good things.

Very nice article Luann. I wish you luck in all the trials before you. I don't know you other then through your posts, but I'd bet you come out on top.

Lori Woodward
Hey Luann! You're right, it's cold! Especially for someone who has acclimated to a warmer climate.

At least the days are longer here right now.

I completely understand what it means to reboot (in your 60s). We're kinda doing that right now, but nowhere near as much rebooting as you. We've decided to stay in the house we've lived in since '94 and just fix it up the way we want... instead of retiring in another location. We'll just have more time and money to go on vacations when (and if) Brian retires.

Well, I hope everything calms down for you. If it helps Jon - my brother rode his Trike across country and when he got to Maine, a stick broke his derailer. He phoned me and asked me to drive up and pick him up. It was just a tiny stick! He had ridden through the rockies and up to Canada, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island etc. - and a tiny stick ends his trip in Biddeford Maine.

Well, at least he got a nice lobster lunch out of it.
It's a good thing that life isn't continually difficult for most. I know you'll get through this - and if you ever find yourself back in New Hampshire, let me know and I'll drop by.

Mark Brockman
Oh, I had to look up dérailleur.

Luann M. Udell
Dorothy, so glad this resonated! I love hearing that! :-)

LOL, Mark, you said in a hundres wirds what took me a thousand to express. ;-)

Lori, so glad the prep for your next stage is settling in nicely. And I'll be sure to share your brother's stick story eith Jon. Feral sticks

Luann M. Udell
Apologies for the strange last sentence above, my phone is evidently traumatized from this week's adventures and refused to let me edit. "So bike-attacking feral sticks is now a thing!" :-D

Tricia Ballad
This is *exactly* what I needed to hear this afternoon! I've been sitting on the fence of a pretty big decision, afraid to jump over just because I've landed in the mud a few times. But as you said, sometimes the exact nudge you need is right there under your nose...or in your inbox!

Holly Banks
Luann, thanks for sharing this. I am sorry for your hard time, but glad to know I am not the only one who has had to put my art on hold sometimes. I have had to deal with deaths of my dad and dad in law, health issues of my own and my family, cataracts, glaucoma, a mentally ill sister, my best friend moved to one coast and my elder son to the other... Then I wonder why I have trouble accomplishing what I want to do. The gift idea is wonderful, and I will be thinking about that!

andre satie
LuAnn - Just here to love on you a little bit. Take heart; you never know what's around the corner till you go there. Meanwhile, we are here for you, sending good juju.

Marilyn Rose
Thank you for being so open and sharing your plight. I have all faith that you and your art will triumph. And BTW, if you want to stay in California without those astronomical living costs, consider looking east to Sacramento, El Dorado or Placer Counties. Far more affordable and we have an awesome art community!

Sandra Yorke
Thank you for sharing this. My husband and I were just talking about all the changes, challenges in life as we get older. I especially needed to hear "it's only blood" about dealing with issues with family that may never be healed. Great advice all around! Thanks again.

Luann M. Udell
Tricia, sometimes just a tetch of clarity is all we need, and I'm delighted you found yours today!

Luann M. Udell
Holly, reframing is a powerful technique that helps us see "the other story". It does NOT make a fluffy story out of hard truths and sad events. But it does allow our pragmatic brains to see and explore the events that deepen our hearts and souls I hope you have good people in your life to help you during this difficult stretch. And I hope you find your way back to the work of your heart soon. <3

Luann M. Udell
Andre, welcome to my tribe! And thank you!!!!

Luann M. Udell
Marilyn, tell me more! :-)

Luann M. Udell
Sandra, I have struggled with the concept of true forgiveness for ages. I've read so much about it, but could not understand that final leap, the final step that brings peace into our hearts. On this trip, a friend helped me connect the dots. It's a process,but for the very first time, I can see how to get there. It's like a road map to a place I've never traveled. It's been an astounding trip, one I've dreamed of and never expected. GIFT!!!

Cheryl Kellar
Yes! Thank you. Exactly what I needed to hear at exactly this moment.
And the beat goes on :-)

Patrice Federspiel
Thank you for sharing your WHOLE story with us. You don't withhold and I really appreciate that about you and your writings.

I really loved your last pearl of wisdom: "I sit with uncertainty everyday, until Clarity makes her presence known." Every. Single. Day.

We ALL live in uncertainty ” we just don't usually acknowledge it. A sense of security is always false, yet we often choose it rather than choosing the fullness that life has to offer.

Thank you for living your life to the fullest and for sharing it with us, yet another of your tribes.
Aloha, Patrice

Holly Banks
Thank you again, I am working on it now! On the forgiveness issue, something that helped me was to understand that forgiving did not mean forgetting or letting someone continue to treat me badly, but it meant allowing for a new start in that relationship and letting go of resentments about past issues.

carol a. grigus
THANK YOU so much, share your inner most thoughts with all of us and truly, you are an inspiration to me...
Uncertainty....we had a downsizing move 5 years ago which was very difficult for me....husband too had changed his life course and I learned to live with art and my mindful breathing!!! meditation saved me.....!
How you turned your hardships into something positive has helped me sooo much....!!

..enjoy your tribe and know that you will find like souls on the west coast....we're not far from Reno, NV......40 years from CHicago....I love the SIERRAs !!..they help me cope and think positively about struggles!!!
...happy to hear that you can keep your pets!!!
moonhugs and gratitude...blessings and love..!

Judy gilmer
I laughed, I cried, I identified
And I thank you for sharing. I wish you only the best.

Susan Wiley
Love all your articles and can identify with all you are going through and have been through. I subscribed when you had made the decision to move to CA because of your openness about difficulties that you encountered. I believe all these growth challenges are universal, something many artists are unwilling to share. So, thank you!
I too have moved into a different part of the country at 65+. Although I love where I live, it is difficult to leave all the roots that I have worked so hard to attain and now, at this late stage of life, find that it is like starting over and I don't have much energy left to devote the same amount of time to art and marketing as I did thirty years ago. But I remain true to my lifelong love - my art, which has helped me through all the difficult times. And I'm sure you will too. It is what will keep you centered and pull you through. Know that your tribe is rooting for you and sending you good wishes that things smooth out soon.

Wow. Thank you for sharing such personal struggles. So many struggles...UGH! I get it. I have really enjoyed reading your newsletters; you always have such great advice and insight. I wish I knew you! I live in the South, but will be following you and a part of your e-tribe.

Andrea Edwards
Hello Luann and thanks again for another interesting post.

You covered a lot of ground and touched upon so many key experiences most are having or will face at some point.
What to do when almost everything that worked before just doesn't any longer. Efforts don't translate to once predictable outcomes and change seems to pursue you on fast forward at every turn!

Keep stepping little by little forward in trust, act authentically but always with kindness and just keep showing up...... that's a recipe that makes sense to me. Hope that's helpful for others also.

Best regards
Andrea Edwards Artist, Sydney Australia.

Luann M. Udell
First, I am blown away by the kindness and the support in your comments.
Second, I just landed in San Francisco after 13 hours of travel, and 2 more hours ahead of me. (Delays and other issues due to that darn snow storm!)
But I will respond to all your comments tomorrow! Er...or when I crawl out of bed! :-D when I crael out

WAlter Paul Bebirian
I don't know why - but I just got the feeling that all of this will go away or change for you if you just have a big juicy hamburger with a lot of ketchup and some delicious cooked onions - (hold the cheese) with a big glass of Coca Cola -

I was almost afraid to say that - but there - I did it -

Renee Rowe
I understand what you're going through. It sounds sooo like my recent and current challenges! Bless you for sharing so openly and honestly. It makes me want to share right back.
I wish you joy and well-being and a quick return to making art.
I too, had to give up a great studio space and am painting in my garage. My partner is having a hard time finding work he can enjoy as an elder; and we will soon be priced out of where we live if I am not successful in selling my art.
Adding insult to injury my daughter took it upon herself to lecture me about money and we had a bad falling out. This hurts most of all. She seems to think I am too old to make my own decisions. It's both insulting and silly.....
However, I have two invites to join decent galleries and a solo show I dreamed up with a decorator friend in an old fancy hotel.
I believe being positive and thankful is a good way to live. Some of my friends say we create our own reality, but I refuse to believe I brought about Trump and co.
I plan to keep on keeping on and looking for joy and beauty wherever I can find it.
I know you will do the same.

Your openness touched me so. Your desire to get through the struggles in your own special way inspired me and many in our age zip code. As our art careers do the "dips and bumps" we need to take heart with friends and loved ones and trust in our higher power, our tribe if we have one. Your journey is our journey. Downsizing, which is coming my way sooner than later, means I won't have as much
"stuff". George Carlin said, "It's my stuff, it's your shit." We didn't pick a career to make $$$$$$,, we chose something of the heart. And the heart knows it's worth. You will rebound because we strive to survive and flourish. Keep writing, keep painting, keep on keeping on. Jeff Leedy

Luann M. Udell
Cheryl, I'm so glad! Now, isn't that a small miracle?? :^)

Holly, re: forgiveness, YES to both of those, that's critical. The next step is to truly understand that it all rests on that person--and we can LET GO of the anger, fear, resentment, we can LET GO of the terrible, second-guessing, self-doubting their words, thoughts, and actions have tumbled into. We may get to a point where we realize we CANNOT FIX THIS, nor should we try. As a wise woman says, "That's not up to you, that's between them and GOD!" In other words, that's their journey, not ours.

I had the rare opportunity to watch someone who was totally confusing me, literally narrate everything they were thinking, in the moment. Everything they were thinking, they said out loud.

Suddenly, my confusion, resentment, my urge to "bridge" our gap, my anguish, my compulsion to fix things, disappeared. This was on them--their experience, their pain, their unhappiness, their anger, their resentment, whatever the reason--it had absolutely nothing to do with me.

The true release of thos emotions on my end left me feeling as if my little anxious heart had been freed from their choices. (I have TOLD MYSELF this in the past, but this was the first time my thoughts were confirmed, verbally.)

I'll still need time and effort to get there, but I finally understood the process.

Luann M. Udell
Patrice, YES!!! And we also think we're the only one struggling with this concept. And I love your quote. Is that yours or did you find it??

Part of the reason we allow ourselves to believe we are in control is to protect ourselves. it's absolutely terrifying when we realize we aren't. Our lives are like crossing a lake, walking on thin ice. The only way to "be perfectly safe" is to do nothing. But even that can't protect us forever.

That phone call in the middle of the night--we couldn't have any peace in our heart if we spend our life waiting for it.

So when I myself trying to make something happen, or when I try to fix everything, I have to be a little gentle with myself. :^)

Luann M. Udell
Carol, thank you for your good thoughts. And I've actually thought about Nevada! And concidentally (or not!), I've been making some of my little critters into something folks can hold in their hand while meditating or ruminating (the worry-wart's version of mediation, although somewhat unsuccessful!) Your comment reminds me that I need one myself! :^D

Judy Gilmer, I'm delighted! thanks!!!

Susan, thank you for sharing your personal experience with the concepts I shared, and for your support. YES, sometimes we go sideways, or backwards, or we have to slow down. But we will always have something to say, even in our very presence. Keep on keeping on!

Luann M. Udell
Andrea, your words are so true! (And you, too, put it in less than 100 words!) I've seen people who cope by burying their heads in the sand. Doesn't work. Never will. :^)

Walter, I actually had a burger at the airport. But now I'm home, and we still have to move. ;^)

Oh, Renee, I am so sorry about your daughter! Sounds like she's made up a story about why you and your husband are where you are now.

One thing I learned on this trip was to stop telling other people what their reality is. I know sometimes we need to hear stuff that's hard--someone may have information, facts, insights, experiences that we don't have. But our only responsibility is to offer another point of view, not lecture them about their choices.

And Jeff--WOW!!! Your words are amazing, and thank you for sharing! "Yes" on every count.

Yes, money pays bills, puts a roof over our head, cushions some of life's blows, etc. But it seems to me that people with LOTS of money spend even more time worrying about losing it.

If life has taught me anything, it's that there's not enough money in the world to protect ourselves 100 percent, and there's never enough to make us feel 100 percent safe. Almost everything we need to be happy is in us already: work/avocation we love, love, compassion, love, gratitude, generosity, friendship, and the ability to tell our own story.

Joanne Benson
Hi Luann,
Thanks for sharing all your thoughts, troubles, fears and wisdom. I find it is cathartic to write and share ones feelings and I sense that you do too. It is a form of therapy!

I pray that things will all work out for you and your hubby and your art. For sure nothing in this world is for certain and those are the things that keep me awake at night. Worrying about things out of my control or sometimes in my control.....My mom used to say, "If only I could turn my brain off at night in order to sleep!".

Three and a half years ago I had what was the worst nightmare of my life. My beautiful 24 year old daughter was in a terrible car accident and suffered life threatening injuries. Long story short, she is alive and doing well. Through it all she never complained. I could take a lesson in that alone! At the same time my mother was in hospice dying. It was a challenging time but writing about it helped me as did the support of my loving husband, family and friends.

There is a saying about not understanding someone's troubles until you walk in their shoes. Those experiences have made me more aware and compassionate.

I think forgiveness is also great therapy! It isn't always easy as you know. My daughter was a passenger in the car and I have had to forgive the driver who walked away with a black eye. But that is in the past and I have forgiven and put it behind me even though my daughter suffers permanent injuries and damage from the accident. It is better to be thankful for the good in life than to dwell on the bad.

Blessings to you and your family. Sending good thoughts and good karma your way! This is a great internet tribe!

Walter Paul Bebirian
was the at a Five Guys at an airport?

perhaps you need a fancier hamburger -

Luann M. Udell
Walter, nope, Jon made me a very good hamburger with gourmet ground when I got home. But we still have to move.

Luann M. Udell
Joann, thank you so much for your words of encouragement and support. We've had years like yours, and yes, they are hard to get through. In comparison, this is a walk in the park and I really get that. And I love what you said about how even these unbearable experiences often bring wonderful gifts that expand our hearts and makw lives richer and deeper.

Holly Banks
Joanne, I can't imagine how had that experience was for you. I am glad your daughter came out well.
Sending you an e hug.

Joanne Benson
Thanks for the e hug Holly! Back at you and Luann!

Walter Paul Bebirian
well - if you get to your new place - wherever it is and he makes you pretty much the same hamburger then perhaps the move will end up not being that traumatic -


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