For all the prescribed methods aimed at maintaining youth, one that is NOT found in the skin care aisle, is the act of learning something new. This results in Neuroplasticity (the brain's ability to reorganize itself by forming new neural connections throughout life - allowing neurons in the brain to compensate for injury and disease and to adjust their activities in response to new situations or to changes in their environment.)
I did that yesterday, and fully expect to begin feeling younger, thank you. It was a small task, really: Wire Wrapping. It's not Rocket Science, surely, but a skill that I had attempted once, and rejected when the result was imperfect.
What helped me to persevere this time, was a big, gorgeous Magnesite teardrop that I VERY much wanted to use. I didn't have a large enough bail to make the pendant, and the top-drilled hole was from front-to-back rather than side-to-side. Curses.
With new-found determination, I Google-ed "Wire Wrapping" and came up with TONS of step-by-step instructions. (Funny thing about asking for help and following directions - it actually WORKS!) The Perfectionist Bug still stung me, and I twisted and mangled through several feet of wire before getting it "Just So." But get it, I DID! And now I have a new skill, have opened the door to unlimited shapes of fabulous stones that I will know how to work with, AND have this gorgeous turquoise blue necklace to show for it.
As it often does, one thing lead to another, and today, while en route to the newly re-opened Rodin Museum, I was drawn to the display stand of a local designer near the Farmer's Market in Rittenhouse Square. I've passed by her often, but never stopped, thinking that I since make jewelry myself, why would I bother?
Well, Michelle Judge (click here for her website) studied sculpture and creates incredible pieces with (guess what?) WIRE. I was utterly impressed with her designs, and happily bought a fantastic pair of fluorite earrings.
What didn't cost anything, and really made my day, was the nice chat we had about stones and creating. AND being inspired from having found...Something New!
Several weeks ago, a good portion of the Nation held their collective breaths watching Nik Wallenda traverse Niagara Falls and, aside from the sheer spectacle of the event, I was struck by several things.
First of all, being born into the famous Wallenda family made this man genetically predisposed to make this kind of feat his life’s work. Like law enforcement, the military, and mortuary services, this daredevil career choice is definitely a legacy one. And because it was what he was born and raised in, what we see as being outrageous and unattainable is more-or-less commonplace to him. He eats it; breathes it; sleeps it.
The network showed footage of his practice sessions that imagined and re-created the exact conditions he would experience as we all watched live. This didn’t involve just positive thinking or hoping for favorable conditions – it meant full-on water hoses dousing him with gushes of spray that were just as turbulent as the unique micro weather pattern that the falls themselves create. As we gasped and squinched our eyes shut while glued to the TV screen, watching as the wind gusted and the balance pole swayed, this man had ALREADY experienced these conditions again and again and again. It was only US that were experiencing it for the first time.
What spoke to me most – and what applies to Creative Endeavorists, I think – were long segments over the course of the crossing when the network announcers, in their best High Drama Voices regaled us with the seemingly endless list of risk factors, alarming depths of the Falls, and the fact that no one had EVER successfully attempted the feat. It was Ambulance Chasing at its best. Interspersed between these raucous blasts of doom, were brief glimpses of the sure and steady voice of Nik’s father speaking to him from a control booth where he watched every moment, and each of his son’s exacting movements to guide him, assure him, and encourage him along his way, one step at a time.
That was the takeaway from this for me, that no matter what the attempt du jour is, there will ALWAYS be a voice of doom/doubt/nay-saying. In fact, there may be MANY.
But there is also ALWAYS a voice that says “Yes!”/”Why not try?”/”If not you, who?”
It may end up being a bit of a shouting match, and you just KNOW which will be louder. But, given the options, which voice would you rather listen to?
I read this in a blog I subscribe to by Chris Guillebeau - a quote by Jim Rohn:
"We must all suffer one of two things: the pain of discipline or the pain of regret and disappointment."
I remember being told many, many times over the course of my life that all I needed for (fill-in-the-blank) was "a little discipline." From that, I learned that I must be weak-willed, and unable to do the things that other people were doing quite naturally.
The thing is, the fact that discipline IS (and always has been) what is required, is just as true as the fact that discipline is NOT easy - and never has been - for anyone.
If it were, artists wouldn't be tortured or depressed when inspiration fails, the entire human race would be at the weight that nature wanted them to be, we would all excel at whatever our hearts desired, and there would be no credit card debt.
Having written that, I can admit to knowing ONE person who is a shining star on all those fronts. One. And he is a success in his life, and an inspiration as a friend, except when I'm down and letting emotions, disappointments, or struggles get the best of me.
At that point, when all I want is a magic elixir to make everything right - poof - the best I can do for myself is to take the next right step. And it doesn't have to be a big one.
But I must take one.
And then tomorrow, another.
(For me, it doesn't seem to matter what it is...but surely something I don't feel like doing.)
And this is where reward of discipline shows itself, and its benefits are revealed in enormous proportion to the seemingly small effort I had to force myself to make. (And yes, I DO have to force it.)
When I'm envious of my friend, seeing the end product of a lifetime of discipline, I have to remember that it is the result of a first step, and then another, day after day, year after year, whether he wants to or not. And that habit is just as strong as the habit of it's inverse, procrastination, sloth, fearful laziness.
OK, so I've taken this step of writing a blog post for the week this morning - heavens...even before coffee - and know that it will lead to another step I won't want to take today, but will.
And I know that I will have dodged the "pain of regret and disappointment" just for today.
In June, I was asked to sing our National Anthem for the graduation ceremony of The Art Institute of Philadelphia.
The energy in the hall was as palpable as it was audible, from the crinkly cellophane of street vendor flower bouquets, to the hundreds of red, blinking eyes of parents' camcorders.
At this time in my life, I found it interesting and inspiring - and not a little melancholic - to be on the other side of the festivities, wishing so much that I could have known then what I know now. Several things stood out that afternoon.
First, there were a small group of students who excelled, with many of that select few picking up multiple merit awards. They shined. By comparison, the rest who filed up to received their diplomas, didn't. It thought, would they ever shine, if they weren't shining now?
Second, the one who shone brightest, perhaps not coincidentally, was the Valedictorian. I had to wonder if his magnetic personality, artistic optimism, and energetic vision brought him his academic success, or if his successes served to increase his charisma. I concluded that one must increase the other. It obviously didn't matter which way it worked in his case, because - either way - he had it! I envied him. A lot.
Third, the Dean's Address. It sounded quite simple: a 4-step plan for success. So laughably simple, in fact, that I wondered why one wouldn't just know these things. But like so many things in life, we (OK, I) think that complexity equals profundity.
The 4 keys to Success:
(1) Show up.
(2) Exceed expectations.
(3) Ask for help when you need it.
(4) Savor the experience.
Easy? Lord, no.
Each step contradicts a corresponding human condition: (1) Procrastination, (2) Trying to get away with doing the bare minimum, (3) Stubborn self-sufficiency, and (4) Thinking that things could always be better.
So, in thinking lately about what to do about finding other retail locations for Belle Pietre, I've decided to heed step #3, by asking for help from friends and fans.
Do you know of, or are you a customer of, an artisan boutique in your area? One that handles hand-crafted items of all sorts, including jewelry? If you've seen my work, you'll be able to determine if the shop and Belle Pietre would be a good match.
I'd love to know of any such shops, and would be most grateful to you for helping to make a connection!
(...and I promise to savor the experience!)
It would seem that most of my ramblings, despite the intended subject matter, end up being about control...or the lack thereof.
This week as been an exercise in, and wake-up call to, just how little control I actually have. When I think of how many things I've tried exerting control over - people, situations, money, people (deserves to be mentioned twice, if not more), the creative spirit, discipline, my voice, what food I put in my mouth, what thoughts whirl around in my bean - I can see the folly of my repeated efforts.
Mother Nature has proven this week, with two blazing examples of her might - an earthquake on Tuesday, and now hurricane Irene, whose effects will be felt even here on Spruce Street tonight and tomorrow - that I actually hold little, or (gasp!) no, control over w-a-a-a-a-y more than I'd care to admit. So, the lesson from Irene is this - preparation is key.
Standing in line at Trader Joe's and CVS, stocking up on non-perishable foods, batteries and water (and, yes, a bottle of wine, too) I was feeling like an alarmist, since the day was so sunny and nice. I couldn't help thinking that it seemed like just another significant forecast that wouldn't end up being what had been anticipated as The Storm of the Century.
But the thing is, you just never know. So I lugged home my booty, and now I'm hunkered down, and prepared for a power outage and flooding.
On the 4th floor.
So how, then, does preparation play a part in giving up control?
It's being prepared, doing all that's possible, and then letting go to let the Fates step in...whether it's nature, an agent I'm auditioning for, a potential buyer for my jewelry, or a situation that I'm invested in working out in a particular way. I can really only do my best to be as prepared as possible.
So, I have potable water and batteries, and will be comfy here at home come what may. For the agent, staying in good vocal shape and knowing my repertoire cold allows me freedom to express and (dare I say it?) enjoy an audition. Having gorgeous new pieces of jewelry ready to show at my retail outlets, or on hand when a new client wants to see my work, gives me freedom from having to create on the fly.
It's one of those ironic things of opposition, I guess. Trying to control can only bring frustration, and giving up control can only bring freedom.
But only with preparation!
Inspired by a visit to the Philadelphia Museum of Art yesterday, I sat down this morning to create something, Belle Pietre-wise.
I put on some “noodle-y music “ – meaning background-y, unobtrusive, uplifting. Then, for something new, the kitchen timer was set for one hour, and I looked for a plausible reason as to why this was an auspicious day to work.
Numerology -wise, it was good. I added up the numbers of the date today, 8/8/2011, got 18, and then added those two numbers: 1+8=9, which was the square root of My Number: 3! (A little "out there," I know, but I’m alternately superstitious and fascinated by such things…)
I also vowed to myself that today was NOT going to be about completion, but rather playing around with the components to see what works, what doesn’t, what’s possible, or not.
As I put together, took apart, put together, and took back apart many combinations of beads, findings and spacers with the square Mother-of-Pearl pieces I was focused on using, I felt the all-too-familiar nudge-iness build. I wanted it done.
I let my mind drift, though, and it floated back to yesterday and the museum, and the story behind of one of the many famous Renoirs.
He had, apparently, labored over this painting for three years.
"The Large Bathers" 1884-87, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, 46 3/8 x 67 1/4"
Granted, one Belle Pietre piece is barely equivalent to half a dewdrop on a single blade of Impressionist grass in the vast landscape of Renoir’s oeuvre, but I have to believe that the process itself is the same. Pierre-Auguste MUST have whined and wanted to chuck the whole thing countless times!
Long story short – just as the timer “booped” the allotted hour, I’d come upon a combination that made me happy, that worked in terms of scale and just-so-ness, and (how I best judge my work) it was something that I would be proud to wear.
With the Pressure to Complete off, the piece was...
Medea ~ Iridescent Mother-of-Pearl squares swing from sterling silver ovals and narrow rings, along curved tubes and a decorative toggle clasp
If you've never heard of Comedy Sportz, I highly recommend it. I was taken on a date to one of their events last summer, and fell in love with the "sport," and the dozens of men and women who hung their improvisatory comedic heinies out there!
Comedy Sportz is based on the same premise as Drew Carey's show, "Whose Line is it Anyway" from a few years back. As fascinated as I am by those who do it, and as intrigued enough as I am to think that maybe I could do it, it's the improvising itself that prevents me from running to sign up for the classes that Comedy Sportz offers locally, from newbie improvisers to advanced.
What I fear most, I suppose, is getting stuck in an unfunny spot and not being able to get out of it, or go further, and just having to stand there with comedic egg on my face.
I have a theory about being able to extemporize - that it's really a right/left brain thing, and that you're either equipped genetically to do it naturally, or you're not. I consider myself WAY too cut and dry, and OCD-y, to just be able to let fly and run with something new and unknown.
I read something recently though, that blows my theory out of the water. It seems that there really is a technique to it! The improv principle is known as “Yes And.”
It works like this: At the beginning of a scene, Character #1 begins by establishing setting and plot. The “Yes And” then comes into play with Character #2 accepting the premise and adding on to the situation, and NOT negating. The scene then plays out from there, always "Yes"-ing and "And"-ing.
It means going with the flow, with what has already been put forth and seeing where that takes you. Of course, I'm pretty sure that my immediate reaction would be to try to plan ahead, and then force the other person to go with what I had envisioned.
But that wouldn't create a true dialogue, would it? I'd have my own little monologue going, and just trying to force another person to play by my script, instead of being open to letting the eventual whole be better than the sum of my one part plus theirs!
It certainly does away with pre-concieved notions of how the scene will play out, and it forces all involved to really be in the present moment.
Searching around a bit on Google, I see that many have adopted and adapted this approach in business, team building, workplace efficiency, and although I haven't seen it, it must be helpful in conflict resolution and fair fighting in relationships. I can see, too, how it might help in my world, in teaching voice, singing, and in creating Belle Pietre baubles!
I'm thinking, in particular, about all the times, in a fit of creative urgency (read that, an upcoming show or a frantic commission deadline) I've gotten all my beads and supplies out on the table, ready to conquer them.
No sooner have I strung a handful of beads that I had thought would work up beautifully and easily, when I take one critical look, swipe them off the beading wire, and get immediately resigned, exhaling a frustrated sigh and "hurrumph".
So what would happen, then, if I stopped short of the "No But" and went with "Yes And"?!
Maybe I could look at what I'd strung and not throw in the towel immediately. I could keep what's there and add something: a different size, a contrasting color, an interesting focal bead to change the necklace shape, add a 2nd or 3rd strand for a more dramatic texture. Anything rather than scrapping it all, putting the beads away in their bag, and stomping off with a pout.
And if I did that, I'd get many more pieces made - and faster - and I'd end up with new and interesting items that I hadn't actually set out to make. Isn't that what creatives do?
It's like Comedy Sportz improvisers, who end up with very different story lines and funnier material than what they could have imagined starting out.
And therein, ultimately, lies the fun, the mystery, and - for control freaks like me - the challenge of improvising.
There's a wonderful blog post by NY voice teacher Susan Eichhorn-Young, entitled Suck it up, Princess. It addresses the all-too-human trait of 1) making excuses, and 2) finding reasons, for (fill-in-the-blank). Truly, it's not as snarky as the name would suggest, but it DID come to mind lately - not only as it applies to me, but to others I've had dealings with recently.
Although it's comforting to think that Excuse Making and Reason Finding must surely be a Universal- and Part-of-Being-Human Thing, it is also endemic to artistic types for whom hanging their Creative Heinies out is a daily deed. But then isn't that just another excuse? (And if not an excuse, then surely it must be a good reason!)
The remedy, I think, is another of those Simple But Not Easy things:
Dictionary.com defines it thusly:
[in-teg-ri-tee] –noun 1. adherence to moral and ethical principles; soundness of moral character; honesty. 2. the state of being whole, entire, or undiminished. 3. a sound, unimpaired, or perfect condition.
Oooof, that's a lot to ask, isn't it? Sisyphus and his big ole boulder come to mind, exhausting me before I can even start, with the very notion of the herculean effort of his (literal) uphill battle.
As much as I like to make complicated things even MORE complicated, I would offer this, decidedly UNcomplicated, definition, that resonates with me not so much because I naturally embody, it, but because it is SO NOT what I want to hear:
"Integrity is doing what you say you're going to do when you say you're going to do it."
Like I said - simple but not easy.
So, here's a challenge: Think about one little thing, anything really, you've been stalled on, or have been procrastinating about. Now see if there is an element or an issue about it where you're "out of integrity." (I've done it already, and I'll bet you a quarter that it will unleash a herd of excuses and/or reasons, just like it did for me.)
But instead of staying stuck in that and the ensuing self pity - or worse - self-flagellation and scrutiny, look rather to see what's missing, and then go to any length to make just that ONE little thing right - to get back "IN integrity."
And it's going to feel good. It really will. And then it'll possible to do that other thing, and then another. And then maybe a bigger thing, maybe something that's REALLY important, and will mean something in the Big Picture.
Another benefit? - other people will be WAY less annoyed. No one really wants to hear excuses and reasons for "why" do they? I don't want to hear them from others, and it's getting so even I'm tired of hearing my own.
Alright then, now we're getting somewhere!
Read Susan Eichhorn-Young's entire post here:
This past weekend, I was asked to judge the Bristol Riverside Theatre's talent competition - StarPower 2011. For the countless times I've been on the other side of the adjudicators' table as a singer, I'd yet to ever be The Judge.
My view of what it took to be a judge was to have a large pad of paper, doodle mindlessly while chatting with the other judge(s), or shuffle noisily through papers, all with a pained - or, even worse, bored - expression on one's face. At least that was my view, from the OTHER side.
But now I've experienced it - as Joni Mitchell sings - from "Both Sides Now."
Having sat for an evening in the judges seat, I can see clearly that the people listening to me over the years really WERE looking for me to succeed. They still do. They WANT me to be good - so that they can fill their slot on a roster, or cast a show, or find a fabulous someone to feature as a soloist in a concert.
It's hard to admit that I've STILL thought of those people as being like my freshman music theory teacher, Dr. Mary Arlin, who simply MUST'VE been an inherently evil person, and was out to get me, a pretty young voice student who would rather learn new repertoire than begrudgingly do her theory homework.
On Saturday evening, I really DID want every contestant to wow me, and was disappointed when they didn't. Sometimes, it was because a song was just not right for them, or they were copying the original artist and not making it their own. Sometimes, it was due to over-doing, or under-doing, or just plain NOT doing because of inexperience or nerves.
The beauty part, was that I could relate to each and every act I judged. And I learned something HUGE for myself - and for every other person that hangs their Creative Heinie out there in the world:
~ Do what you do best - and don't stop until you figure out EXACTLY what that is.
~ Don't EVER try to be someone else. Make whatever it is you do your own. Own it!
~ Work at what you're doing, figure out what works and what doesn't, and know it SO well that it becomes second nature, and then when you get a chance to do what you do, you can BE in the moment, DOING what you do expressively, organically, honestly.
And then you'll earn the right kind of attention from the judges. After that, the Apples and Oranges Thing applies. Whether you're the right type, the right act, the right whatever they need.
But that's what's involved in EVERYTHING in life that we pour our best selves into. And for those who can't, won't, or don't fully commit to whatever the "something" is, THIS is the issue that can actually make it less painful to NOT commit.
For someone who has a strong aversion to criticism, even the constructive kind, I suppose it's ironic that I would subject myself to years of it in the arts, opera and classical music specifically, and now - in addition - with creating jewelry.
I've read many an inspirational story (and a billboard along the way somewhere) that offers comfort, by reasoning that a baseball player's hitting average that will land him in the Hall of Fame is one where he's struck out 7 times out of 10. As assuring as that can be, though, the average for artists and creative types is typically even LESS.
But isn't that what makes it all that much more worthwhile - when I get called for a gig, have an awesome opportunity to sing and perform again with colleagues I haven't seen in years, or be accepted to show my work at a juried Art Exhibit. It IS worth it, and it always has been, no matter how many times I may have "struck out" first.
So what's the most fearsome thing about doing something new? Well, uh, actually DOING it. Figuring out what needs to get done, how to do that, and well, just doing it.
That happened recently at my first public showing at the Philadelphia Designer's Market. There's a bit of back story (isn't there always?) that started right after Easter when I was rehearsing at First Baptist Church for a large work we (Alan & I) were to perform in the service the next day.
Upon finishing, we were drawn from the sanctuary to the brightly-lit Education Hall which was ABUZZ with people and display tables of handmade items, mostly wearable things in the way of designer tee's, accessories, clothing and jewelry.
Well, my Jeweldar (radar which will "beep" out significant jewelry within a certain radius) went wild, and I had the thought that I should do the next event with Belle Pietre!
I went home, put a note in a book I keep for such inspirations and promptly forgot about it. Fortunately, Danelle, the awesome creatoress of this event, had taken my email address and, long after I'd given it it's last thought, an announcement popped into my Inbox for the next event, being held mid September.
In a flurry of reckless optimism, I payed my registration fee then and there through PayPal. My work was accepted - and good thing, too, for if I hadn't acted on impluse, I most likely would have been turned away since they can only accept so many jewelry designers!
As with most things, rather than working calmly and methodically all summer leading up to the event, I did most of the work in the last two weeks. For me, I suppose it's the thrill of drama and potential creative peril that keeps me doing things that way. Or maybe it's the age-old Rescue Fantasy we all have, the idea that someone might save us from this New Thing I Don't Know How To Do.
However, with necessity being the mother of invention, and time getting REALLY short (as was my sleep), an excitement - alternating with thoughts of "OMG, what am I doing???" - took form, and ideas began to come unbidden!
I could begin to see what I wanted the display table to look like, and then thought of who I could ask for props, and help with visual design. And with that framework in place, things and people and ideas all started to appear in my path
It was extraordinary, really, how inspired the process got when I realized that I really wasn't doing, and didn't HAVE to do, it myself. Of course, my stubborn, self-sufficient Only Childness had to put a sock in it, but the result of letting go of even a snitch of control was beyond my wildest imaginings!
Out of this experience, and talking about the doing of it, other inspired ideas have come, as have offers of encouragement and help. And isn't that the best stuff of the Creative Life?
As a result of this "first" and sharing the story of it - and honestly admitting the accompanying creative angst - I was offered a gratis session with professional Creative Consultant, Maryann Devine this week. She will, in turn, use the transcript of our session as the basis for one of her incredible blog entries.
(Do have a gander at what Maryann's work is all about at:
I suppose then, that just proves the point of the foolhardiness of trying, or even thinking of trying, to do this Creative Thing alone! I don't think we were meant to, and those who do are missing out on the sweet reward of being encouraged by others and then passing along at least a bit of what's been received to another.
I know for sure that it's sweeter to share what I've learned and have been given, than to try to keep it all for myself!
With special thanks to AVA Dean of Students Val Starr; David Tinsch, Friend & Visual Design Consultant Extraordinaire; each customer and EVERYONE who came by and gave such positive feedback for my creations!
Above, the finished display the day of the show.
Below, senior partner of the Belle Pietre Design Team hard at work the day before.
Above, beautiful Jennifer, who - just like I used to do with new Buster Brown shoes as a kid - wore her "Vitellia" necklace out of the show.
Below, Judy was thrilled with the TWO pieces she purchased, including the 4-strand amethyst "Lucia" that she put on immediately!