One Step At A Time

Just as I’ve mentioned before that it’s important that we be our own best friend and care for ourselves when we fall down, I’m reminding myself (and anyone who needs it) that it’s just as important to be there for ourselves when we’re on the upswing. Being someone’s best friend is more than just helping them back up, but it’s also being there for them when they stand again, and too often we ignore this when it pertains to us and ourselves. We fall down and eventually get back up and keep going, but instead of recognizing that driving force we simply tell ourselves to keep going to get to the end of the race.

Which is fine and well, but there’s no rush in life, and we really do need to take a moment to tell ourselves “Good job” when we come up and dust ourselves off, especially if there wasn’t anyone else helping you when you were down. It’s also easy to say that you’ll reward yourself when you get to your goal, whatever it may be. That’s a good motivator, but sometimes we need to stop and reward the little things. Not with some huge prize, but something small and encouraging, to help keep us motivated to keep going to our goals.

For example, I’ve resumed my diet in order to shed my winter weight, and this week I’ve been very good about it and lost about 6 pounds. Even though I’m not at the 10lb marker yet, this week was hard simply for having to admit to myself that I’d gone off track and needed to restart, as well as because this week was the week tax deadlines were due. I work in an accounting office, and so all week there were late nights without much time for cooking, and a constant offering of pastries and sweets for breakfast that I had to repeatedly decline. So even though I haven’t hit my 10lb goal and am only a fraction of the way to my big goal, this weekend I’ll treat myself to something small and nice, just for making the choice to get back up and restart, for holding myself accountable, and for not letting myself be easily swayed by French pastries. My treat? I have a coupon to my favorite store where I’ll get a free bottle of fragrance for buying soemthing I’d run out of anyway. Small treat, not much cost, but definitely will help keep me heading toward my goal.

So take a moment today to appreciate, praise, and encourage yourself for whatever it is you’ve done or are trying to do. Even if it’s just finding the emotional strength to get out of bed, there is always something there to focus on to help keep you feeling good about going forward.

Do you have any mini-rewards?

Personal Sandcastles

Sometimes it’s so very hard to pick ourselves back up when we feel like we’ve fallen or faltered, especially in the midst of change or when it only takes one thoughtless comment to tear down all we thought we’d built upon. It could be anything. Some passing mention that your quality is slipping lately, that there seems to be more on your plate than others think you can handle, that you aren’t trying hard enough, even some comment about your weight from someone it shouldn’t matter to. Little comments make big impacts, and can so easily hurt us. Think of sand; it’s far easier and faster to poke just your finger deeply into the sand than it is to slam at the sand at full force with your whole fist. People and the defenses we make for ourselves are really not so different.

Sometimes things take longer to build up from than others, and those thoughtless little comments seem to undo everything all at once and send us spiraling back down to square one. It happens to everyone, even the people who externally have everything handled at all times. They may have better coping skills, but don’t be fooled; they’re only human, and nobody comes pre-programmed with these skills to rise back up. When we fall down into this, it’s easy to just feel so trapped, and when it’s friends or loved ones it’s easy for us to feel frustrated at not being able to help them as much as we’d like. We all just want a light switch that makes it better, right now. Poof, fixed.

So what to do when you or someone has fallen down like this? I’ve mentioned before that it’s okay to let yourself feel overwhelmed, cry, and get through the feelings at your own (healthy) pace. But sometimes we need a little nudge. Always remember that we are far stronger than we ever think we are., so that when things poke into our personal sandcastles we can get back up a little faster and feel a little bit stronger. Remind people how strong they are, even when they themselves don’t see it; try to encourage them with a moment when they pushed through another challenge, be it personal, with friends, work, or school. It may seem silly, but just as much as the little hurtful comments can take us down, they can help bring us up. And if it’s you, do the same; encourage yourself if nobody is around to help pick you up. Think of all the challenges and changes that brought you to where you are today and how they’ve all shaped you.

Every choice in life leads to things we learn to apply to ourselves and make ourselves and each other stronger as we grow.

To Paint, Perchance to Dream

One of the things I’ve believed all my life, argued, and defended vigorously throughout the years is that art is entirely subjective. What is art to one person is absolute drivel to another, and though quality can be a comparable thing, it isn’t he only thing that makes art what it is. To me, it’s the intent and purity in expression.

I never went to art school or lessons, even when I was in grade school and art was offered as an elective, not because I wasn’t committed as an artist, but because I found myself constantly butting heads with the teachers who taught what the school districts said we must be taught and graded based on regurgitating those lessons and information. Hoenstly that’s my biggest arguement against the whole of scholastic structure, but that’s another blog for another day. But in art classes, especially as we get older, the focus becomes less of learning to express oneself and more on how we can express what other artists expressed, which to me is just silly. In other classes we’re punished for copying the work of others, and yet in art we’re supposed to copy them? Teaching us these artistic styles could be done just as well by showing us the technique and then allowing us to experiment on our own rather than stress ourselves on how well we can recreate Monet’s Waterlillies.

And so, I paint in whatever way comes most naturally, even though I couldn’t quite define it from standard terms if I tried. I will never be the artist who could tell you why painting with the $17 paintbrushes are better than the $7 set of 20 brushes from Walmart. I’l never be that artist who could prattle on about a dissertation comparing early impressionist artists and why modern art is the death of art. I could never give you any deeper reasoning for most of my paintings beyond, “Because I felt like it.” Which is probably why I’ll never be an art teacher or featured in some posh gallery. But you know what? Every artist I meet, I encourage them to do the same: paint honestly. Paint because you feel like it and what you feel, not because it’s what anyone else expects or wants. I tell this to every artist of every style that I meet, and twice over to those who lament to me that they’re not artists at all and that their stick figures need reconstructive surgery.

In Virginia I went to see about a job whose ad simply stated “Artist wanted.” As it turned out, I was shown an original painting by the master Leetag, whose works were primarily done on stretched velvet and used oil pastels. The painting was old, the velvet was slipping in places, and the pastels were fading and crumbling away. But after all these years it was still a gorgeous piece, and the beautiful lack of definition between the material and the subject and how they just blended together so effortlessly was incredible. And then on top you could see where other well-meaning artists had tried to help restore the piece, dabbing on oil paints with brushes and producing spots that really obviously didn’t match. The ad only said “Artist wanted,” but what she was really looking for was an art restoration specialist, which is about the only time I condone people being able to perfectly copy the works presented in class. In the end it didn’t work out, simply because really and truly I am not Leetag. She stated to me that she was looking for “a bona fide artist,” which wasn’t meant that way but seemed rather back-handed. My work is just as legitimate as Leetag’s, her own, and countless other artists who all paint because they want to and because they love what they’re creating. But I could only produce my interpretation of the painting, because I work in an entirely different medium in a style that I’ve embraced on my own. Being able to recreate his painting would mean I would be able to put myself in his mind, tap his feelings, and essentially summon his ghost to recount the memory he put to velvet. And seeing as how this isn’t the movie Ghost and I’m not Whoopi Goldberg, I rather doubt that’ll happen.

Naturally I was kinda bummed about it when I got home, and I remember just staring at my own canas, and felt what I know every artist feels at some point when they encounter similar issues. Wondering why I’m bothering to paint if in the end my work won’t be good enough to be what people are looking for. But after a short sulk it settled in on me that yes, of course I should keep painting, not for some ego-diven thing to prove her or anyone wrong, or to be the best out there or famous or anything like that, but because at the end of the day I still loved painting and I loved how I felt when I was painting and after it was done. In their day Monet and Toulouse were less than popular, as were Dali and Van Gogh. And yet, they painted. They were all compared to those who were known as great, had their wrists swatted for not conforming, and painted still, all on their own and because they wanted to. And so I carried on with my strange abstract impressionist paintings, interpreting life the way I see it and putting it to canvas for nobody’s satisfaction but my own.

Where am I going with this? It’s totally natural to compare your work to those who are hailed as masters, and even the works of people around us that we all look to because we think they’re better. But don’t convince yourself that they are. It’s just differences in style. Maybe you can practice sketching more to improve your own style, or experiment with mediums more to enhance what you know, but never sell yourself short. From stick figures to Renoir, all art is legitimate, bona fide art as long as there was honest expression and intention behind it, even if viewers don’t always understand what it was. They can never fully understand because they didn’t make the piece. And it kind of applies to all other fields outside of art. Look to others to learn more, but never strive to copy their work because they’re “the best” at whatever. Learn, incorporate, and go beyond in your own way. Express as you feel.

What You Really, Really Want

You know, a lot of my friends are like me in that they’re dreamers. They all have lofty goals, some with more off the wall goals than others, and some who haven’t quite figured out their goals yet. Some who only had one big one that they’ve already given up on. Some of my friends are already where they want to be, or at least on that path. Some of my friends are regularly upset about where they ar…e not being where they want and give themselves reasons why they can’t have the life and things in life they want. And you know what? In every case just mentioned, that’s okay.

Seriously guys, it’s okay.
It’s okay to take time to dream about the life you want, even if it seems pretty far-fetched from where you are or have ever been. I know if I stated up some of the things I wanted in life, I’d possibly get a rousing chorus of why none or most of it wasn’t practical. But dreams don’t have to be 100% practical 100% of the time. They’re flexible and can be reworked to suit if you let them and put forth the effort. It’s okay to not accomplish the things you were hoping for all at once, and it’s totally okay to admit to yourself when your plans and goals need some tweaking. Just because the intention you had build yourself up to since you were 14 didn’t work out doesn’t mean that’s all there is; it means there’s more for you to learn and take into consideration. Setbacks aren’t defeats, they’re chances to improve your plans with more thought and clarity than you may have given them before.
If you want something badly enough, put forth the effort. Not just a few half-hearted tries that won’t really hurt anything if they don’t work, but really push for it. Do the research and the leg work, find the things you really need to know to make the things you want happen. Everything we have in life was once stated as impossible by those who came before us; everything is possible. But you have to really try for it. I was raised being told “First you wish and then you work.” Our dreams and goals don’t just happen on a lucky break more often than not. We have to fight for them.
So dream big dreams, guys. Make grand goals. Design the life you want. And then, try. Really try. Try several different ways to see what works and what doesn’t work, and then when you know, start applying the things you’ve learned along the way to get to where you want. And if in the end your goals aren’t really working for you for whatever reason? Take time and change them to find new ones for yourself. It’s okay to design, scrap, and redesign your life to the way you want and works for you.
We are only as limited as we tell ourselves.

Rainy Days and… Wednesdays

So for those not in the know who either don’t watch the weather, don’t live in the Northeast US, or are lucky enough to live elsewhere in the world (and may your area be sunny and lovely!), the weather right here, right now, is downright dismal. All week it’s been rain, snow, ice, slush, later, rinse, repeat. All day it’s been raining to dissolve the snow and ice from the last two days, but tonight it will freeze all over again, followed by yet more snow, and possibly three feet over the weekend. Seriously, I left Minnesota. I didn’t know it missed me so much.

But given what the weather is, it’s made things equally dismal for the people around. Nobody likes driving in this (and nobody should be, really. Do yourselves a favor!), nobody likes walking in it (which sucks for those of us with no wheels and a puppy who needs walks), and certainly fewer and fewer people are enjoying this winter dumpdown, except maybe all the kids who I think haven’t been to school steadily in a few weeks. So, lots of grumpy people in grumpy weather. Nothing sounds good. Everything is rotten. Oscar the Grouch would be proud.

I confess I’m guilty too. As I told a girlfriend of mine, it’s hard to be cheery right now when things feel so strained and there isn’t even any sunshine to take in. I’m like a plant. I neeeeeeed the sunshine. I thrive in summer. It’s when I paint the most, get all my sewing, my creativity bursts and I just dunno what to do with it all. Winter? Eeehhhh not so much. I just want to return to bed and wait for the flowers to come back.  I know I can’t be the only one in this feeling.

But then I got to thinking how I shouldn’t feel down, and scolded myself for letting me get caught up in all my problems and feel compounded by the weather and my lack of creative motivation. I scolded myself, because not much good comes of feeling this way. But you know what? I’m not the sort of person where yelling and scolding makes me want to do better and automatically fixes the issue. I’m not. It actually just makes me feel worse and like an even worse human being for succumbing to these feelings. After all, they’re selfish, right?

So I sighed and stared into my tea and asked myself what I really could do about it. My problems, for now, can’t be fixed immediately. I have to continue to be patient, and they will smooth out in time. The weather I can’t help. My creativity just needs new inspiration. So I rationalized, which felt better, but still didn’t really take away those feelings of insecurity and just wanting a nice comforting… something. And then it dawned on me: it was okay to feel these feelings that everyone tells you to get over and automatically turn off. You’re HUMAN. Negative feelings will affect your life just as much as positive, but that doesn’t mean you have to stamp them out and feel bad about having felt them at all. Now, I’m not saying to go to a dark, dank corner of your soul and grow mushrooms, unless it’ll turn you into some superhuman version of Emily Dickinson and Edgar Allen Poe and be the world’s new dark, creative genius. If that’s the case, go forth and be awesome, you beautiful gloom-cookie, you.But I am saying this for myself and everyone else who feels guilty about not immediately fitting the happy bubble we hold ourselves up to.

It’s okay to have an off day. Say it with me: It’s okay to be sad.

And after letting it sink in.. it helped. Yes, I’m still a bit dank and just want to go home, but tomorrow is a new day, and that’s good news in and of itself. And when I go home tonight, I’ve planned an impromptu self-date. Yes, a self-date. No, it’s not as lame or silly as it sounds. It’s actually a really healthy practice to learn self-love; something I’m pretty new to, but trying because I want to find my happiness somewhere inside of me. I know happiness isn’t out in the world if I don’t feel it in me to start with, so that’s where I start. Secretly, I’ve always known I was a Sith.

Tonight I’ll play with my puppy, and put on my new Faith Hill CD that I’ve only listened to once. I’ll get the ingredients to make a really nice treat dinner, just for me; curry chicken and veggies with rice, and make curry pan with leftover sauce for the rest of the week’s snacks. I might treat myself to a small, cheap bunch of colored daisies from the store. No, I can’t argue that I have done anything to deserve them, and I know I may feel slightly guilty. But you know what? If I were a separate person and wanted to cheer me up, I know flowers would do it. They’re bright, they’re pretty, and they’re just so darn happy. I might even get a mini bottle of wine or champagne, just because it’s happy, too. I’ll have a fabulous treat dinner with my puppy and my kitten, and watch a goofy Vincent Price movie I haven’t seen yet. Vincent Price always cheers me up. And then? I might run a super hot bath with lavender salt and extra bubbles, courtesy of the dollar store, and have a brownie in a coffee cup since it only takes a minute to make and just some flour, cocoa, and oil.

Tonight, I may spoil and comfort myself. Not because I’m selfish, not because I’m spoiled, not because I’ve earned it, and not as some sour-grapes way of saying “I don’t need anyone to comfort me because I have myself so neener.” Because it’s not any of those reasons. I’ll do it because I’m sad and stressed, and have been for weeks, and if I could be the sort of friend I try to be to others, I’d want to spend a night cheering me up. Because I need it. 

And that’s a big step in self love and self care. It may be too big of a step for some, but I’m willing to step out of my zones of feeling guilty about doing things for myself and will deal with that later. Tonight, I’ll put all my problems and worries aside to just enjoy myself as best I can, with myself, and with what I have worked so hard to get (which isn’t much, but it’s still the most I’ve ever had). And I’m sharing this with anyone out there to encourage you to do the same. If your feelings are getting to you and you’re depressed, if you feel underappreciated by your friends and unwanted by your family, if you feel like your problems are just going to swallow you whole and you just want to cry and you’re just barely holding yourself together enough to keep going for today… It’s okay. You’re doing your best, and nobody can ask for more. Take pride in your own strength, even when it feels like you’re failing at every turn. Congratulate yourself for how far you’ve come, even if you’ve needed help and still need it. Let yourself feel sad when life becomes overwhelming. Cry. Get it out of your system. Don’t scold yourself and punish, don’t tell yourself how worthless and weak you are for feeling the way you do. Instead, let it out, and take a moment to be your own best friend. Do the things for yourself you wish soemone would come and do for you to help you come back up. You may feel a little guilty at first for focusing on yourself,  but you know what?

You’re so worth it.