Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Finding Your Artistic Path

While writing Life, love ma for my children, I spoke with my daughter's friend who expressed frustration at having too many artistic talents and not knowing where to focus. I could relate. I went through phases of fashion design, interior design, painting, poetry, and on and on. Always wondering what would unlock the secret to that stream of productivity, that prolific gush of work that I could ride like a wave, that would truly satisfy my inner itch to create.  
Happily, that journey is just as important and satisfying as its goal. Your life as an artist is as joyful and productive as you allow it to be when you take yourself seriously. Nothing is keeping you from that path of exploration and discovery, but here are a few hints that might help narrow your focus if you really want to devote your efforts to your most worthy pursuits.

finding your path
I am certain that Martha Stewart found joy in entertaining, preparing a beautiful feast and sharing it with friends. Her joy was infectious, and the love she poured into each stunning dish and table accent exuded her enthusiasm, passion and pleasure.   She succeeded in a huge way when she combined that passion and perfectionism with business sense and marketing savvy.  She built an empire on her passion for entertaining. That’s a little shocking, isn’t it? An empire from a passion for entertaining. 
What is your joy?  Is it music, poetry, painting, leather work, jewelry making, writing, herbal remedies, graphic design, animation, calligraphy, fashion design? What gets you going, gives you energy to work all night on a project, to dream that you’re succeeding at it as you sleep at night?  If you know what that is, embrace it. 
I have had too many passions, myself. I LOVE designing clothes and sewing them. I love painting.  I have hundreds of poems I’ve written—scrambling for a pad and pen at 3 in the morning when words can’t wait. But what should I focus on? Where should I spend my precious free hours when I’m not earning a living? Here are five simple questions that I’ve answered for myself that might help you choose which of your talents to focus on right now. 
1. How easy and natural is it for you to do? When learning the skills needed to execute this type of art, do you learn it easily or is the training a struggle for you? Better yet—even if it’s a struggle—do you get a rush from learning, so much so that you’re always hungry to learn more?
2. Do you like all of the aspects of it or just the dream of it?  Every art has a nitty gritty side. The supplies, the set-up and clean-up, the maintenance of your equipment. Sometimes we imagine a romantic view of art—a vision of our finished piece—but it falls apart in the drudgery of execution. Do you love “getting your hands dirty” for
your art?
3. Do you find yourself constantly coming up with ideas for your art? Do you have a sketch pad or note pad you carry around full of jotted-down ideas? Lyrics? Concepts that come to you as if on their own? Do you dream up designs in your sleep?
4.  Do you do it differently than anyone you know? Do you have a unique edge, a certain quality that is all your own?  When your work is compared to that of others in a similar situation, can yours be identified as distinctive? If it isn’t yet, could it be?
5. Lastly, does your intellect believe in it as much as your heart? Is it logical to you? Or do you spend hours struggling to justify your art to your practical side?  If you don’t believe in it, you won’t succeed. But rather than struggle with it, go back to the source of your spark. Spend time there, with your heart, and call it a passion, a hobby, whatever takes the pressure off. Eventually you may come to believe this is is your calling. Then, if you believe in it...
Begin it! Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it.” – Goeth
Your answers to these questions will help you understand which talents in your life to pursue. There may be many. And what you pursue may change over time.
—excerpt from Life, love ma

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Choosing Integrity

We are born wholly honest. But we begin to manipulate our surroundings to get what we need or want – which can lead to dishonesty, theft, aggression ... even at a very young age. At some point we begin to see these choices clearly and to make them consciously.  The older we get, the more responsible we become for the consequences of our actions. No matter how things have gone in your past, it's never too late to learn about integrity, to straighten up if you've compromised it, and to begin to build the character you need to be a successful person inside and out.

choose integrity 
I have a saying, “Integrity is lost or gained in a hundred small decisions.” 
When I was about nine years old, living in Florida, I stole a roll of quarters from my mother. She kept them in a drawer for the laundry machines in our apartment building. I just couldn’t resist the temptation. Although we had very little money, my mother’s parents paid for us to have a housekeeper who lived with us. Her name was Alice, just like on The Brady Bunch. My mother accused Alice of taking the roll of quarters. I was horrified, but I was too scared to speak up. She yelled at Alice repeatedly over a period of days, trying in vain to get her to confess. Alice cried, and I could hear the pain in her tears at the loss of my mother’s trust. Eventually the incident faded away but things were never the same again. As soon as I had stolen the quarters I spent most of them on two-dozen doughnuts—doughnuts for everyone—my favorite: glazed, freshly baked. I bought them on my own as my mother paid for groceries in a dif-ferent line so that she would not see the quarters I paid with. 
Watching everyone enjoy the doughnuts did not ease my guilt. Nor did comforting Alice. Nor did doing my chores extra faithfully. The guilt I carried weighed heavily on me until I confessed my crime about three years later. My mother was very ungracious. It was an empty moment for me, but I felt the burden lift for my part, and for that I was grateful. 
When you were small I walked you lovingly and matter-of-factly back into the store, approached any random cashier and had you return any small item you had taken. You said you were sorry and we were done. No big deal. I didn’t punish you. It may have only been a pack of gum – but if you took it, you had to take it back. Do you remember? I knew you were too small to think much of it – but if you remember it I bet you remember that going back in and returning it moments later was not a horrifying experience. I wanted to teach you two things: 
1. Your integrity is your most prized possession. No one can steal it from you if you have it and no amount of money can buy it if you don’t. Do everything necessary to hold onto it, including embarrass yourself a little now and then. 
2. It’s not the end of the world to confess that you made a mistake. It actually feels pretty good once you get down to it. Others are usually much more gracious than my mother was, and will acknowledge your bravery and will reward you with more trust, not less. 
Make the little, daily decisions that add up to integrity, and little-by-little you’ll earn the trust of those that matter to you down the road. When someone with integrity looks you in the eye, five, ten or twenty years from now, they will see a lifetime of integrity in you. It’s unmistakable to them. That person – the person with integrity – is the one you want to see and understand you. They have the power to benefit you, to help you achieve your goals, to get your foot in the door, etc. Their word, their trust in you, is worth more than a degree or a track record. At the end of the day, being trustworthy is the gold standard. Guard that with everything you’ve got.
integrity begins when you lighten up about yourself
Lying, stealing and that slippery slope to losing your conscience, often begin with caring too much what others think of you. Rather than studying how to make yourself look good, lighten up! Don’t take yourself, or the opinions of others, so seriously that you’d be ashamed of who you really are or how things really are in your life. Free of popular pressure, you can chose friends that align with your quirks and imperfections, rather than forcing yourself to impress the un-impressable.
Laugh at yourself and have fun with that thing that embarrasses you. Disarm it. Take away its power to shame you... and you’ve won the battle for your integrity. I believe that our own embarrassment, or as shrinks like to say, shame, causes us more harm than anything others do to us. 
Don’t believe your own hype. I can’t say it enough: Lighten up!

—excerpt from Life, love, ma
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Wednesday, February 15, 2012

The Bee Blog Begins Again!

Although I've neglected writing this blog for a while, my Bee Dreams continue. Just before Christmas I finally started writing again, but rather than my blog, I wrote a book for my six kids as a Christmas gift. 
It's full of advice for getting along in relationships, succeeding at a job, and pursuing their artistic goals.  I've gotten some pretty great reviews from others who've read it, so I think I'll take that plunge and actually try to get it published once I've fine-tuned it.
In the meantime, I'm going to post bits of it here. I'd greatly appreciate your honest feedback if you have any opinions. So let me know if you think I should change something to make it more clear or more helpful.
Rather than starting at the beginning, I'm going to excerpt one of my favorite chapters – liars and their warning signs.  I know that sounds like a very strange place to start, but I thought I'd dive right in with something juicy – helping you to spot liars wherever they lurk. (Let me know if this is helpful!)
EXCERPT FROM: Life, Love Ma - words of advice for my kids (and for you!):

liars and their warning signs 
One of the most important lessons you will ever learn is how to spot a liar. Your money or your life may depend on this. Please pay attention. When your father wasn’t working and I had not gotten my first job yet and we were losing our house, I was so desperate that I answered one of those “get rich quick” ads in the paper. I figured I was smarter than most people, so if anyone could get rich quick, it would be me. I attended meetings, made a modest investment, and began learning how to sell water filters. Little did I know that the man teaching us how to succeed only owned the one very expensive suit he was wearing and sunk every last penny into buying the BMW he showed off as a sign of his success. He was soon to lose the car and the false grin he always wore, as well as the expensive suit which, if you looked closely, had thread-bare cuffs and would soon have actual holes. 
But this smooth-talking charlatan was not the leader of the cult I’d joined. The real leader wanted $3,000 from me (and hundreds just as desperate as I was) to attend a sales seminar in California where we’d learn the real art of selling water filters by becoming better people and therefore better sales people. I eagerly signed up, putting the fee, the flight and the hotel room on a credit card so that I could start making money as quickly as possible. 
This guy was quite an impressive motivational speaker. He had thousands of us in that ballroom in that hotel whipped into a frenzy of fired-up enthusiasm. He was so inspirational and motivational that we were all convinced we were about to become as rich as him. And he really was rich. Not because of water filters, as he claimed, but because of his power to persuade people as desperate as I was to hand over their last dime to him.
He did teach me three very important things, though. The three things I’m about to share cost me $1,000 each when we were penniless and about to lose our home, so don’t take them lightly. These costly lessons could save your house one day, or your life. It sounds dramatic, but in my experience, it could well be true. 
Thousand-dollar Lesson #1: Our Obedient Nature 
He said to everyone in the audience, “Stand up.” Then he said, “Sit down.” And thousands of people stood up and sat down. Then he said to us, “This is how to get what you want. People are by nature obedient. Just tell them what to do and they’ll do it almost every time.” 
Learn both sides of this coin. If you honestly need something, ask for it. It never hurts to ask and it often works. Ask for a raise, for a helping hand, for a loan, for extra time to finish a project...if you need it, it’s worth the effort to ask.
But also learn this: those that would take advantage of you need only ask you for that favor, that lift in your car, that money, etc. and if you aren’t careful they could rob you or even harm you. Think before you obey the commands of someone you don’t know or have not learned by experience to trust. Watch out for the smooth talker who makes handing over your safety or your treasures feel so right.
Thousand-dollar Lesson #2: Confidence as a Tool and as a Snare 
He told us that if you say anything with confidence it becomes believable. If two people say the same thing, you’ll believe the one who speaks confidently and you won’t believe the one who doesn’t. Speak with confidence and people will believe you. If you have a message to impart, and you want to be taken seriously, don’t apologize. Don’t hesitate. Don’t be afraid – say what you have to say with confidence and you will be heard.
But also learn this: liars have a great deal of confidence. Their success is wholly tied to their ability to sound truthful. The confidence with which someone tells a lie makes it feel true. Listen to the words, not the confi-dence. Consider the consequences of the actions, the motivation of the speaker–what do they have to gain? Don’t believe it if it’s too good to be true. How many times have you heard this? The most harmful person, the one who will break your heart and rob you blind, is the one who wins your trust with buttery smooth lies.
Thousand-dollar Lesson #3: Listen and Learn 
The third thing he taught us was that if you listen really hard, people will tell you who they are. If someone says, “I’d never lie to you,” that tells you they are probably lying. Someone telling you the truth won’t go through the effort to convince you of it, they’ll just tell you the truth. 
If someone says, “I don’t want to take your money,” they are after your mon-ey. If someone says, “I’d never hurt you,” just wait. It’s exactly what they’ll do. By pointing out what they want you to believe about them, they are confessing what they’re really up to. Listen well, my dear, listen very well. Let your mind open wide to, not just the words, but why the words would be necessary. One who cares for you would never need to say they mean you no harm. Run the other way.
Likewise, if someone has mixed feelings – they do care for you but they know their true nature is that they’re no good for you – they will confess it in a lame attempt to protect you. Let me explain: If someone says to you, “I’m no good for you;” “I have a dark side;” “You don’t really know me,” etc. ... this is the big red flag everyone only sees in hindsight. I’m here to tell you now, while you’re young, before you get too burned, that there is no reason for you to feel obligated, guilty, or sorry for taking that confession at face value and walking away. Just do it. Every emotion and every impulse will be to stay and prove them wrong. To show them they’re really good. To convince them you were meant to be together. That you can change or help them. That they aren’t as bad as they think. Wrong. Wrong. Wrong .... did I say that clearly enough? Wrong. When they’re ready to be the person you deserve, which is certainly possible, they can give you a call. For now it’s time to politely excuse yourself from the relationship. You made a mistake; this isn’t what you want right now. Done. Think of that painful decision as pulling a piece of glass from your foot. It really hurts to do it. It hurts much, much more if you wait.