Thursday, September 20, 2012

Thoughtful Thursday-New Rules

I have never been much for New Year's Resolutions or even the idea of starting the year in January. It seems like such an arbitrary time without a deep seasonal or personal resonance. Although I do a certain amount of self-examination at the end of the calendar year by force of custom, my birthday is a more significant marker for me. Since who I am is so inextricably connected to my work as an artist, so much of this thinking is about my work.

Last year I marked a zero year—60—with the decision to open myself to whatever experiences came my way and start the new decade with an embrace of openness. Most of year sixty was intensely busy with a lot of different projects. I am happy I did every one of them but as spring ended, I concluded that I need to be more selective and think things through before I get involved.

Two things that contributed to this decision were the calendar book I got to keep track of how I spend my time and cleaning the studio. The calendar book was a real eye-opener. Things that I thought would take, or recollected as taking, an hour or two would turn out be four, or six, or eight. Most of these things were not art-making but related—photographing work, making packaging for the traveling Spirit Books. When I sorted through old files and boxes in the studio, I was surprised by the incredible amount of care and attention I put into every idea I have. If I am going to pour myself into everything I undertake, and I want to keep that, I need to be more selective in what I chose. I want to do the censoring and control on the front end and then let myself immerse fully and freely once I start.

Last May I bought myself a beautiful watch to remind myself of the value of time. The plan was if I were asked to get involved with anything, I would look at my watch and then say no, or I'll get back to you. It seemed to be working. I had a big moment this summer when I said no to the fourth grade teacher about a project for next year's literary festival. Okay, I did offer to talk to her and share any information that would be useful to her but I said no to actually working on something. As summer drew to a close, I found myself initiating projects on my own that I then determined I needed to withdraw from. It was awkward and painful. I realized I needed to be saved not from others but from myself.

Here are my new rules. Everything I undertake must do at least one of the following four things, and more than one would be great.

1. Help my work to grow and develop

This one is about saying yes rather than no, giving myself the time and permission to do whatever I need, including reading, walking, just being. I need to respect the time that feeds the mind and soul as well as the studio time.

2. Advance my career

If I am going to care about how my work gets out into the world, and I find that I do, I need to be more practical. I need to analyze the possibilities and set some goals. My message to myself: either stop worrying about it, or do something about it.

3. Make money

I want to be paid well for the work I do. I am not concerned about making money from my art. My income has always come from other sources. For over twenty years, it was teaching bookmaking workshops in schools. I continue to work to share my passion for making books through teaching and speaking but it is harder to do without the captive audience that exists in schools. My husband is supportive in all ways but I am not comfortable being as minor a contributor to the family income as I have become.

4. Bring me joy

This seems pretty obvious but what I have realized is that I need to think whatever the idea or project is completely through and determine how much of it is joyful and how much is not. Initial appearances can be deceptive.

As I contemplate year 61, I want it to be a year of focus and balance, to stay open but be discriminating, to look widely but with intention. Wish me luck.


Annie said...

This is a great post - thank you for sharing. I think #4 is extremely important. Six months ago I was diagnosed with cancer and my world turned upside down... I still can't believe it; so much I want to do, so much I looove to do, so many books to make! So each day I get up early, do what must be done and then do what brings me joy! At the beginning of the year one of my resolutions was: making all the bindings from Alisa Goldens'latest book. Well, 40 of them are done - with great joy! You can see them on my blog.
best, Annie

knittingmette said...

it's been a pleasure to read - and I've learnt something as well. thank you very much for sharing.... and good luck ... to you and to me too! LOL

Mo Crow said...

You are brilliant Susan! Your spirit books shine with your bright soul & big heart, just make your wonderful art & you know the details of how to get it out will fall into place, the main thing is the art... especially at this stage of the game, suddenly the next 20 years is about playing out our hands for this lifetime!!

Anonymous said...

Susan, I am so impressed by this piece and your commitment to yourself and your work. So wise and only 61!!! '-) (of course I am also feeling guilty for 'roping' you into the Emma event on 9/30, though I hope it turns out to feel worthwhile)

I'm sending you support and love to keep up the new birthday resolutions!

Rebecca, A Big Fan & Appreciator

Linda Branch Dunn said...

Three years shy of 60,I find your thoughts direct and inspiring. I especially love the watch-as-reminder. It is so strange, at 57, to realize that old answers have lost their zing and to ask, yet again, what comes next.

Susan Kapuscinski Gaylord said...

Loved looking at the books on your blog. They are filled with joy!

Good luck to us all. The wonderful things about this new world we live in is the connections we get to have with kindred souls around the world.

Thanks Mo. Here's to the next 20 years.

The afternoon at the Emma is firmly planted in the joy category.

As Rilke said in Letteres to a Young Poet: Live the questions now. Of course I always thought that applied to the young and that they'd surely be answered by age 60. Maybe the questions are what keeps us young at heart.

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