The art of working within one’s limitations

Hi. Did I tell you I haven’t made my art in months? This from the girl that was doing her work every day? I got some tendonitis in my wrist and one of the instructions was: no weight-bearing poses in yoga, no embroidery, no scrubbing or chopping. Three things I loved: yoga, my art work, and cleaning (making things shiny) and cooking were off the table. What the hell was I supposed to do?

Luckily buying a house distracted me, but I am still left with a question. How will this change my art? How will I get back to yoga? Doing downward dog can cause my wrist to hurt for days, sewing tightens my fingers within minutes. Doing the things I enjoy brings terrible frustration. Not doing them brings disconnection and sadness. Ironically for choosing a form of art that demands patience, I am not incredibly patient with myself or my limitations. I opted for doing nothing rather than to work within those limitations and find a way out of the problem. Why? Because doing that is hard. And frustrating. And you encounter MANY failed starts. My expectation of doing things without trouble has consistently left me feeling dejected. (I can’t help but feel further guilty because this “limitation” is nothing compared to true disabilities people face in their lives. But that guilt won’t necessarily move me forward the way I would like, so I let that go.)

I am spending my days thinking how I will finish the two embroidery pieces I have going. How will my art practice transform? Answer: I have no idea. But this morning, I feel encouraged. My step-dad sent me a great Ted Talk about embracing your limitations. This man, Phil Hansen, has found satisfaction in making art that works around his limitations, and it is inspiring. Check it out. Just ten minutes of your life – well worth it.


Being happy doing nothing

As you know, it’s been awhile since I’ve posted (5 weeks, 6 weeks?). I have no good “excuse” really. I simply wasn’t inclined to write. I have spent lots of time with friends, made art intermittently and for one whole glorious weekend, gone for long walks in the woods with my husband, went shopping but bought nothing, exercised irregularly in the mornings, slept well… but I have done nothing earth-shattering. I’m starting to really like it.

But I am inclined to feel guilty. I have usually operated as if any moment spent should not be wasted, because in my odd sense of reality I am constantly reminded any moment may be my last. Perhaps it is time to redefine what types of moments are a “waste.” I have also operated in the “make everyone else happy first” mindset, and only in my “impulsive” moments do I manage to do what it right for me in that dilemma. It went sort of like this: “If you are capable of doing it, you should do it and do it well, and if you don’t do it you are a worthless sack of sh!t.” In my old perspective, how I’ve spent this summer would be considered a “waste” and would imply that I am a “bad” person. I didn’t bust my butt showing my art or even finishing a single art work. I haven’t dedicated myself solely to one cause or any cause. I haven’t beaten myself up for not being excellent at whatever I’ve set out to do. Instead I’ve gone through my days experiencing life, and enjoying my time without my lists. I’ve done what needed to be done and that’s it. I’ve accomplished things, but I haven’t expected the impossible (which usually only results in making me stressed, anxious, irritable, and resentful).

I’ve taken a different approach this summer. I call it being a “normal person.” Which is not a real concept, but an operational principal of my day-to-day plans. Historically I have tried to do great at everything I attempt. I set huge goals that are typically insurmountable and feel worthless when I don’t reach them. But these last four months, I’ve just been what I am. It’s been nice.

My friend Heather took this picture on a walk out in nature one evening. It’s serene days like these I enjoy most. Being out with friends, just enjoying each others’ company. This has been my best summer I can remember.

Don’t get me wrong, I still have set goals. They go like this:

  1. Do something every day to feel good in my body. This could be anything from exercising, to intimacy, to eating a cupcake.
  2. Focus on doing well at my job. I started a new job (love it!) earlier this year. I am putting my best energy there, making sure I learn the job as quickly and thoroughly as possible. It has paid off.
  3. Be more realistic. I’m tired of setting myself up for failure by expecting myself to do everything extremely. For example, it has never been “I’m going to try to be more active.” It’s always been, “I’m going to exercise for XX minutes XX times a week, doing XX exercises on varying days to tone XX muscles to lose XX pounds by XX date and here is my chart that I’ve spent hours making to do this very thing!” Seriously. I’d make the chart, do it for a week, life would get in the way, and I would abandon the plan feeling like a failure in the process. So now my efforts sound more like goal #1 – general guidelines, effort, and awareness. More fluidity. More living with the moment.
  4. Stop spending time on activities I don’t enjoy because I feel like I should or people expect me to do it. Yes, I still pay my bills and do house work. But my time on other non-essential activities has been reduced to something I can feel good about rather than dread.
  5. Focus on making art instead of showing it. My portfolio needs new work. Trying to show my work is time consuming. I am putting that on the back burner so I can make new work I am excited to show.

And I’ve done things, too. Rebuilt my art website, made headway on a piece and planned a few others, planned a baby shower, been a friend, made exercising a rough part of my routine, explored parks and cooking, volunteered, curated a show, organized my studio, visited relatives…. But only things I wanted to do. Nothing more. Nothing less.

And that is kind of my point for this post. What are you doing that you don’t enjoy? Can you exclude it from your life? Obviously there are things each of us don’t enjoy that we do because of what it brings us in the long run. You might not love disciplining your kids when they misbehave, but it makes them more respectable as adults. I don’t love paying bills or cleaning, but in the long run they ensure a comfortable lifestyle.

How can you streamline your life to be most full of things that make your day-to-day better (without hurting others unnecessarily – always this caveat…)? How can you make room for what really matters? I suggest stop looking at others’ lives and look only at your own. (Ever heard of “keeping up with the Jones-es?” It’s a load of crap.) For years the competitor in me had something to prove. I would see what others were doing and think, “I can do that.” I would try to do it, and sometimes I might succeed. But what that created was a list of “to do’s” that only fulfilled a quota of comparative self-worth, rather than a self-guided assessment of purpose and value. It didn’t bring me happiness. It just crossed something off a never-ending checklist (there’s always someone or something to live up to in this mode of operating).

I don’t know where this new mindset is taking me. I know I don’t want it to lead me to a life of couch-potato-dom, or to mindless consumerism and apathy. I’d like it to bring new energy to my heartfelt interests. We’ll see what happens, but I like the way this road feels. Pretty great. So great, it is almost scary!