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Wednesday Wisdom: Look Around

Page created with elements and digital papers from Absinthe and Wormwood, January Gathering: A Winter’s Tale, and January Gathering: Winter Time, all of which are available in our shop when you click this image. (Opens in a new tab.)

Before walking through any doorway,
One should look about;
One should peer around keenly:
Because one may never be certain where a foe
Sits within the hall before you.

–Havamal 1, Translation by Connla Freyjason

At face value, this may seem like an extraordinarily paranoid way of living one’s life.  It calls to mind those warnings which now run at the beginning of a movie everytime we visit a theater:  “Look around you and find the nearest exit; if someone behaves oddly, make your way to the nearest exit and move far, far away.” It’s a sad, scared world that we live in, and apparently, it was also a sad, scared world for our Ancestors.

But there’s far more to this passage than apparent paranoia:

  • It is also a reminder to take the time to pause in life, and take a look around.

How often do we rush through life, never taking a moment even to pause to look over the threshold of a doorway before walking through it? I mean, when was the last time you paused, say, before your own front door, and took a moment to look at the door itself, or the wreath or besom you may have hanging upon it?  Maybe even took those few extra moments to turn around and look back at your yard, and perhaps notice a blue jay or a squirrel who has likewise taken the time to pause, and look at you?

  • It is a reminder to look before we leap.

How often have you gotten yourself in too far over your head because you simply jumped in with both feet before looking at all the angles of a situation?  If you’re like me, this happens to you quite often!  An important part of mindfulness is actually taking the time to “roll something around” in your mind and “peer at it keenly”.  There may be pitfalls ahead that you might otherwise have overlooked.

  • And, yes, it is a reminder to always have an exit strategy!

Taking those extra moments to be mindful of the situations in our lives can also help us to “find the exits”, and form valuable strategies for when we need to “bow out gracefully” (or even not-so-gracefully). On occasion, situations arise where we need to disentangle ourselves–maybe even flee–in order to live to fight another day.  Such behavior is neither cowardice nor giving up, but instead, saving face and surviving: sometimes, having an exit strategy is the only way to keep our hamingja (our reputation and legacy) intact.  It might be what is necessary to prevent you yourself from becoming the enemy.

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Where Have All The Craft Men Gone?

Background paper is a digital asset from Iaconagraphy’s Walden Wood; feather “bouquet” created using assets from The Graphics Fairy and elements from Iaconagraphy’s January Gathering: Winter Wonder: WinterTime and A Winter’s Tale; journal block from Iaconagraphy’s upcoming Samsara. Opossum extracted and effected by me specifically for this page.

Last night, Suzanne and I attended a night of open crafting at our local library.  I taught her some nifty paper-crafting techniques, we met some lovely people, and between the two of us, we produced three very lovely cards.  The event was held on the main level of the library, and it was very informal: simply bring in your supplies, find a cozy place with some table-space, and “do your thing”.  This is a new thing at our local library: previously, it was “Coloring Night”.  Anyone interested in the adult coloring craze was welcome to show up, grab some free coloring page print-outs and use the library-supplied colored pencils, and color away, feeling free to quietly socialize (or not) with other folks who had likewise come to color.  Clearly, the elderly gentleman seated across from me was a longtime attendee of the previous “Coloring Night”, but that wasn’t the only thing that set him apart from the rest of the folks gathered around those tables last night:

He was the only “apparent” man there.

Apart from him, the event was, as “crafting things” so often are, a “hen-party”: a room full of women creating socially. (Please do not take that term disparagingly; I do not mean it as such.)  He was, to the uninitiated eye, the only “rooster” in the room.  And then there was me….

I resisted the call of paper-crafting for twenty years (as previously discussed).  I’m not willing to say that my resistance to it was completely gender-biased, because quite simply, it wasn’t, but I do think that many men’s resistance to paper-crafting, artist journaling, and even scrapbooking (possibly even to the “coloring craze”) is. Let me explain….

Unless you live on a rainbow-colored cloud somewhere in the stratosphere, it’s really not a secret that we are conditioned, as a race, that certain gender stereotypes exist: some things are “manly” or “womanly”, or not; girls should wear pink and have pink things; boys should wear blue and have blue things, yada yada. Gender stereotyping starts early in our culture, often with things as seemingly simple as pink Lego’s, or Barbie dolls, or the marketing of race cars and action figures.  And those stereotypes have reached right out and grabbed the crafting world by the throat!  All you have to do is take a trip to your local Michael’s Craft Store if you don’t believe me:

Wood-burning and leather-crafting are considered “manly” crafts by many.  Perhaps it’s because they are associated with a sort of “you decorate in early modern dead animal, don’t you?” stereotype?  Perhaps it is because these are typically more “tribal” crafts.  Care to guess how many aisles are relegated to these crafts at most Michael’s Craft Stores? One. Supplies for both are usually relegated to one small area, directly beside each other.

Meanwhile, candle-making, quilting, sewing, baking, jewelry-making, and paper-crafting are marketed as “womanly”–complete with all the “bling”, bows, and feminine imagery one would expect to go along with such marketing. And that’s basically the rest of the store….

And then there is the area for paints, sketchbooks, drawing tools, and canvases, which is its own area, and basically “un-gender biased”: seriously, it’s like a few walls of antiseptic whitespace in almost every craft store you go into.  This communicates one very simple message: we all have it in us to draw/paint/sketch. Everyone can be an artist if they want to be. 

But it doesn’t stop there: name me, if you can, three men who have made a name for themselves in the quilting industry? As bakers? As paper-crafters?  I can name one in the first: Tim Holtz. Not accidentally, he’s one of two in the last: Tim Holtz and Gentleman Jim Hankins. Of course, when it comes to bakers, you have Duff and Buddy Valastro.  Now name me three women….the list goes on and on and on, right?  

You don’t have to be an anthropologist or sociologist to realize that gender stereotypes arise basically out of a “monkey see, monkey do” mentality, which is inherent in pretty much everybody, whether we like it or not.  For example, little girls see other little girls playing with Barbie dolls instead of Matchbox cars and arrive at the pretty obvious conclusion that this is “what little girls do”, while on the flip side, little boys see other little boys playing with Matchbox cars instead of Barbie dolls, and arrive at the same conclusion in reverse: this is “what little boys do”.  That “monkey see, monkey do” mentality doesn’t go away when we reach adulthood: as guys, if we see other guys not scrapbooking, paper-crafting, baking, etc., but see only women doing it, we ultimately arrive at a similar childlike conclusion: “dudes don’t do that”; “that’s a chick thing”, and, heaven forbid: “that’s girly”!

Which brings me specifically to the topic of art journaling.  Courtesy of modern marketing, artist journaling has been lumped together with scrapbooking and paper-crafting as “a chick thing”: it’s “something women do”.  Yet, you might be surprised to discover, the first true artist journalers were, in fact, men!

Perhaps the most famous art journals in history were created by Leonardo da Vinci, Henry David Thoreau, and Carl Jung.  Charles Darwin could also be included in that list.  All of these men were what we might today call renaissance men

a present-day man who has acquired profound knowledge or proficiency in more than one field; a man of any period who has a broad range of intellectual interests; an outstandingly versatile, well-rounded person.

The ideal of the renaissance man originated in Italy (not surprising, given that the perfect model of the concept is historical art journaler Leonardo da Vinci himself), and is based on the belief that every man’s ultimate goal should basically be to be good at everything, and not only gain but exhibit as much knowledge as humanly possible, and not only the knowledge of academic things, but also knowledge of human experience, inclusive of (such oft-“female assigned” things as) emotions.  Somewhere along the way, that paradigm of the extremely well-rounded individual gave way to a preference for “cookie cutter gentlemen”: men who are the pinnacle of their specific chosen field; men who are heroes in their specific chosen sport, etc. I don’t think it at all coincidental that this paradigm shift coincided with the subsequent assignment of the understanding and expression (in art journals or otherwise) of emotions as “something women do”.   History (and literature and art) tell us that this paradigm shift happened somewhere around 1920 AD.

So it’s important that we ask ourselves: what else was happening in the world around the year 1920 that could have caused such a paradigm shift?  We really need look no further than that immortal work by F. Scott Fitzgerald: The Great Gatsby.  Face it: in that book, Gatsby is the guy all the other guys really want to be, but don’t have the guts, or the glory, or the whatever to actually become.  Meanwhile, the teller of the story, Nick Carraway, is the “status quo”; the “everyman”, who looks up to Gatsby and “really wants to be him when he grows up”, but never quite makes that cut.  Fitzgerald’s character of Nick really is, in most ways, precisely that: he’s the “norm” for a 1920s “dude”.  He’s a veteran of The Great War (WWI; the “War to end all wars”), with a very specific college education, and a very specific college degree to go along with it, that has placed him in a very specific sort of job as a bond salesman. And he feels trapped, precisely because of that specificity.  Meanwhile, Gatsby, on the other hand, is a young and mysterious millionaire who made his money as a bootlegger (which, in the 1920s, may as well have read as romantic as the word “pirate”), who also served in WWI, but, unlike Nick Carraway, wasn’t broken by it.  He’s a symbol of the ultimate “free spirit” for men in that era, as readily as any flapper doing the Charleston might be for women of that era.  

There were lots of men like Nick Carraway in the post-WWI world (which is why he makes the perfect “everyman” to serve as narrator for Fitzgerald’s novel); there were conspicuously less men like Gatsby post WWI, and even less than that following The Great Depression of the 1930s. The question becomes: why?  The answer: WWI and the Great Depression communicated, for once and for all, that the world is not a safe place.  In fact, it is a very dangerous place,  without any guarantees, and, as “bread-winners” and “the backbones of families”, it then becomes a man’s place not to “dilly dally”; not to “waste his time on shenanigans”, for, if he does, everything will unravel, exactly the way things do for Gatsby at the end of Fitzgerald’s opus. (Spoiler alert, for anybody who didn’t have to read this in high school!) In that way, The Great Gatsby becomes sort of a modern morality tale for the would-be twentieth (or now twenty-first) century renaissance man:  don’t quit your “day job”, because bad things will ensue; stick to the status quo with all of its “guarantees”; don’t ever be ruled (or even given to artistically expressing) your emotions because that’s how wars happen.

The type of man guys are told to be in that post-Gatsby world doesn’t have time to do something as “silly” as maintain an art journal.  He’s too busy bringing home the cashola; scoring the big win for his company, his family, or his team.  Women, certainly, can do such things (as maintain an art journal, or scrapbook, or paper-craft, or other-craft), for theirs is the realm of emotions–where do you think the term hysterical comes from?–and they have certain “freedoms” that men don’t, simply because not “as much is riding on them”. Really? Really?  We also live in a world with the highest percentage of self-made women in history; women who “rule” their own businesses, families, and households, whether as CEOs, single mothers, divorcees, or simply as independent females who don’t require men in their lives to get things done!  

Which leaves us with a worldview where renaissance women are totally acceptable (even, I daresay, expected), while renaissance men are often labeled as effeminate, or weak-minded (“not determined enough” to master just one specific field), or “wishy-washy”.   You don’t have to research marketing and business long at all on the internet to find a plethora of programs run by women, which teach people how to combine career, family, and marketing to become self-made people.  These programs are not only created and taught by women, but are also aimed at a female audience. Meanwhile, on the flip side of that, most programs created, taught by, and aimed at men teach such things as how to build your career by becoming more self-focused (i.e., to the exclusion of family, friends, and such not-as-important things as one’s emotional well-being).  The consequence? Ultimately, women are empowering other women, while men are (too often busy) pigeon-holing each other into a rat race mentality which leaves most men feeling incredibly trapped, whether they’re willing to admit it, or not. And that rat race mentality, instead of “preventing wars”, or even preventing “living in dangerous times” is only serving to further all of the above.

So, what could potentially happen if we destroyed the gender wall in crafting, and men reclaimed the title of renaissance man, via artist journaling?  For me personally, it has meant, as Thoreau said, a return to living deliberately:

I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.  I did not wish to live what was not life, living is so dear; nor did I wish to practise resignation, unless it was quite necessary. I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life, to live so sturdily and Spartan-like as to put to rout all that was not life, to cut a broad swath and shave close, to drive life into a corner, and reduce it to its lowest terms, and, if it proved to be mean, why then to get the whole and genuine meanness of it, and publish its meanness to the world; or if it were sublime, to know it by experience, and be able to give a true account of it in my next excursion.

Living a compartmentalized life is not truly living; it’s merely surviving, and to survive something is to “just get by”; to come through “by the skin of one’s teeth”, and then just barely.  Why should anyone wish to live like that?  No, better to go all-in and have the rush of experience, even if we fall flat on our faces in the end (which hopefully I haven’t done in making this blog post so damn long!).  Artist journaling forces one, by the simple creation of art through random drawings and often (especially in the digital methods) through collage, to stop compartmentalizing, and reach outwards, towards more ephemeral symbologies of our day-to-day.  In a lot of ways, it’s as much a return to a more “tribal” mindset as the weekend football game that men are encouraged to like, while at the same time being discouraged to be artistic. Face it: we’re living in a world right now where women are empowering other women to break free from compartmentalization, while at the same time, men are being pushed further and further into their respective corners by each other.  Maybe it’s time we tore down that particular gender wall and paused to join these ladies in their cut/fold/glue and other forms of artistic expression–digital or otherwise. Maybe, just maybe, we could learn a thing or two from them….

 

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What I Learned Yesterday….

Base paper, elements, and word art, all from the January Gathering: Winter Wonder: A Winter’s Tale, by Taliesin. Layout by Connla.

Normally, if we were going to blog today, it would be written by one of the artists who worked on this quarter’s Gathering–Duncan, Daniel, or Taliesin–but after the twelve-plus-hour-day I (Connla) pulled yesterday, I felt it was a little more important to talk about what I learned from that experience, and maybe talk a little bit about how it relates to my own personal process (because your personal process is important, and maybe introducing the concept, and talking about how to work on it will help some of you).

Let’s talk about the concept of process first.  The dictionary defines it as “a series of actions or steps taken in order to achieve a particular end”.  Bruce Lee, who I celebrated as my hero in my artist journaling page today for Determined to Shine’s 30 Days of Artist Journaling, described being in one’s own process like this:

“The truth is that life is an ever going process ever renewing and it [is] just meant to be lived but not lived for. It is something that cannot be squeezed into a self-constructed security pattern, a game of rigid control and clever manipulation. Instead, to be what I term “a quality human being” one has to be transparently real and have the courage to be what he is.”

Now, a lot of us live by the standard of “I am a work in progress“, but what if, instead, we lived by the standard of “I am a work in process“? Let’s look at the definition of progress, and then I’ll get back on track with what I learned yesterday (which is what I promised to write about in the title of this post).  

Progress: forward or onward movement toward a destination.

And that, my friends, is what yesterday definitely was for me: constant forward or onward movement toward a specific destination, that “destination” being completing the official public release of The January Gathering: Winter Wonder.  Yes, there was a process to getting that done, but by about 3:30PM yesterday afternoon, I was no longer in process, but I was in progress,  and believe me: there’s a definite difference between the two, and the latter one (progress) sucks!  I started my day early–7:30AM, which may be a little hard for those of you who know me best to even fathom–and I worked diligently, running pomodoro after pomodoro (for more on that, please do check out the work and offerings of Racheal Cook ), so it wasn’t like I didn’t “schedule well”.  I had my “eyes on the prize”–getting all of this published and out to all of you, and available for sale; my final specific destination–from before I even went to bed on Tuesday night!  But about five minutes into trying to publish the first set of Word Art, I realized we had absolutely nothing for the gallery on that product that actually showed the word art being used, and I suddenly had to switch from progress to process,  and that basically threw off my entire day: to the tune of I finally reached my specific destination at 8:45PM last night, and I was not at all pleased about that!

So, what did I learn yesterday, apart from the important lesson of “check your CT inventory before you start trying to publish assets”?  When I was actually playing with the assets, and using them to create examples of what could be done with them, I was in process, and time seemed to slip past me, effortlessly.  Once that work was done, and it was back to the grind of actually creating the listings (which is a very slow process), I returned to a state of being in progress, and the work became tedious and exhausting.  Yesterday, I learned to either do everything in process, instead of in progress, or don’t do it at all.

This goes along with another recent personal epiphany: planners make me feel icky.  Planners are certainly all the rage right now, especially in the papercrafting/digi-crafting world, and I have really, really tried to hop on that bandwagon, but every time I start trying to tediously plan out my life with one, I get butterflies in my stomach and I just feel this sense of general agitation. And yesterday helped me figure out ultimately why that is: planners force us to live our lives in progress, rather than in process, because every deadline we write down becomes a destination we’re working towards, and we focus on that (those specific destinations in time) instead of on the steps we take to get there (the process).

I’ve really tried to start off 2017 in process, rather than in progress: Allyson Bright’s offerings over at Determined to Shine have really helped me with that, and so have Leonie Dawson’s Shining Life Workbooks, but yesterday put me back a notch. I got so focused on my destination (read: deadline), that the process of getting there sort of fell by the wayside, and that was literally painful.  My day more or less became this determined, slothful plod, instead of an excited, triumphant race to the mountaintop, and nothing successful/good ever happens to us when we get in that place; when our minds and spirits go there.  It’s like another famous Bruce Lee quote (this one from Enter The Dragon, which maybe you’ve seen): 

“It is like a finger, pointing a way to the moon. Don’t concentrate on the finger, or you will miss all that heavenly glory.”

Yesterday, I reached a point where all I was focused on was the finger–on the deadline (the destination); and literally on my fingers typing, typing, typing, clicking the mouse, and hitting publish–so that by 8:45PM last night, the only “heavenly glory” I could even see anymore was “whew, that’s done”, when where I should have been mentally/spiritually was in a place of pride that this glorious set was now out there and available for other people (meaning you) to express themselves with it, too.  So, short of more effective scheduling (which puts us right back in that planners-are-my-life-mindset, which is precisely where we don’t want to go), how does one avoid getting in that place of being in progress, rather than in process?

Be mindful, my friend. (Yes, that may sound a bit like Master Bruce, but that’s me talking, not him. hehe)  What does that mean?  To be mindful means to be fully conscious or aware of what you’re doing: not where you’re going; not your final destination; not the moon or the mountaintop, but the steps you are taking to get to that destination.  The deadline to publish yesterday is but one of many “destinations” I tend to focus on on a pretty much daily basis. Others include the deadline for newsletter each week, the deadlines for paying my bills, and the deadlines I have set for myself, in regards to such things as guest-blogging, effectively networking, and generally becoming my definition of “successful”.  I’ll confess that up until the start of 2017, I’ve spent far more time focused on those destinations, than I have on the process of the steps taken to actually reach them.  The consequence of that? I’ve spent a lot of time honestly depressed because I haven’t reached the destination yet: it’s about as useful as being homesick for a place you’ve never actually been.

Regarding mindfullness, Bruce Lee said:

“Discard all thoughts of reward, all hopes of praise and fears of blame.”

Reward is just another destination; so are hopes of praise and fears of blame.  If you live your life doing anything because of what you’re potentially going to get out of it (financial gain, hope that other people will think what you did was good and lay praise on you for it, and/or fear that people will think what you did absolutely sucked and will be totally willing to tell you that, too), you are going to live your life in a constant state of worry, depression, and anxiety.  Let me say that again, more succinctly, so you will remember it and take it forward with you, in your own life:

If you live your life doing anything because of what you’re potentially going to get out of it, you are going to live your life in a constant state of worry, depression, and anxiety.

Ultimately, I make art not because it might get me to any certain destination (whether that be financial solvency, self-worth gained via the praise of others, or my own particular definition of success), but because I literally have reached a point where I just can’t help it!  Where things “go wrong” and switch from in process to in progress is when the feeling goes from “I just can’t help it; I need to create” to “I have to ___________”.  “I have to” is destination-focused; it’s progress-oriented, rather than a process.  Which brings me to the other very important lesson I learned yesterday:  When art becomes something someone else is doing, that art often becomes “I have to” instead of “I need to”.

Now, I have total faith that everyone who is working here at Iaconagraphy is here, designing, because they need to make art, the same way I need to make art.  If they weren’t, they simply wouldn’t be represented here.  So don’t get me wrong: I’m not trying to remotely imply that anybody here at Iaconagraphy is here for any other reason besides the self-same reason that I’m here, which is because we all have a need to make art; we just can’t help it.  What I am saying, as the person “running the show” (note: I really am not comfortable with that term, but it’s the best one I can come up with right now), elected as the spokesperson for the whole of Iaconagraphy, is that I, personally,  have a tendency to switch the focus from process to progress when faced with not publishing my own work, but instead someone else’s. Which is part of why we’ve reduced the releases of upcoming Gatherings to quarterly, rather than monthly, but how else to avoid this ongoing dilemma? I mean, we’re a conglomerate of artists, all of whom need to make art, and therefore, deserve to have that art made available at the end of the day so that those of you who also need to make art have resources available to do just that. This isn’t just “my gig”….

Which brings me to the last (and maybe most important) lesson I learned yesterday: I need this to be my gig right now.  That isn’t to say that there won’t be some very valid “guest spots” coming up in future weeks and months, but that is to say that I have at least one “bundle” that I’ve back-burnered at least three times since December, in favor of releasing other people’s work, and in favor of meeting other deadlines, and it’s starting to burn a hole in my brain–and in my soul.  Every ounce of creation that I have done since December has been self-expression (i.e., artist journaling and digi-scrap) with things others have created, when what I really want to be doing–and what I need to be doing, the way most people need to breathe or to eat–is creating the assets to say what I need to say (and to give you all what you need to say what you need to say).  When I leave that process up to everyone else, or even when I give that over to everyone else, art becomes a destination; a deadline; art becomes progress instead. And right now, I need that to stop happening.

Thank you for taking the time to read (what wound up being) a very long blog entry.  If it helped you learn anything about your own process vs. progress, I’d love to hear about it!  Feel free to comment below, or come on over and respond on our Facebook Page.  Or, better yet, take a dive into art journaling, and make a page about your own process vs. progress, using the awesome assets in The January Gathering, and share that with me and the world!