Individual things can be fine on their own,
but are we missing something?
When separate pieces are designed to work together,
we get another thing entirely: the whole.
I visit a certain large Midwestern town every year or two. This particular town is really just your average American place. It's filled with chain stores, traffic lights, cars, and parking lots. The buildings are all individual businesses. Each one has its own usual look, arranged on its own property, allowing for easy access into each parking lot, without regard for much else. The overall look of the town is haphazard.
When we drive through the town, I always feel sad about the place. I used to think it was because I was being a bit pretentious, with my background in architecture and design. On first glance, I dislike the order-less-ness of it all. The buildings are all over the place. Nothing lines up and nothing goes together. There’s a lot of asphalt and concrete. Green space is absent. I hate all the traffic lights.
Apart from a few grumbles to my husband, I always kept my thoughts to myself. But lately, I've been reflecting more deeply on my feelings about the place. I’ve uncovered what is it about the town that makes me feel sad. It’s not what is in the town, but what is missing from the town, that gets to me. I see all of the lost opportunities. By developing in this aimless way, without regard for an overall plan, so much is lacking. Sure, you can live in a town like this. But what are you missing?
Let’s say you live in this town and you need to do a bit of shopping. You get in your car and drive toward the business area. Multiple stop-lights try your patience as you frown at the rain and wish the light would turn green. Finally, you pull into the parking lot of the store. You park your car and quickly walk across the asphalt expanse to the door. You go in and get your shopping done. On the way back to your car, you see an acquaintance coming out of her car and you say hello. The drizzle prevents you from chatting and you both dash away and get on with your day. As you drive away, you notice a new store and you consider going to check it out. To get to there you’ll need to go through another traffic light, park in another parking lot, and walk through the drizzle again. The thought of all that bother prevents you from stopping. Instead, you drive home through all the stop lights, annoyed at how long it’s taking. You arrive home feeling stressed out and slightly angry and you aren’t sure why. You snap at your spouse.
Consider, instead, a town with a cohesive, overall plan. All the individual parts are still there, but they work together as a system. It's almost magical the difference it makes. Here’s another scenario:
You need to do a bit of shopping. You drive downtown and park your car on the street and walk the half a block to the store. Along the way you pass trees and greenery planted alongside the sidewalk. You breathe in deeply and feel a connection to nature. You notice a new shop and pop in to check it out. You realize this place is the perfect place to find a gift for your hard-to-shop-for relative. You feel happy to have discovered it. As you leave, you see a friend coming out of the cafe next door. You sit together on the bench outside the door, conveniently kept dry from the day’s drizzle by an awning, and chat about your lives. You smile at each other and wave good-bye. You are enveloped with a feeling of well-being from seeing a friendly face, and you’re prompted to say hello to the next person you pass on the sidewalk. He smiles and says hello back and makes a comment about the rainy weather. As you continue on, you feel a warm sense of community at having shared a common moment. You go about your day, get your shopping done, and go home, feeling calm and happy. You don’t even realize why you feel this way. You smile at your spouse.
Sure, we can live without good design, but when it’s there, things are better. Organization, order, and planning get a bad rap. Spending the time up front to to put a plan in place is sometimes seen as a waste of energy and resources. And I get it, when resources are short, corners need to be cut. Design seems the likely corner to trim, because most people do not even notice good design when it’s there. Design’s job is to literally be in the background, to make things run smoothly. The outcome of good design is a feeling of calm, ease, and happiness. And since humans are a social species, that feeling is passed from one person to another. And life is better for everyone.
What do you think? Do you ever notice when some things are combined thoughtfully together, the resulting combination is even better?
How about an orchestra? Each individual player is an excellent musician and each instrument sounds great on its own. But, with a conductor to guide them to play as one, the resulting music is amazing.
What about colors? Yes, the color blue is lovely in and of itself, but when you place a certain shade of yellow next to it, well, together the combination simply sings!
Even pictures on a wall can benefit! Photos and artworks are wonderful on their own. Hang them up any which way and you’ll get to admire some of your favorites. But, take a little time to arrange them thoughtfully in a group, and the whole room benefits beautifully.
What wonderful whole can you create with a little organization and a plan?
Human beings are a confusing species. There is such a duality to us. Consider the two opposing human desires of predictability and exploration. How is it that a species can desire both? They are opposites. But yet, they must be two sides of the same coin, because we do.
On one hand, we love to fit things into boxes. We want simple explanations; we want there to be absolute answers, we want things to be black and white. We like predictability. It makes it easy for our brains to process information if we can quickly name it and file it away.
It is comforting and comfortable to live with the known.
Contrast that with the human desire for exploration. Humans crave the new. We love to learn, make discoveries, and explore the vast unknown. We like a challenge. We are curious beings. We strive for creativity and originality.
There is joy to be found by stepping into the unknown.
So, there’s a dichotomy. We want to feel comfortable; comfort is such a warm and cozy feeling. As for the unknown, there is discomfort there. There is fear: of uncertainty, of failure, of insecurity; there is stress.
It doesn’t make sense to always be outside of your comfort zone. It would be utterly stressful to never have the comfort of the known. It also doesn’t make sense to always be comfortable. Boredom, perhaps even regret, is sure to follow.
It can’t be one or the other. In fact, I think it’s actually the contrast between the known and the unknown that is most beneficial to us. We can’t have one without the other, because it's the contrast itself that provides the enjoyment. If there is too little contrast, what is life but monotony?
We need to allow ourselves to go through the uneasiness of the unknown, so that we can find the delight of discovering new things; about ourselves, about our world. Once we push ourselves through this discomfort, the unknown is unknown no longer. We will find our minds expanded and we will become comfortable with this new way of being.
Then we can begin again. Push and expand, understand and relax. Both, and.
I never planned to be a stay-at-home mom.
Nope. After many years in school, I was finally logging my intern hours at an architectural firm, just as I had planned. I was following The Path I had set out for my life. I was on track to becoming a Licensed Architect. (Such a long process.)
Of course, I had also planned to be a mom. I always wanted to be a mom, but I hadn't considered how the two would work together. Architecture is an historically male-dominated field; at school, as we learned about the process of becoming an Architect, no one ever talked about how becoming an Architect would work together with becoming a mother. I never considered it either. Even though they both happen at the same time in one's life -- you know, biological clocks and such.
Who knew once I had a baby - and then another just 18-months later - that my planned path would suddenly, and completely, change direction? I took 6-months off work for both babies. A dream! Then I went back to work, but worked only part-time. It wasn't great, I didn't like it. I cut back to even parter-time. Still not right. After so much internal debating, I quit.
What a tough decision. I worried, "How will I ever get back on track to becoming a Licensed Architect if I stay at home being a mom for several years?" There was no guidebook for those questions. I didn't know what to expect. All I could do was toss my plans. I decided not to think about my planned path, not to worry about the future. I needed to be with my babies.
I loved it. It was wonderful. I also didn't like it. It was so many things: monotonous, chaotic, ordinary, extraordinary, amazing, and amazingly difficult. (Being a mom is full of contradictory feelings, I learned.)
I didn't think about architecture. Except: deep down inside I craved to be creative, to be my own person apart from being a mom, to have my own space even. I was quietly jealous of my classmates from school who were building their architecture careers, while I stayed home. In the back of my mind I thought, "Why did I spend so many years in school - for this?"
Slowly, I carved out a space of my own in our spare room. I didn't know what I was even going to do with it, but I felt the need to have a space. My own creative space. I tentatively, quietly, referred to it as my studio.
My baby boys got bigger. I started playing around with fabric. I borrowed my mom's sewing machine. I designed my own bags, and made fun stuff for my kids. I accidentally started a business! It began to thrive and it took up more of my time. My boys started preschool and kindergarten and I thought, "What will I do now? Should I try to grow this teeny-tiny business of mine? Or should I go back to work? How will I get back on the Architecture Track after being away so long?"
But our family wasn't complete, I didn't need to consider that next step. I became a mom to a lovely baby girl. I took time off from my teeny-tiny business. And since my daughter wouldn't nap anywhere but in my arms; I didn't have much opportunity to sew. I held her for all those hours of forced quietness, and I loved it, I savored it (my last baby!), and I resented it (again with those contradictory feelings). I still craved to do my own thing.
As she got bigger, I knew I had to grow my business. We decided to try daycare a couple days a week to see what I could do if I had more time. I had two days a week all to myself! I worked in my home studio and got to do my own thing. My business grew a little. It was thrilling!
Unfortunately, it was also limiting. I still had all my same duties as a homemaker, as a mom to three growing, changing kids, as the planner, organizer, everything of our family - but with less time to do it all. I learned to become a great juggler, as all moms do, I'm sure. But I also became stressed. And I became bitter. Why did I have so many responsibilities? I was working, even if my workplace was in our home.
It was time for my husband and I to talk. I needed him to help carry the load if I was going to be working. He agreed. We rearranged some chores, I felt better. Things were going well!
But there were always summers to sort out, days off from school to take my time, a kid home sick, or this-that-and-the-other-thing, and all the responsibilities kept falling to me. I was over-whelmed. I told myself I could handle it, I was used to being a stay-at-home mom. Yet, every time my life got complicated with being a mom, my business was put in last place.
This past summer was especially intense. It has reminded me that I am an artist, and an introvert, at heart. It's challenging to put myself into creative-mode when my time is fractured into small segments, or when I'm continually interrupted. I love my family and I love being a mom, but I also need space and time to do my own thing. Putting my business last means putting myself last, and I can't to do that anymore.
School has started again. We're getting back into a routine. I have more hours to work on my business, my daughter is in preschool and daycare most days, and my boys are in school.
My husband and I continue to talk about sharing responsibilities. Which can be very hard! Many things that I had done as a stay-at-home mom, I continue to do out of habit. Luckily, my husband is an understanding guy, and he's willing to change as I enlighten him on the many responsibilities I can no longer do on my own. I'm learning to be an advocate for my time. If I don't place importance on my business and my art, who will?
Next year all three of my kids will be in school. I'm excited to have even more time to explore my artistic side. I'm considering moving my work to a studio outside of our home. Maybe I'll be able to hire an assistant if I have more space. It would be nice to separate family space from work space -- finally. It would also make some things more difficult. There's always another challenge to figure out.
I never planned on being a stay-at-home mom, but I got to do it twice. In two different ways. And soon I'll be moving on to the next chapter of my life. But this is something that I've learned: There is no path. I'm making my own path. Readjust as necessary.
Does this sound familiar? You make large goals and work hard to reach them. You imagine after all the hard work, you'll celebrate. However, if - like me - when you've finally reached that goal you've been on the path for so long, it barely feels like an accomplishment anymore. You may even already be planning your next goal. The fact that you've reached one goal is barely acknowledged; celebrating gets put off to the future when you've reached some other success.
Or maybe you can relate to this. You have a to-do list that's a mile-long. You imagine taking a moment to stop and sip your coffee while admiring your garden when you finish the last thing on the list. But, whenever you check one thing off, you add three more. You never get to that imagined moment of savoring your coffee and admiring your garden. There's always something more to do.
I've decided to stop putting off the celebrating. My new motto is "Celebrate more!"
Happiness and celebration
I recently finished the book The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin. It was a great read. It's got me thinking about the idea that you can't go searching for happiness. Happiness can only be found within yourself.
How do you find happiness within yourself? Well, you should try to do all those things that are summed up in little life quotes. You know the ones:
Stop and smell the roses
Enjoy the little things
Those are great, but you know what? They sometimes make me feel bad about myself. They come across a little preachy. Do this, do that. I think I'd be happier without the stress; trying to be happier should be fun, right?
Then, a couple of days ago, I read a post on the blog Barking Up the Wrong Tree about not celebrating enough. That was the clincher. I think all those little life quotes can be summed up nicely in one idea:
And I don't mean only the big things. I don't mean we should celebrate major goals with a fancy dinner and a glass of champagne (although do that, too! Yum!). But I mean:
Celebrate more things, and celebrate in more ways. Celebrate the little things. Celebrate the daily things.
Every time I hear the Cloud Cult song Through the Ages, this line gets to me. Why? It's because there is magic all around us. The magic is the everyday things, those little things that we might let pass by without realizing they're happening.
If we put off the celebrations, the smiles, the good jobs till some distant future, that future all too quickly becomes the past. We will end up living our lives without enough smiles. And without enough dancing. And without enough good jobs. And without enough YAYs!
Today I'm celebrating! This morning I smiled at my garden and how it's growing so nicely from the effort I put into it so far this spring. I'm celebrating that I finished four new Beetle Pouches. I smiled at myself and played the radio loud while I photographed them. And now I'm going for a walk outside in the sunshine. And I'm going to laugh, and smile, and say YAY! when I get back -- both to congratulate myself on getting exercise, but also to congratulate myself for acknowledging that work, though I love it, isn't everything and taking a break to enjoy the warm sun is good.
What are you celebrating today?
New work, new booth...
Since I'm trying something new this year, I also need a whole new craft fair display.
Here's what my MinneBites display looked like this past December at the No Coast Craft-o-Rama. It's fun and cute and I love it, but it's not quite what is expected for a show like the American Craft Council Show.
What I need this year is an actual BOOTH. Walls, lights, signage, display -- everything!
There is so much that goes into these big capital-A Art show booths, as I'm learning. I can't believe how much time I've already spent researching booth options. It makes me nervous that I'm not spending enough time making the items that will actually go into the booth! But, without a booth I will have no way to display my new work. It must be done.
My Booth Design Requirements
So, do I spend loads of time scouring the internet and local fixture stores to find the best deals for used display options? Or do I drop some money and just get new? It's tempting to buy new and be done with it and focus on the creating of my work. But, how much money do I want to sink into a booth? There is already the booth fee to attend the show in the first place. And part of the equation must also include the question: what if I decide I don't like doing this kind of show after all? I don't want to waste money on a display I'll never use again!
Ahh, so this is a journey, isn't it? Putting myself out there, trying something new; it can be a balancing act! Of course, for all the difficult decisions I need to make for my business, I wouldn't trade it for anything! I really do enjoy being a working artist. I'm even enjoying designing this booth ... though I wouldn't mind having a little more time. April's never seemed so close to January before!
I believe I can do something new...
I'm on a journey. And this year I'm trying something new.
It's tricky to try something new. You have to veer onto a new path and just believe that it'll be a good one.
Troublesome thoughts like to creep in ...
"What if it's a bad idea?" ... "What if nobody likes it?" ... "What if it is all a waste of time and money?" ... "What if it is too hard?" ... "What if it's too much work and I can't do it all?"
I tell myself that I can't think like that. Those kinds of thoughts are the rocks in my new path. I have to jump over them and keep going. If I don't, I'll be stuck in the path and I won't be able to move forward.
Here it is.
I am trying something new.
(Deep breath. Smile.)
I've decided that I should release my new work under my own name. It feels odd to step out from behind the MinneBites name. But, MinneBites will still be around. I love working on my MinneBites designs and I will continue to do so.
However, as I learn and grow and work as an artist, I feel that I should sign it as my own, so to speak.
My plan is to debut my new work at the American Craft Council Show in St. Paul this April. It's a very large, very well-regarded show that I am extremely honored to have been accepted into.
And yes, it's freaking me out a little bit, too.
I would love to have you follow along with me on my journey!
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I am an artist and designer based in Minneapolis, Minnesota. My specialties are textiles and pastels.