Power of Limits

cowboyWhen I was young I chafed under any sort of limitation. In fact, I remember as a child one of my favorite songs was “Don’t Fence Me In” which I learned from watching old cowboy movies that ended with the hero riding off into the sunset. How I longed to jump in the saddle and take off too.

My small town environment, over protective parents and Roman Catholic morality exacerbated feelings of imprisonment and constraint. Like many young people I wanted to be free to be me; I wanted lots of choices, endless horizons, limitless possibilities.  Sometimes it was even hard to make a choice because that meant ‘not choosing’ something else. I was told, “You can’t have your cake and eat it too.” I didn’t like that part. I wanted the cake with ice cream on the side.

As I got older I was certainly part of the Me generation and felt entitled to pursue whatever I wanted whether it was sensible or safe. I would push against whatever limits were set and every time I heard ‘no’ I felt that my freedom was at stake and I would rebel.

Eventually, came marriage and children and divorce and finally the need to work whether it suited me or not. There was one period in my 30’s when I was fired from three jobs in a row. It had nothing to do with intelligence or willingness to work – it was all about attitude and resentment of authority. Finally, I had to learn when to keep my mouth shut and when to play by the rules – even if they were someone else’s.

In my 40’s I made my break to self-employment and I again had some of those unlimited possibilities I had entertained in my youth. Surprisingly, by then I was no longer enamored of endless choices and opportunities. Somewhere along the line I had absorbed the lesson of limits.

By recognizing and willingly accepting restrictions and working within boundaries I discovered that I had more power. Just as light is stronger when focused through lens, my energies were more productive when they weren’t spread across a wide spectrum. When I limited my focus I was able to go deeper rather than wider. I liked deeper better because I had more freedom.

The mandalas I draw and the ink wash work I enjoy so much is indicative of this appreciation of limitation. In both cases I have definite boundaries of what is possible. By willingly accepting them I have the freedom to explore more deeply within those areas. By accepting limits I also take a lot of alternatives off the playing board, which means I don’t have to think about them anymore. My mind is left free to concentrate on the essential.

Once I accepted that arthritis limited my mobility, I was free to explore in other ways. Once I accept the limits of aging, I was no longer concerned that I didn’t look 30 or 40 or even 50. Once I chose a simpler lifestyle I was no longer burdened by financial concerns.

In setting limits we are establishing priorities and each time we make choice we eliminate some of our alternatives. Rather than see this as something lost, it can be understood as something gained – in focus, in power, in depth.

Here’s a little trip back to a Saturday afternoon in 1950. Giddy up!   http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RAlMYOvs5Fs

Visit the art blog at http://marietaylorart.wordpress.com or the spirit blog at http://sacredgate.wordpress.com.

 

Memorial Morn

memorial-dayI go to the park early this Memorial morn
and hear words hanging from the trees
and glimpse them hiding under the bushes
and see them laying in the sun.
What questions do they bring?

 

The man with the white legs and swinging cane
strides forward along the path that leads to the pond
where he passes an old man with a fishing pole
holding the hand of a young boy skipping.
When did last I whistle?

Four ducks pecking, heads swaying,
wander into the field ready to stab and nibble.
Rudderless they saunter in the warm morning sun,
feathers wet and glistening, carefree and complete.
When did last I travel without a destination?

The trees sing with birds;
ducks and geese punctuate the choir.
The woodpecker’s staccato beat calls forth dance
while the bell at St. Philomene calls forth prayer.
When did I last sing?

Black crow perches on the rim of the trash barrel
and caws as his beady eye appraises the pickings.
Squirrels grab seeds and dash up trees
and along branches, chattering as they fly.
What do I fill my mouth with?

A light wind blows warmth away;
trees shiver and shake their leaves in response.
Words whirl around in little dust bowls.
I gathered them up in handfuls and stuff them into my pocket.
What stories do I hold?

I bring them home to simmer and stew
while I reflect on Memorial Day;
on the Protectors who in saving others, risk their life
and on the Warriors who in taking lives, risk their soul.
What am I willing to die for?

I can get it for you wholesale

digital commI was talking to an old friend of twenty-plus years today. We met in the late 80’s when he was a graphic designer and I was working in advertising and public relations. In the intervening years he segued into making a living as a fine artist. That pretty much ended when the recession hit hard. Most recently, he has developed a really neat case/screen/video accessory for the iPhone 5 (http://www.diffcase.com/iphone-5-cases.html) and I have been a sounding board for his marketing efforts.

Anyway, we discussed how much the world of marketing has changed since he and I were in the thick of it. In the ‘old days’ everyone had business cards and brochures. When they wanted to promote a product they put an ad in a targeted magazine or contacted the right media. There were known, well-traveled highways that usually performed as expected – although at a price.

Today things are different with the advent and domination of digital technology. It’s a DYI world for design, writing, production, distribution, advertising, marketing and more. For example, in the 90’s I would be paid about $200 for a press release (this was freelance – not agency). I would write it, get it approved, set up a media distribution list and send it out. Sometimes I would contact editors or reporters to urge its publication.

Today there doesn’t seem to be much need for those kinds of press releases – newspapers and magazines aren’t what they used to either. The want ads in advertising or copywriting that I see now list jobs for blog copy. What do they pay? Most are going for $10 to $20 an article/post  – sometimes there is only that famous come-on – ‘it will look good on your resume’.

Journalists – a dying breed. Typesetters – mostly extinct. Graphic designers – logo and corporate ID’s that used to bill out for several hundred to several thousand dollars are now being sent off shore and on sale for $50.

I agree that everything changes and that we can’t use old methods with new tools but I think we’ve also  lost something in the transition. To promote a product now you have to use the internet, Twitter, Facebook, Digg, Google ads and a bevy of other social media. This can be a full time job with dubious results. Before, if you put an ad in a magazine, you had a pretty good idea that xxx number of people would be reading that magazine. Your return on investing in an ad depended on how good the ad was and how good your product was.

Now there are so many portals, so many doors, so many alternatives – and you don’t really know what to choose. The promotion by a blogger might make a significant difference but bloggers have been known to ‘buy’ hits to make their numbers look better. And for those of you who have your own blogs, of the 500 subscribers you may have, how many really read your stuff consistently? Can you really deliver an audience?

Cold calls used to be a hard but effective way to drum up business. Now getting a face to face meeting is nearly impossible. It’s always ‘send me an email’, or ‘give me a link’. Even connecting with a real person on the phone is a unique experience.  At the same time technology is making it easier and easier to keep in touch, we are losing our personal touch.

A few years ago I read a book called The Long Tail (I think!). It was saying how the internet had leveled the playing field among the small and large companies and the ability of the web to drill down into smaller and smaller bites meant that vertical or niche marketing was easier than ever.

Well, it looks good on paper. I was thinking about the publishing industry. Years ago if you got picked up by a publisher you knew you would get ‘some’ promotion. Yes, you would only get a percentage of the sales price but a lot of grunt work – like design, layout, covers, publicity, etc. – was done for you.

Now everyone is on the self-publishing bandwagon. I agree that it is great that you can be completely in change of creating your own book but that means you have to do all the marketing, too. How many of the self-publishing efforts really make any money? How many of the wanna-be bands who cut their own record and post it on You Tube really sell anything? How many boxes of books and cd’s are sitting in basements and garages? Or, is it all Print on Demand now?

There’s always the over night sensation story – the girl with the golden voice whose video goes viral, the underground book that hits the List. But to me it is sounding like the carrot and the donkey. I think I heard Stephen King is into self-publishing now. Not too risky for a guy who made it through traditional publishing channels until he didn’t need them anymore.

Whenever I get a new ‘like’ or ‘follower’ on my blogs, I usually go to their website and check out who they are and where they’re coming from. After a while I started to notice how many ‘readers’ were actually budding novelists or poets or writers of some sort – and I also noticed how many were hoping that blogging was the ticket to ride. Then I realized so many of the blogs were just preaching to the choir.  People who read blogs often write blogs. They are not that mass market that creates the best seller or caps a career.

So what am I saying? It was hard to ‘be successful’ (whatever that means!) twenty years ago and it is just as hard today, regardless of the new technologies that give everyone the chance to speak their piece, play their songs, make their connections. When it all comes down to it, you still have to get face to face, heart to heart. Right now there are so many avenues, so many choices, that it is almost paralyzing.

We have gone horizontal after being vertical for millennia. This is not wrong, but it certainly is different. And perhaps to be successful in this new horizontal world we need multiple connections and will have to be satisfied with less individuality.

In the future undertakings will be group efforts. There will be less overt authority but more covert domination. The individual will be subsumed by the mass. Perhaps this sounds too dystopian, too much brave new world and 1984. But I think it is coming, perhaps not for us but for our children.

Who would have thought a phone conversation with an old friend would lead to this ramble! Thanks for taking the ride with me.

Here there be dragons

dragon mapI do not write for a select minority, which means nothing to me, nor for that adulated platonic entity known as “The Masses.” Both are abstractions, so dear to the demagogue, I disbelieve in. I write for myself and for my friends, and I write to ease the passing of time.
Jorge Luis Borges, author’s note to “The Book of Sand”

Writers, artists, inventors, scientists – we all start out as beginners, amateurs, doing what we do because we love doing it so much. If we are writers we send friends copies of our little essays or books; if we are artists we give them pictures for Christmas; if we are inventors or scientists we dream that our little discovery or gizmo will benefit the world. In other words, we start ‘doing’ because we are ‘in love’ by which I mean we are creating in a state of love.

Eventually, the time may be months or years, we start to think about extending our reach, spreading our message, expanding our circle to include more than friends and acquaintances. We measure how many followers the blog has, wonder if we can sell our creative work in a gallery or bookstore, debate whether we should get a patent or partner and start a company. We enter another territory.

None of these things are wrong in themselves but they are like the big blank areas seen on old seafaring maps that read in spidery script, “Here there be dragons.” If we are not careful and alert, we can move from action taken in love to action taken by ego, from action born in creativity to action designed to please others.

In fact, it is almost inevitable that we go into this unknown territory and get lost – at least for a while. It is a very heady sensation to know that something you have done is liked by others – the more the better. And it is normal to want to continue that love affair with the greater public – nothing is sweeter than appreciation. But it is a dangerous affair in which compromises are expected.

One day you may find yourself deciding to write about something that will attract more readers or support a popular viewpoint. Your art may start reflecting the critics’ perspective rather than your own. Your inventions may be designed to please stockholders and bottom lines.

If this is where the detour ended, it might be acceptable to cater to your audiences, but more likely than not, those compromises usually twist or end your originality. The creative muse does not operate from the back seat but must drive herself. I often hear artists, in particular, talk about the muse as a woman and say that she is a hard mistress.

I believe that is true. To really access the creative well, nothing must stand in the way – not audiences, or demographics, or market trends, or stock offerings. Creative people may be criticized for being self-centered or ego-driven, of caring for more about their art form than their families, and to a certain extent that can be true – but it is the nature and the price of the gift.

I think Borges’ words are a good reminder to keep our priorities straight. We must forget our audiences, fame, money and acknowledgement for all of these things can easily pass away leaving us empty and broken. Instead we should spend our creative currency in pleasing ourselves, our friends and easing the passing of time.

New Directions

signsWhat’s that saying – A change is as good as a vacation – or something like that? I decided to expand/diversify my energies and so I developed two new blogs this week and this is your invitation to stop by and poke around.

The first website (http://sacredgate.wordpress.com) focuses on spirituality, philosophy and aesthetics. It is ecumenical in approach and personal in voice. The name of the new blog is “Remembering Our Sacred Self: Reflections on the Journey.”

I’ve included my own book, Ten Powers: Spiritual Strategies to Transform Your Life & Work. This book shows how to make your work, no matter what it is, a spiritual path. The poetry page has a limited collection of sacred and inspirational poetry by others. Soon I plan to begin a commentary on the ancient Chinese works, the I Ching and the Tao te Ching under a page titled Inner Truth.

The other website is a business-oriented one (http://marcomcoach.wordpress.com). For 25 years marketing was my real life job when I was still part of the real world. This blog is titled Marketing Consulting & Business Coaching: For those with a passion for their work (not too jazzy but certainly clear).

It is directed to small business owners who need some marketing support but are too broke to hire an agency. I’m offering the whole consulting/coaching service as on online thing via Skype. Who said I was dragging my digital heels!

I will continue writing at Marie Taylor, Ink and posting artwork on Marie Taylor, Art, but I invite you to visit my new blogs and sign up if interested. Thanks to you all for your continued support and interest.