Monday, July 28, 2008

Creative Retreat

Each year, for the last few years, I have tried to attend a creative retreat. A chance to get away from the normal routine and immerse myself in a creative environment. I recently returned from the Connecticut Polymer Clay Guild Clay ConneCTions 2008 retreat. It was held over the past weekend, and I had a wonderful time, learning, meeting, re-connecting, and claying. The Connecticut Guild is strong, and does a wonderful job putting together this biennial retreat. The very first retreat I attended was put on by the Connecticut Guild in 2004.

One of the best parts of a retreat is the opportunity to meet, and begin to know, people who you might otherwise not get the opportunity to spend time with. Whether it is the person who is sitting across the table from you, or someone leading a demonstration of a technique, or your neighbor at the breakfast table. There are many opportunities to connect, and get to know more people in the broader community. This retreat was no exception for me. Some acquaintances were renewed or deepened, and others began. Either way, it was one of the most valuable gifts that I take away from any retreat experience.

I had a chance to learn a few new tricks and techniques. One of which I have already played around with, and may incorporate into some new crane patterns for next year. I now am a "licensed operator" of the Polymer Clay Express extruder, and will play around in the coming months with some of the new extrusion dies I purchased at the retreat. I love the openness of Polymer Clay Express to consider adding new dies based on requests from users. This makes for a richer tool base for everyone. I am awaiting the delivery of one of their new clay rollers....NOT a pasta machine!....but one built for the strains of conditioning a stiffer material. Wider, stronger, and better designed. I was told it is expected to be delivered in December. I also purchased a motor for my pasta machine. I have begun to experience tendinitis in my elbow....perhaps from all those cranes I have been making!

Over the last few years, I have begun to witness the downside of retreats. It is not something that is in the control of the organizers, and it is behavior that is not limited to creative retreats. Get enough people together, and you are bound to have a bit of toxic energy infecting the event. Fortunately, it is generally so far under the radar that most people do not see it, nor are they affected directly by it. But, it can have long term consequences that can affect all of us.

The source of most of it, is the source of most toxic stuff that floats around in our lives. Envy, deception, misunderstandings, etc. Most of it can be cut short, and often is. But sometimes, it becomes strong enough to do damage. To hurt the vulnerable. To discourage them from attending these sorts of events in the future.

There are definite "classes" within the creative world, just as any other community. We may talk about how wonderful it is that we all get along, and share, and respect.....but, when people are at different places on various spectrum; from experience, to ambition, to knowledge, "classes" form. I remember when I was at the Synergy conference in Baltimore in February. This was one of the best conferences I had ever attended. The concentration of talent and experience in one place was amazing. But it also could easily bring out the most deep-seated sense of inadequacy in nearly anyone.

I remember walking into the large main room at one point, and noticing a table full of "names"...people of significant profile and accomplishment. My first reaction, was one that I am not proud to admit. Why are they all sitting together, isolating themselves? I reacted from a place of inadequacy. That I was not feeling "good enough" to sit at that table. Then, thank goodness, I stopped right there and realized something deeper was going on. I was looking at this table by looking at the surface accomplishments of this group. In reality, this group of people had known each other for years. They had watched each others struggles and growth, and were there for each other through personal challenges, and triumphs. This is why they were together. They were friends relishing in the opportunity to see one another, and catch up with each other.

How often do we look at someone who has accomplished something in their artistic career by their resume? How often do we attempt to get to know that person as a person? Are we hoping to get something from being in proximity to them? And if they disappoint us how do we react? Do we translate those disappointments into an assessment of them as a person? And if we do, is it valid?

I have seen people hurt by the thoughtless spreading of nothing more than gossip. What happens when you are on the receiving end of some of this "hot stuff". Gossip that has it's primary value in the name attached to it? When we pick up the ball and spread the dirt, we are complicit in the damage done. We can say we were only passing on what was told to us. We did not start it. But it is feeding the beast.

What if instead, we turned to the source and said "No, thanks." Deflate the balloon a bit. As soon as we hear it, we feel the need to do something with it. Just don't pick it up. Put it down, and walk away.

And if it is about someone you like and respect, explicitly turn it down. What happens when we just pass the dirt along to the target of the gossip, "so that they know"? Hurt. Hurt with no outlet. No way for the issue to be resolved. The best thing is to just walk away. If someone feels more important by knocking down another artist, then you have elevated them by receiving the gossip. Don't do it.

As my profile in the polymer clay world has risen, the gossip value of my name has most likely increased. I try to stay away from the places where the gossip is most prolific. I have built a virtual cocoon of protection around myself. Not that I want to live in the illusion of my perfection, but rather, I don't need to hear idle speculation or gossip about who I am, and why I am doing things. I am deeply familiar with my own inadequacies. When the gossip does filter my way, I am often surprised as much by the content as by the source. Having that chatter in my head does nothing to nurture my creative self. If anything it chips away at it.

As an artist, we have duty to protect ourselves. How can we be creative if we don't? Your real friends will help you see the full you, but in the context of a relationship built on knowledge and understanding. They will help you be a better you. Gossip never does that. So the next time it comes your way, say, "No thanks, I'm on a gossip-free diet. It doesn't agree with me." You'll feel like you just lost ten pounds!

Don't let the possible negatives keep you away from a wonderful nourishing and enriching experience. Don't expect a lot of work to be done. But do plan on laughing, playing, and making a few new friends.


Barbara Forbes-Lyons said...

Not sure what happened last weekend, but I totally know the place from which you wrote this and all I have to say is THANK YOU!!! Love you....have a great weekend!

Judy said...

Thanks for the comment Barbara. I hope what happened...and even I am not sure of the less important than learning how it affects people, and what role we play in the game. I had a wonderful weekend. But one conversation left me thinking about these dynamics. I figured I might be able to shine a big, old light on the mess.

Kathi said...

Bravo and well said Judy. I think this has been needed to be said for a while. I thank you for the strength and courage to say it, sharing your compassion for fellow human beings, be they "Joe Ordinary" or "Joe super artist"

You rock gf. have a great weekend!

artandtea said...

Hi Judy,
I'm glad to hear that you had a wonderful time at the retreat! I missed going and joining in the fun. Next time!
Thanks for your heartfelt and inspirational words. I think that no matter where you go and what group you're experiencing, whether it be work, school, anywhere in the community, there will always be a few unhappy individuals who will thrive on the negativity of gossip. I'm not sure why but they believe that by putting others down, it somehow raises them up and makes them look "better". This has always puzzled me but it is there nonetheless. Wonderful advice about not being a part of the chain that passes this negativity along. I've always felt very uncomfortable around this type of energy myself. Thanks so much for writing about this in such a thoughtful and eloquent way.
Stay cool in this heat! -Karen

jana said...

Kudos to you, Judy, for bravely pointing out the elephant in the living room. It takes courage to speak up, and you've done so with grace and eloquence.

The ugliness of which you speak is very familiar to me, and I detest it with all that I am. Your words will help remind me to never be the one who causes deep hurt and pain by speaking unkindly, unwisely or untruthfully about another. There just aren't words to describe what it feels like and how much it hurts to be the recipient of this ugliness....I think everyone has experienced this. I hope I never bring that kind of pain on another, firstly because it's just plain wrong, and secondly, because Karma can be a bitch :)

When I hear of this gossip, my first reaction (after reminding myself that, no, I'm really not still in Jr. High!) is this: Why are we here (involved in this community)? I had always thought it was for the betterment of each member of the community, not as a venue for constant sniping, backbiting and furthering the spread of gossip.

Let us follow your words and be ambassadors for kindness and generosity, and also give each other a bit of slack when we show our human side, as opposed to pouncing on the smallest of issues as a reason to bring someone down.

We've all heard the comments of folks new to our community about how open, giving and kind PC folks are.....let us all walk the walk. I'll start with me.


rosepostcards said...

Thank you Judy. As also, you clearly state the issues and the appropriate actions to take. It is a shame that this continues to happen. It is hurtful and mean. It is also a bad reflection on the community and the people who participate in it.

Thank you for taking the high road and helping everyone who has been a recipient of this type of thing.


Judy said...

Thank you for all the thoughtful responses! Kathi, you are right, we all deserve respect and decency in the way we are treated by others. And Karen, I agree that the motivation does seem to be a way of self-elevation. In reality, I think it does the opposite.

Jana, I am not sure if it is an elephant or a snake, but either way, we need to all be conscious of whether we are feeding the beast, or taming it. I think you aptly have stated the need for us to "be the change we wish to see." Thank you for your comments.

Emma Todd said...

Hi Judy, sounds like a weekend of mostly good wih just a touch of bad to "sour the pot". Well it's been said well by the others commenters here, but I will add on a personal note how much I love the way your posts make me think. I always seem to reevaluate my art, my business or myself after reading. Your writing always speaks to me so Thanks :)

Judy said...

Hi Emma, Thank you for your comment. It is nice to know that I am making you think, because writing the posts generally makes me think about things a bit deeper. The retreat was great, but that little bit of sourness stayed in my head after the retreat was over. It is hard to see someone hurt by comments that were probably thrown out there with very little thought about the impact. It is a little like the guy who causes the car crash on the highway, and drives away without seeing the damage left in his wake, or not realizing he was the cause. The old childhood rhyme about Sticks and Stones just is not true. Words can and do hurt others.