April 26th, 2012
ecstatic flailing

Dear Bethan,
Yes this response is for you (and the hundreds of others who write me and I have not had time to respond to of late). I apologize for writing you back in this manner but it occurs to me that there may be others who might want to read it too. All too often I think that the blog medium has lost it’s value, and I question why I continue to do it even after I feel the medium as a whole has been devalued for a plethora of reasons (blog ads being one of them). But then I receive an email like yours telling me that the fact that I have shared some of my process as a human and an artist has really helped in some way, and I think “yes, there is merit in it after all.” Though I should probably post this tonight, before I have a chance to second guess it.

So what did I want to say to you? I suppose as I write this I think of the fact that I could be writing to my younger self, and what would I say to her? I confess that I don’t often like to give advice to people as I find advice a bit too dogmatic and personal, what works well for one might not for another. And who am I to say what is best for you? I also find that people who write me asking for advice probably are looking to hear something very specific, more like a quick fix, of which there are none. (Plus I am a rebellious human being by nature and tend to do the opposite of what people ask me.) But you didn’t write me for advice did you? Good. That is why I am writing you here.

So here is what I want to tell you. If we were sitting in the same room I would sit next to you, take your hand in mine, and look straight into your eyes and say, “I know that pressure you speak of very well. The “focus on self-promotion, competitiveness, networking and always attempting to be edgier and smarter than others at all costs”. I have felt that pressure too, still do on occasion. But here is what I know now, that I didn’t know before when I started out…

Creating work out of that pressure, doing all of the things that you have been taught by others, and listening to that voice in your head that tells you you need to be better is not what will create that success you are craving. The true work, (meaning the work you are here to do), comes from a completely different place than this. This energy of pressure actually does very little to move you ahead and into the place where you desire to go, and in some cases can even lead you in the complete opposite direction. I know your head is telling you you need to do it but really that is just dogma you have been taught by other people who are scared of going to their own true place (doing the work that they are really meant to do), so they go on repeating what they were told by other fearful people, and so on and so on.

There is a part of me that says, “it is silly to be telling someone these things because they have to figure it out on their own.” Which is quite true, I cannot save you from some of the hard learning, but at the very least I will give you “a lead”, something to hold onto and think about, (because if you have learned anything at all about me from reading my stuff, it should be that I like to make people think.)

So what I really want to share with you is this…the energy that you feel when you are creating is very important and will tell you if you are on the right path. Not that there is only one path, there are many, but I am referring to doing work that fulfills you and brings you “success”, and when I say success I really mean “work that is meaningful to you”, work that is aligned with your ideals. What do I mean by “energy” you might be asking? How do you feel when you are working, when you take on certain jobs? How does your body feel? I will refrain here from using words like “good” and “bad” as there are inherently judgmental, instead preferring “open” and “closed”.

Open energy: light, energized, ecstatic, inquisitive, curious, want to stay up all night, go for a run, feel like you can conquer the universe, tuned in, radiating, etc.

Closed energy: tired, small, sick to your stomach, tight, passive, unengaged, unmotivated, discouraged, overwhelmed, frustrated, fearful, uninspired, etc.

The difference might also be illustrated by thinking of how you would feel after having lunch with someone who you love to spend time with, someone who makes you feel excited and energized, contrasted with how you might feel if you watched TV for 12 hours straight while eating junk food. So the goal is to try to do as much work as you can that has the open energy attached to it. This is the source for all your best work.

Now I know you might be saying, “but it is hard to find paying work that has that kind of energy”. Yes, that may be true, AT FIRST. So you must try to make some time to do that kind of work on your own, (the kind that makes you want to stay up all night). The more of that you can do and share with the world, the sooner the world will see your brilliance and enlist you (and even pay you) to put more of it out there. It CAN happen.

Now I’m not saying that you won’t have many bad days where you feel incompetent and like you are flailing like a crazy person. As Kurt Vonnegut put it so perfectly, “When I write, I feel like an armless, legless man with a crayon in his mouth.” But at times you will also feel like you are able to leap over tall buildings with great ease if you go directly into that place you spent a lot of time when you were a kid, experimenting and making messes, and playing on the floor.

And before I go there are a couple of other things I want to tell you (while I still have your hand in mine), you are beautiful, and talented and you have something to say (I borrowed that one from Brenda Ueland). It doesn’t matter one iota if you are unsure of what it is that you want to say just yet. The more you try to trust the process, the more you will figure it out piece by piece. But I will give you one more clue, focus your energy equally on things that get you really excited and things that get you really riled up (angry). I believe that the purpose of this wild and crazy ride of ours is to become fully open and experience the full range of emotions that make us human, (not close them off). This seems like it would be easy, but it is actually quite hard to remain open, and requires us to constantly question our own behaviours and assumptions. But it makes for a much more interesting ride doesn’t it?

I hope I have not painted the picture that I have got it all figured out, because that is hardly the case. I am flailing right along with everyone else. But I now do it with as much open energy as I can muster, and I am much better at recognizing what is filling me up and what is sapping me.

I will close by saying Thank You so very much for your words. I value them greatly, and yes, I do read every letter I receive! Please hold fast to the honesty and directness with which you wrote to me, these qualities will help you immensely along the way!

Very sincerely yours,
Keri

Apr 26 2012
9:18 am
Kim Schrag writes:

Thanks for taking the time to share this. After 30 years of making art, I still need to hear it.
Kim

Apr 26 2012
9:24 am
Sylvia writes:

Hi Keri,

You hit the nail right on the head!

I borrowed your guerilla art book from the library last year and thought yeah a kindred spirit! Keep connecting with us through your art/words!

Your life is YOUR life! Success should only be measured by that feeling of contentment in your heart. You are right, no one has it figured out that is for sure. Rome certainly wasn’t built in a day, I’ve been at it for 15 years (balancing my creative adventures with trying to make a living) and i am at peace with whatever happens as long as I get to sit at my workbench and play.

All the very best

Sylvia

Apr 26 2012
9:59 am
pRiyA writes:

It is for reminders like this that I need your blog. Helps me stay on the right path.

Apr 26 2012
10:18 am
Bethan writes:

thank you so much for writing and sharing this! it has made me tearful and excited and I’m sure that it makes so many others feel just the same.

a beautiful response! not because it answers everything (from miniscule experience only doing and living can do that) and certainly it doesn’t give the impression that you have everything figured out

but it feels now exciting (and not so bewildering and terrifying as it once might have been) to flail and be, in equal parts, lost and excited. I think that the nonanswers are best

I don’t really have too many words, but I can’t wait to get to making things!

Apr 26 2012
10:40 am
Mentha writes:

Exactly the words I needed to hear at the moment! Thank you :)

Apr 26 2012
11:18 am
Linda writes:

Beautifully said – thank you!

Apr 26 2012
2:34 pm
chiqui writes:

thanks. i need this.

Apr 26 2012
3:00 pm
Sue writes:

You are an old soul Keri. Thank you for sharing these beautiful musings.Thanks to Bethan, too, for inspiring these thoughts. I always look forward to checking in here. Knowing how full and busy your life is makes it all the more meaningful too.

Apr 26 2012
4:12 pm
christine writes:

I don’t know where it’s best to write you these days so I’ll just say it here: I sure do think you’re swell. (And I miss you.)

x & o

Apr 26 2012
6:43 pm
Kim writes:

Hello, this was a lovely heartfelt post.
I have been following your blog for years and years, from just about the beginning. You’ve been a part of my life for a long time now, and you’ve had a tremendous impact. I don’t often leave comments, as often others have expressed exactly what I want to say. But this time, I want to send you a personal message from me, someone who you have inspired, entertained, taught and led along paths I’d never explored on my own. You’ve inspired me to enrich my life in ways that otherwise would have remained poor. In a way, to me, we’ve grown older together. I’ve watched your blog evolve and your life change, and I see that as comforting when my own life takes its odd turns, because you’re a role model to me as an artist and as a woman. So if sometimes you question the value of the blog medium, you can think of me, and the countless others who you’ve influenced, Keri. YOUR blog is priceless to all of us who’ve read it, because you have kept a high standard, you’ve respected your reader and you’ve honoured your own values and creativity. YOU and others like you make the blog medium valuable, and to hell with the rest who do not!

Apr 26 2012
7:40 pm
barbi d. writes:

I sighed the most wonderful sigh after reading this, Thank you. I am finally allowing myself to fully explore my creativity, it feels energizing but scary at times. I needed to read this. : )

Apr 26 2012
10:39 pm
sisy writes:

It isn’t easy to find image makers that speak of art as a normal behavior and personal process of transformation that is as instinctual as eating, gardening, or as uplifting as the creation of a new relationship with oneself. And you do this Keri. Conveying the nonverbal verbally is one of the strengths I see in your writing and your publications.

It’s the intuitive mind, the nonverbal journey from self to other that is missing in our culture. We need makers who can help us navigate the unconscious waters, the dark of the night, the signs of the extraordinary in the ordinary, the breath in the brush, and ultimately remind us that transformation is a part of the process not the end of it.

I think western culture has lost the essence, the spirit and the need to make special. I use this word in place of art as I find art limited to the western concepts of commodity and object (which has value but all too often is the motivation which can misdirect makers). Making special, painting, gardening, throwing pots, dancing, singing, storytelling, carving are the stuff of being human. There is a great book by Ellen Dissanyake Homo Aestheticus that explains our need to rethink the term art as making special, as a normal and necessary behavior.

Moving on, the point you make of the blog as losing it’s value as a medium is a good one. Although I don’t think closing it down is a good idea, Rethinking it as a tool in the magic carpet bag might be beneficial. Along with your books, it is essential to developing interconnectedness of individual and collective spirit. Art needs a collective transformation.

Apr 27 2012
2:00 am
Laura Wood writes:

So many intelligent thoughts in just one page… THANK YOU

Apr 27 2012
4:43 am
MJ writes:

Been reading your blog for a long time but this is the first time I felt I needed to leave a comment. I often start my day at work by checking into this blog for inspiration and today I’m sitting with a few happy tears in my eyes and a feeling of ‘yes, I feel like this’. I know exactly what you mean by open energy. If I was honest with myself it’s that type of feeling I don’t have enough of in my life and what I’m striving for (aren’t we all?). So thank you for reminding me of that and also for saying, it is possible, and it’s a worthy pursuit! Keri you rock!!

Apr 27 2012
7:15 am
LilaLena writes:

Thank you, Keri, from the bottom of my heart. You do make me think – very valuable thoughts.

Apr 27 2012
8:33 am
Ingrid writes:

Thanks for sharing these words, I think they can be read in everyone’s own personal way. I certainly found them useful. :)

Apr 27 2012
9:43 am
karla writes:

thank you.

Apr 27 2012
1:05 pm
James writes:

Powerful, inspiring, resonant words and a crucial reminder of the truth. Thank you so much Keri. :)

Apr 27 2012
1:43 pm
mariska eyck writes:

dear Keri, your writing (books and blog) helped me to stay true to my art and to find it back when it felt lost. Thank you, Mariska

Apr 27 2012
1:45 pm
kathy fisher writes:

Beautifully written Keri. As artists we all need these reminders, thank you for this. I keep your book Wreck This Journal at my desk, and each day I enjoy putting in my fruit stickers, just this simple act puts a smile on my face. ;-))

Apr 27 2012
3:24 pm
Laura writes:

Don’t give up on blogs yet. I get discouraged often too. I’ve kept blogs since 1998 when they were all about art, inspiration, creating new things and free writing. The other day I was thinking blogs have gone through the Age of Blogging for Science (when they moved out of the primoridial ooze of plain HTML code) to the Age of Blogging for Art (when they became beautiful) and now we are sunk deep into the Age of Blogging for Business and it is crass, commerical and full of gunk. But, the spirit of creative blogging is not dead and gone. Sunk a bit in marketing goop, but still here. I’m hunkering down, surviving with my remaining blogs and waiting for the next Age of Blogging. Whatever it will be. Whenever it will be.

Apr 27 2012
4:44 pm
Still wrecking writes:

Thank you for these intimate words. I always check your blog for a new post and this one made me silent for a bit, and happy and content.

Apr 28 2012
12:27 pm
Debra writes:

Your blog has inspired me more than you can imagine. I am a public school elementary teacher. One of my colleagues and I visit your blog for inspiration and creative ideas. To combat the regimented mandates of public school writing tasks and assessments, we have purchased copies of Wreck this Journal for ourselves and for our students. Needless to say, they love it! You would also be proud of our “All About Me” mini books.

Apr 29 2012
9:42 am
michael writes:

the mind seeks uncertanity and debate;
while the heart seeks joy and hapiness

The heart has intelligence use it;as there is many things like anger sadness ;bitterness and fear that the mind can’t solve
abundance comes from flow ; visualize healing and hapiness within the heart first .;then flow
Artists have an unique ability to percieve things differently ;turn them upside down and use them unconventionaly .
Use the heart for wisdom and let knowledge be its aid use the heart for guidence and you have an infallable bruxh in which to create
;the answers are never outside of us ; they are always within . Do the work / michael

Apr 29 2012
1:53 pm
Mary Ellen writes:

I have probably 25 art blogs bookmarked and I always check yours first. No fluff, lots of soul. I need that and know I’m not alone. Keep refilling your own well and know I’m grateful for the overflow.

Apr 29 2012
6:33 pm
Sylvia writes:

Yes!

Apr 30 2012
11:17 am
TB Greene writes:

Wow. So glad I stumbled onto this blog post. A truly enjoyable read and ever so SPOT ON.

I often feel as though I’m in one loooonnnngg transitional phase as an artist, so your post has given me something to think about and serve as a reminder to stay aware of the energies surrounding the things I do.

Thank you for sharing this !

Apr 30 2012
7:34 pm
Jenny writes:

Thank you so much for this. These words are what I’ve been hearing over and over in my own heart. I just graduated with my BFA and feel confused, unknowing, and unmotivated. I know this has come from the institution, specific processes, and ideas and ways of thinking, resulting in boring work. I never thought this would happen to me. I’m beginning to soul search, to write, and read. I’m beginning to breath back into the space where my creativity comes alive. I check your blog frequently because of posts like this. Words that are honest and true to the processes and everydayness of what it means to be an artist and create in a world that tells us it’s not ok to do so. So thank you. Thank you thank you thank you.

Apr 30 2012
10:29 pm
rachael maddox writes:

thanks, keri. you’re so refreshing.
with love,
rachael

Apr 30 2012
10:36 pm
hali writes:

***yes*** (thank you). ♥

May 1 2012
6:44 pm
Julie writes:

Beautiful Keri. Thanks for such true words. If we all navigated by that compass that was described in your post (open, inquisitive, joyous, excited energy), we’d make a much kinder, more creative world.

May 2 2012
4:16 am
Selene writes:

My energy feels very ‘open’ after reading this. Thanks Keri – for this and all the other posts that inspire and encourage.

May 2 2012
1:50 pm
Zann writes:

I have always found wisdom and inspiration from your blog and value the peek into your own process. Thanks for this post!

May 2 2012
10:41 pm
Krystle writes:

This is something I need to read over and over again. “you are beautiful, and talented and you have something to say” — seriously, I need to paint this on my wall.

May 4 2012
4:58 am
justine formentelli writes:

Exactly what i needed to read today. it was the right page to open. Thank you.
justine

May 7 2012
8:44 pm
may writes:

I’m not an artist, but this still applies. You are very inspiring. Thank you.

May 9 2012
5:45 pm
Charlotte Louise writes:

I am hugging your knees… from very far away. And staining your clothes with tears and other gookieness.♥ Thanks.

May 10 2012
6:01 am
Caatje writes:

You have just stated everything I believe wholeheartedly. Thank you!

May 10 2012
9:28 am
annie! writes:

Hi Kari…Caatje put a link on FaceBook to this post and I’m glad I took the time to read it! Joy is really what it’s all about – not the Hokey Pokey like we’ve been taught to believe!

May 14 2012
5:06 pm
Louisa writes:

Thank you Keri, your words are so inspiring and just what I needed to read today. Funny how that happens. I’ve reduced my blog reading lately, but checked yours today, and found this post. Lucky me.

May 20 2012
2:44 pm
Julien writes:

Brilliant read that resonates so much with where I am at the moment and I hope any willing craft maker out there! Thank you for sharing Keri, and yes blogs are still useful :)

May 25 2012
10:03 am
Fiona writes:

_/\_

May 27 2012
9:31 pm
Heather writes:

thank you…. for your blog, your contribution, being true, for putting ‘it’ out there, and saying what so many of us need to hear

Jun 15 2012
11:28 am
Maggie writes:

This made me weep. It’s so hard when you feel squeezed to follow your heart’s open energy when it seems all around you (especially your stomach) want you to follow your mind’s closed energy. I am struggling so much right now with the balance between necessity. The need to create, and make, and do those things which make the sunbeams shoot out of my pores, versus the need to pay the bills and make sure we can eat something every day.

In a world obsessed with financial gain, it is so reassuring to find someone fighting for the creative side. Thank you, as always, for being such a help.

Aug 18 2012
7:25 pm
laura writes:

Thank you so much for this. I was hanging around, flailing internally all day as I worked… (ok, maybe all month)… lately just feeling, well, flaily. And a bit confused, and alone in my flailiness. My response to this is to 1. keep moving forward, but plowing ahead while feeling funny inside. 2. drink more wine than normal & cry a bit more. and 3. actively seek out the blogs and teachings of women who I admire, looking for some community in my own private working-from-home way. So today I got on my computer and typed in your name because I thought your blog might soothe my soul a bit and make me feel more connected, and hopefully a bit more safe / sane.
And I was right. I’m really grateful for your work and your honesty.

Sep 17 2012
9:10 am
Caroline Wickham writes:

~ this is the other Carrie,…the one Mookie and Doobie knew — and yes, I agree with everything Kim said. As a mother, wife, teacher, author your time is surely very, very limited…but, what you say here, AND how you say it…helps a lot! Thank You !

Nov 18 2012
10:54 pm
Chanda writes:

This is what I needed….right here……right now. Thank you.

May 27 2013
4:40 pm
Jonny Miller writes:

Reading this just made my day… really wonderful ;)

Apr 2 2014
5:21 pm
eVy writes:

Thank you for the smile on my face, the calmness that returns to meet me, the joy of discovering something precious to share!
Thank you for holding the space!

 
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