Thursday, November 4, 2010

The slippery slope

I went to a luncheon yesterday for past presidents of our local League of Women Voters, a civic organization that was my major avocation for many years in my previous life.  They had found an old file with the membership lists from about 20 years in the 1960s through 80s.  We were fascinated to notice times changing before our very eyes. 

Until 1969 people were listed as "Mrs. Kenneth Loomis."  Then it changed to "Mrs. Kenneth Loomis (Kathleen)."  In 1974 it changed again, to "Kathleen Loomis (Mrs. Kenneth)."  Finally in 1976 it took the final step to just plain "Kathleen Loomis," where thankfully it has remained. 

I was struck with a couple of insights as I looked at those lists.  First, how quickly the change happened once it hit the slippery slope.  Second, how it was apparently a lot easier to make the change in baby steps rather than all at once.  Third, how the same process occurs in so many other aspects of our lives.

For instance, I remember how difficult it was for me to first utter the word "artist" in the same sentence as "I."  My change process started ten years ago when I was about to retire and people would ask me what I was going to do with all my new free time.  I would reply, "I'm going to make art."  I vividly recall the first time I said those words, on an airplane returning from a business trip, to a perfect stranger.  This was a low-risk conversation, since the woman didn't know my name or anything about me and therefore couldn't mock me out.  I remember thinking, as the word "art" escaped my lips, "wow!  the word art has just escaped my lips and the person listening didn't mock me out!!!!!"

So I started saying it again a few times -- "I make art" -- and pretty soon it didn't set off lightning flashes in my brain when I said it.  I don't remember how long it took me to get to the next step -- "I am an artist" -- but I think that step was easier than the first. 

Last week there was a discussion on the Quiltart list about what people called their studios before they called them studios.  Many people wrote that they had, or still have, a hard time using the word "studio" because it seemed somehow presumptuous, more than they deserved, too fancy for the humble stuff they actually did, etc.  One of the posters wrote that many years ago she got some good advice that she has never forgotten: "If you can't call it your studio from the git go, then work up to it and start with work space, then workroom, the work studio and the studio."

In how many contexts do we face similar challenges in our lives -- to change our ways of thinking to new places that seem so radical, so different, so scary, that we can't even name them?  I must have driven my art friends crazy for five or six years kvetching about how I wanted to try to do collage but didn't know how to go about it.  One day one of my dearest friends said to me, "well, I don't understand the problem -- why don't you just do it?"  That was fine advice, but it still took me three more years before I could bite the bullet. 

my new collage piece, in progress (detail)

Maybe you have a place that you want to go, whether it's semantic (calling yourself an artist) or substantive (doing a new type of art or changing your business model or cutting loose from your day job or whatever).  Of course it's scary to contemplate going there, maybe too scary to write it down or even whisper the words to yourself.  But if you can articulate one baby step in the right direction, and take it, and note that the world didn't end, it will be a lot easier to take the next baby step.  And pretty soon you may be sliding quickly down that slippery slope to your objective.


  1. I finished my art degree about 6 years ago. Then I needed to decide what to do next. The obvious answer was to continue to create art - after all, I had just spent the past 5 yrs earning my degree. To make that leap of faith I also started calling myself an artist (up 'til then I defined myself as a student). It was hard to say it at first, but I thought "If I don't call myself an artist, no one else will." My husband used to laugh when I said it, but now he introduces me as an artist. About that time my "sewing room" transitioned into a "studio". When you start using the words you start becoming.
    P.S. Congratulations on Q=A=Q! I saw your quilt this past weekend.

  2. I started sewing making garments and for years had a sewing room (or corner, or dungeon), and then transitioned into quilting. Now I range between traditional and art quilts, and find it easier to call my space a studio.

  3. This post really hits home. I remember telling my sister that I was now attending LAFTA meetings in Louisville. "What is LAFTA?" she asked. I explained that it was a meeting of fiber artists. She laughed, looked down her nose at me, and said, "So, you think you are an ARTIST?" I stumbled over my next words, "Yes, yes, I AM an artist...or, er, I WANT to be." I'm still working on that goal.

  4. Kathy, I was reading Terry Jarrard-Diamond's blog this morning. It led off with the news of your "Crazed 6: Low Water" being Best in Show. I thought, did Kathy tell us that??? So I came back to your blog to check and, of course, there is a picture right there on your blog of the quilt. DUH! The news just didn't register till I read it elsewhere. Congrats!

  5. Thanks, Q or D!! this proves how silly it is to try to blow your own horn. let somebody else do it for you! I appreciate your kind words.

  6. Great post Kathy. Your writing always hits home.