(warning this is a rather long post)
Recently I had the misfortune of receiving a very hurtful email from someone I had previous thought of as a friend. Emails are slippery forms of communication and poor ones too, as I’m sure we’ve all come to experience at one time or another. Things get taken the wrong way. Or too much is said in a heated moment. We are instantly hit with regret the second AFTER we hit the “send” button.
So it is entirely possible that the person who wrote to me may have been thinking she was being helpful by offering me “professional” advice about my work. But instead what I saw being offered was a series of cutting remarks, each one finding fault in my work from her supposedly vastly “superior” perspective.
As artists who put their work out there for the public to view and see, we get these sorts of reviews from time to time. Frankly, they suck. Not because the person is right (though they sometimes may be) but mainly because (as in this case) such messages do nothing to acknowledge the true vulnerability it takes to bring one’s work to the world and put it out for all to see. The act of being vulnerable is becoming more and more difficult these days as those with a loud and angry voice seem more bold and justified and speaking “their” truth without carefully considering how it feels to be on the receiving end of such speech.
For those of us who happen to be highly sensitive types (see this movie trailer for a beautiful movie about the topic HERE ) the days of feeling the internet is a wonderfully magical world full of diversity and opportunity are coming up against the Dark side of humanity and we are seeing social media (and all media) grappling with a mean, ugly and dangerous force that appears to be getting unleashed upon us. My former friend’s email was soaked in that energy…. the righteousness streak that so many now feel empowered to put forth without taking into account how much words can hurt.
How do we deal with this anger and righteousness? How do we deal with painful remarks made from a place of pain, masked as empowerment and “free” speech? For myself, I go first to seeking my own inner guidance system. How do the words make me feel? Good or bad? If good do I deserve to receive these words of praise and support? Have I made good effort over time or done something useful/helpful/meaningful that has helped another? If so then I am grateful that my actions have been well-received and have brought something positive to someone’s life.
If I feel bad by what has been said, I reflect: do the words have any basis in fact? Have I caused harm? Betrayed a boundary? Disrespected myself or another? If so, then I take stock. Ask forgiveness. Make adjustments. If however their words do not apply to what I have done in the world, then their words must not be ABOUT me at all, but more, they must be about the pain that the speaker may be in. It is important to be able to take responsibility if that is appropriate for the feedback I am receiving….but equally important is to realize that the feedback may not have anything to do with me, except that I am a convenient mirror upon which to spit. But I am NOT the mirror. None of are. We are uniquely ourselves.
So when my former friend tried to cut down my work as an environmental artist, saying that I should try to find my own voice instead of emulating the works of far better land artists, it took me back a bit. I was very hurt. I looked within and took stock. And interestingly ended up reading some of my own words on the subject which I had just published on my new website: (link to page)
…” For those people who may feel that environmental/land artists like myself are merely copying other land artists who have come before I would say this: of course you are entitled to your opinion, however each person who piles up pinecones in a forest or seashells on the beach is expressing a primal desire which is enshrined in the human experience: humans want to make beauty with nature. We have been doing this since we started applying ground stones and berries to cave walls. Certainly some artists are more gifted than others and some artists have had enormous commercial success with their work…which they deserve for all their cold, early mornings and frozen fingers when the rest of the world is snug and warm.
But just because one land artist’s piece may remind you of another artist’s work, be assured, none of this is meant to be “copying”. It could never be actually because no two stones nor sticks are the same, therefore each artist has their own relationship to the environment and the materials that landscape presents…and we each have our own way of working with those materials that is a discovery process of its own. ” …
So dear reader, if you have come this far in today’s blog post, I am exceedingly grateful for your patience and perseverance in allowing me to share this moment of painful exposure, and my options on how to process the pain. Some profound words also came thru today form one of my former astrology teachers and I would like to direct you to his “Cosmic Weather report” post…which you can find HERE. Here is a snippet from his post that really spoke to me today:
“Though it can sometimes seem meaningless, your life has a purpose that is both uniquely specific to you and generic to the species. The generic part that we all share is that you came here to express the love packed into your soul. The personal part is that you have to find your own authentic way to do that, which will put your shoulder to the wheel.” – Mark Borax
For myself, as silly and fluffy as my environmental work may seem, it is the work I have been given to do… to create some sort of reminder that life on earth is meant to be a co-creative experience with and in honor of the earth herself. And that we as a species need to do much, much better at respecting the delicate balance that is provided to us here on this gorgeous planet we call home. We are out of balance with the natural eco-systems that have shaped and evolved the beauty we see. We must not ruin it further. Most land artists innately know this and their work is an expression of the deep love and respect they have for the natural world. We seek to raise up the collective awareness about the fragile beauty of the earth and our need as a species to be more diligent in using technology and resources more wisely and protecting what we have still from further damage. It is a big task. Let’s get busy and each be the change we want to see.