A few years ago my friend Matt suggested the book The Artist's Way by Julia Cameron to me. I unknowingly purchased the workbook version, not the actual book and didn't get very far. Earlier this year, I purchased the book and started on a 12 week journey of self exploration.
I do that a lot. Ask me which journey of self exploration I am currently and I will more than likely have an answer. This week it is unlearning anxiety. But the more I fill my time with these self-help guides I think will help, I can't help but wonder if what if nothing is wrong with me at all? What a radical thought!
The premise of the The Artist's Way is that basically you are given weekly tasks to help boost your self-confidence as an artist. It's great! One section that really resonated with me is the part about Artistic Villains. (I capitalize it to show how much weight that has to artists.)
Cameron asks readers to list all the people who have put you down during your artistic odyssey, which could be from your childhood or even just last week. We all have those people in our life, even if you aren't an artist. Those people who don't know when to shut up and think that speaking your mind means you can be rude. Yep, that person that just popped in your head. You know who I am talking about. It's hurts, but somewhere along the way we are supposed to pretend it doesn't hurt.
Which I believe makes the hurt worse.
Let me tell you a little story. In March of 2021 I received this letter:
The letter reads:
From a well-intended friend and customer:
I am so worried that you are going to price yourself out of business! Charging $65.00 for a mug that doesn't even have the pattern all the way around it in Plainwell, Michigan is pretty risky. I have bought many of your pieces in the past in Kalamazoo and East Lansing but am no longer willing to pay these prices. It seems like every time I visit your website your prices have increased. And your freehand artwork just keep coming and is haphazard at best.
Mine is just one opinion but unless you want to sell everything at seconds events, think about being more reasonable with your prices. Wishing you the best!
Someone Who Cares
Yep, this is real letter. When I received it I laughed, but then the hurtfulness and negativity crept in, like artistic villians in my past. You know those people who are passive aggressive, hurt, unhappy, or just plain jerks. I showed the letter to my family and some friends, but sadly the damage was done. I had just started feeling good about myself, about my artwork and this person took it upon themself to be a thief of joy.
The problem was it didn't feel right! It was great to be getting so much support, but I didn't have the opportunity to explain myself. I didn't get the opportunity to explain my pricing. I didn't have the opportunity to stand up for myself.
As the days turned into months, that turned into years, that damn letter kept bouncing around in my head, almost to the point where I became suspicious of everyone thinking they sent me the letter. It was awful.
I started thinking about quitting being a professional potter. I was afraid to host events in my studio, afraid I would be verbally attacked about my pricing. I stopped posting as much to social media. I tried to make myself small because in some sad way I thought that would keep me safe.
You know what happened? I got another letter, a postcard actually. Two and a half years later I received this:
I thought to myself, nope, not this time. I don't have to explain myself to you or my pricing, but I will publicly say this person is a villain, a thief of joy, a miscreant. This harassment is not acceptable. If you don't like what I am doing with my business I invite you to try and run a business yourself, educate yourself about pricing, or even better yet just leave me alone.
I took to the internet and wrote:
You know what happened? More support, more outpouring of love, but what happened more importantly: I felt good.
Some people close to me suggested (because everyone has an opinion) that I handled it the wrong way. That I shouldn't have posted the second postcard on social media because the anonymous sender was getting exactly what they wanted: attention. But here's the thing it doesn't matter what the sender wanted. I have to get up everyday and make pottery. I have to make casting slip, molds, glaze, fire kilns, figure out overhead, payroll, etc. What matters is how I feel and for me, what I needed to do was stand up for myself, even if the sender never reads this or my social media post. This is for me. This is me saying no, you can't treat me this way. I can't control people, but I can control me.
You know what beautiful thing happened? I stopped thinking about first letter. I stopped thinking everyone was out to get me. I stopped trying to figure out who sent me the letter. I actually forgot about the letter and the postcard, but I had it written down that I wanted to blog about it.
But why? Why did I forget? Because I stood up for myself. I took away the letter sender's power. While I was typing out the letter above, I thought this person is right, it is risky to price your pottery higher than most, but what this letter writer doesn't fully understand is that I'm not like most people. I am a risk taker. Everyday I take the risk to try and make the world a more beautiful place, which is no small feat, and no letter can take that away from me.