This is so beautiful. Enjoy. Hug your people.
In the field of psychology, there has been a shift in nurturing self-esteem in children to nurturing self-compassion. You can see evidence of this shift in the popularity of books by Brene Brown and Carol Dweck and the rising interest in mindfulness practice, especially in schools.
What’s wrong with teaching self-esteem? It has been proven to breed narcissism and unkind behavior toward others. It motivates people to put others down in order to prop themselves up. And high self-esteem can have a negative effect on how we react in difficult situations. This is not the outcome we really want or need these days.
Enter Self-compassion. Dr. Kristin Neff articulates three elements of self-compassion:
- Self-Kindness vs. Self-Judgment. This means being kind to ourselves when we struggle or fail rather than judging ourselves too harshly which can result in a downward spiral of self-criticism. Self-kindness has us respond to failure like so, “This is hard right now. How can I pay attention to how hard it is and move through it?”
- Common Humanity vs. Isolation. This means that when we struggle we realize that we aren’t the only person in the universe in this situation. When we struggle, it’s good to remember that we all struggle. This helps us feel less alone and keeps us from falling into a downward spiral of isolation.
- Mindfulness vs. Overidentification. This means that when we struggle, we keep it in perspective. It’s the difference in thinking, “I did something stupid” (mindful) rather than “I am stupid” (overidentification). When we are mindful about our struggles, flaws, and failures, we understand that we don’t always behave perfectly but this doesn’t mean that we are “bad.” We’re just human.
When we shift from self-esteem to self-compassion, we create a kinder world together. That said, many systems still reward narcissistic, hyper-individualistic behavior (grades, for example) and I’m not sure how to navigate that in the context of this shift. What do you think? It’s a doozy of a problem, for sure.
TAKE IT FURTHER
It’s reflection time. I love it. Here are some highlights from 2018:
For the first half of the year, I wrote and published a blog post every day. I always start my day with writing. Mostly I write in my journal. But something about writing for my blog feels different. Blogging helps me figure out what I really think. And it helps me track how my thinking evolves over time. My blog even helps other people – they tell me so!
SPRING. I did a lot of “upskilling” in 2018. In spring, I participated in Seth Godin’s altMBA. It’s a 5-week cohort-based course with lots of great reading, discussion, and exercises on leadership. My favorite reading from that course was The Coaching Habit. In addition to the course content, I loved the actual design of the course and the business model. Very clever.
SUMMER. At the end of summer, I visited Haystack Mountain School of Craft in Maine. While I didn’t study there, the visit inspired me to pick up my own artistic practice when I returned home. This is the major shift I experienced in 2018: a return to my own art and design work.
FALL. This fall while I was teaching Maker Lab at Ithaca College, I was also participating in a 6-week cohort-based course from the Lifelong Kindergarten group at MIT. This course is geared toward K-12 educators which I am not. But it was free and with a really smart and international crowd, so I signed up and did my best to apply the reading, discussion, and exercises to college-level teaching and learning. Glad I did it.
In addition to these online courses, I took some hands-on courses locally. I took a 5-session mezzotint course and a 4-session course in metalsmithing. I liked getting ink on my hands in the former and loved shaping and joining brass, silver, and aluminum in the latter. I also took a woodworking workshop at the makerspace and made a Shaker-inspired footstool. Fun! And I took a lamp-making workshop at the public library. That was cool, too.
WINTER. Finally, toward the end of the year, I found a studio mate for a very affordable art studio in an old industrial building. This is something I’ve been wanting to do for a while now. I’ve been enjoying setting up my half of the space and reconnecting with my tools, materials, and old projects. Projects that I couldn’t really finish when they were set up in my living room or on my dining table. Now I have a space of my own. Well, it’s a shared space. But I like it.
I hope you enjoy reflecting on 2018 and that you are looking forward to 2019.
TAKE IT FURTHER
It’s worth mentioning that I’ve significantly cut back on social media. I’ve taken the apps off my phone (I did that this summer when I went to Maine). More recently I’ve blocked most social sites from my web browser. While sometimes they are useful, mostly they are distracting and even anxiety producing. Also, I’m not feeling great about Facebook (and it’s little brother Instagram) as a company. I don’t want to buy what they are selling or contribute to their data gathering activity.
This past week I listened to an interview with SVA Products of Design (PoD) founder, Allan Chochinov. PoD is a graduate design program in NYC that brags in its advertising, “Killer faculty, Killer jobs, No grades.” Love it.
In the interview, Chochinov discussed a few pedagogical tips and tricks that they employ in PoD. One is shorter classes. There are a few reasons to do this. One reason is so that they can bring in top-notch NYC professionals as adjuncts who would find it hard to commit to a 15 weeks course, but can commit to meeting once a week for 5 to 7 weeks. Brilliant.
But the other reason that these shorter courses work is that they edit out the slump that students feel a few weeks into a project. Which just turns into a distraction. They want to change projects, then a few weeks into their second project they want to switch back to their first project. In the end, they have two underdeveloped projects. Not a win.
Now, I used to address this project slump by having students read about it. For myself as an artist, when I discovered that “slump” was a thing with a name, that made it much easier to navigate. But it’s possible that it’s too much to ask of today’s students. It might be better to prioritize teaching and learning agile development over endurance, at least in an intro course.
Graduates these days only stay at a job for 16 months on average. It’s possible that endurance isn’t as relevant as it used to be. Food for thought.
TAKE IT FURTHER
Interview with Allan Chochinov here
Core77 Gift Guide here
Making decisions is hard. And even once we make them, having confidence in the decisions that we make can also be hard. Because many of the decisions that we make don’t give immediate feedback that tells us, “You made the right choice.”
It’s often the case with me and the people that I know that making a decision is a form of privilege. So rather than get crippled with doubt about a decision that I’m making or plan to make, I’m trying to channel faith and gratitude. I won’t ignore doubt when it creeps in. That can be dangerous. But I do want to make a connection between doubt and the privilege that allows me to have that doubt. It’s a package deal and a deal that I’m lucky to have.
FOMO – Fear of Missing Out
In Douglas Rushkoff’s book, Present Shock, he describes how our “now now” relationship to technology is driving us crazy. For this problem, he offers this solution: connect to nature. More specifically, he suggests that we connect to natural cycles, such as the lunar cycle, to slow down our nervous now habits.
Rushkoff cites the work of Dr. Mark Filippi who claims that our brain chemistry is affected by moon phases and if we pay attention to that, we can consciously leverage the state of our brain.
This is another one of those theories that I don’t buy into 100%. But what I do like about it is that it encourages us to slow down how we connect to time, to pay attention to how we feel and to patterns of how we feel, when. I appreciate the mindfulness of the practice.
If you’d like to track your state of mind with the moon calendar, check out my little chart here
TAKE IT FURTHER
Custom Moon Jewelry by Elaan Greenfield
I’m participating in an online course hosted by MIT’s Learning Creative Learning group. Our first assignment is a lovely one: Share an object from your childhood and reflect on how it influenced you. For inspiration, we were given Seymour Papert’s short essay Gears of my Childhood.
Lucky for me, our mother filled our home with beautiful objects. I’m pretty sure this environment is what led me to study product design in graduate school. From an early age, I remember noticing the details on the objects. And as an adult, I have such an appreciation for combinations of materials in an object (like the leather+wood+brass on my baby carriage) and how they work together to deliver a functional whole.
Check out some objects from my childhood here
I’m teaching a new and improved version of MakerLab to undergrads this fall. The biggest change I’ve brought to the course is weekly writing assignments. The assignments have multiple parts and have at least two components:
- Explore a big picture question about the maker movement
- Identify a maker from a particular genre and write about their work
The latter component is called “Maker Appreciation” and I’ll dedicate a post to that in future. Quick insight: it’s a great and rewarding exercise.
The former component really interests me…and scares me a little. So far, the big picture questions have been questions like, “Why the maker movement, why now?” or “What are makerspaces and why do they matter?” But for this week, we’re going to move way out of the comfort zone and read some critiques of the maker movement. Why? It’s important to explore the criticism. I mean, if you are in the middle of a theatrical run, you might want to hold off on reading reviews lest they negatively affect your performance. But in other areas of life, you want to understand and acknowledge criticism in real time.
So for an upcoming assignment (not this week, but the next), we are reading Evgeny Morozov’s New Yorker piece called Making It: pick up a spot welder and join the revolution and Leah Buechley’s 2014 talk called Thinking About Making. I look forward to seeing where the discussion takes us.
Last November I attended The Fingerlakes Social Entrepreneurship Institute hosted by The Center for Transformative Action at Cornell University. I had a great time chatting with the social entrepreneurs there and left feeling engaged and inspired. That inspiration manifested in a small change at the time: I changed the name of this blog from Make Better Stuff to Art & Invention. For me, the name-change marked a shift in thinking and writing about stuff to thinking and writing about what it takes to make stuff: the emotional and practical world that artists create, define, and live in.
Then in January of this year, I applied to Seth Godin’s altMBA program with the goal of making more art. But once the course actually started I changed my goal from “making more art” to “helping other people make art.” And that’s a trap we fall into, right? We avoid working on our own sh*t by helping other people do theirs. And that’s not all bad. It’s good and it’s generous, but for me, it’s also a form of hiding from my own work. So I’m just trying to hold a light on that in my life and examine it.
Another push toward making art came in late August when I visited the Haystack Mountain School of Craft in Deer Isle, Maine. The campus is what I hope heaven to be: simple modernist cabins built into a tree-lined mountainside overlooking the sea. In each cabin, a different set of tools and materials: hot studios for glass and metal, a graphics studio with ink and roller, a ceramics studio with slip and wheels, a woodshop with saws and clamps, a textiles studio with sewing machines and dyes, and a fab lab with CNC routers and 3D printers . I left there feeling that I needed to go home and create my own space. You can’t make art just anywhere. You really do need a workshop. A place to have your tools out and keep them out. So I’ve done that this fall. I’ve created that.
This fall I’m falling into art. I’m emotionally ready and I’ve carved out the practical space to work.
Is a wonderful thing. And a generous thing. But it can also be an escape from working on the stuff that you really need to work on. Your own stuff. The stuff that scares you.