Back in the summer, my husband and I watched more of Marie Kondo’s series on Netflix. In case somehow you’ve missed it, her whole revolutionary concept of organizing spaces is based on keeping things that “spark joy” and donating, recycling, or trashing the things that don’t. While we tune in to find tips on running two businesses, at least 5 different art/fine craft media, and five lives (3 human, 2 canine) in the same eighth of an acre, what we witness is the positive transformation of the home and business owners’ relationships with each other as they move around their stuff.
Before we began embracing the KonMari method, Chris and I took turns reading out loud to each other from the book The Life Changing Magic of Not Giving a F**k by Sarah Knight.
Yes, it’s a real book, sparked by Kondo’s bestseller, The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up, all about how politely but firmly saying no to events and people that don’t “spark joy” can be even more liberating than cleaning out your closet. Knight unabashedly uses Kondo’s philosophy that spending time dutifully attending the wedding showers of colleagues you barely know is as energetically depleting as clinging to a whole bunch of socks that haven’t had mates since the early Noughties (that’s the early 2000s in case you’re wondering).
As I continue nesting mode for fall, I’m struck by how many tasks I do that spark zero joy.
No matter how stellar my equipment, I will never feel the same joy in grinding off solder blobs that I find in painting bits of gold gouache on fairy wings or countersinking a chased line over warm pitch.
That grinding is a task I can neither ditch nor outsource. Ditto, website maintenance, sales tax reports, and business license renewal paperwork. Damn.
What I can do, however, is allow myself the satisfaction that comes when the line of light glides over the gentle curves of metal as only a real pro can achieve with said grinding.
It means taking a more Zen approach than a typically rushed, I-hate-clean-up, approach to metalsmithing.
This is the process of “taking joy,” as described by another of my feminine gurus, Tasha Tudor.
Back in the 90s (pre-Noughties) Tudor’s life story and philosophy were featured in the documentary Take Joy. Tudor was famous not only for her exquisite drawings, paintings, stories, and books but also her choice to live on a New England farm, Nineteenth Century style with a well pump in the kitchen and no electric lighting.
My idea of hell, but Tudor’s choice out of a desire to take joy in the simplest tasks from milking her goats to painting.
Watching her thoughtfully pumping water for tea was a weird game changer for me.
Ever since, I never fill the kettle without taking a moment to slow down and feel oddly happy about what I’m doing. After all, there’s tea coming soon.
I’m always tempted to rush through the parts of things that I don’t like, but Tudor’s attitude reminds me that joy lies in a deep breath and embracing of the task wherever possible. – I draw the line at cleaning up dog vomit, but I do take a moment afterwards to feel the joy of petting fur as I reassure whichever fur-kid caused the mess.
Upon reading a past newsletter of mine, my student Tom Booth emailed me some wise words that a woodworking friend of his had shared.
“Well, when I try to build something, I try to get my satisfaction out of each step in the project. If I’m jointing an edge, I start by taking pleasure in sharpening the plane iron and setting the plane, then in the sound and feel of the plane as I remove material. I go slow, trying and testing the edge until the fit is just right. I find that my satisfaction lasts longer when I take it from what I’m doing instead of from what I’ve done or what I’m going to do next.”
Being a professional artist is exhausting and overwhelming.
For every stroke of my brush and strike of my hammer there are countless admin tasks buzzing my wrist with their calendar alerts. Without getting those tasks accomplished, there is the artist part but not the making a living at it part. “Taking joy” like Tudor can be elusive, but “not giving a f*ck” like Knight looses its magic if I can’t keep the lights on.
Rushing through the boring bits, however, ceases to be an option with aging joints and repeat use injuries. If it’s worth doing, if it’s worth both the time and the discomfort, then the focused, meditative approach is the only real option.