New Year, Old Me

 

I am a little apprehensive when it comes to New Year’s resolutions. The ‘New Year, New Me’ mentality that surrounds the approach of a new year implies I’m supposed to know exactly what I need to do and who I want to be. I feel like I am in a constant state of figuring those things out 365 days of the year. The ironic thing is, I knew these things quite well when I was much younger and now it’s a matter of forgetting much of what I’ve learned since then. I think the earliest version of me – the four and five and six year old version – knew many of the answers I’ve been digging for.

I knew back then that free time was my favorite thing and that home was my favorite place. I knew that loose comfy leggings were the obvious clothing choice because dresses and skirts and constrictive jeans did not lend themselves to free, spontaneous cartwheels. I knew that my body was perfect because it let me run and play and dance and climb trees.

I knew that daydreaming was not only acceptable, but a wonderful creative escape that fully deserved my time and attention. I knew that there was nothing more beautiful than a well-illustrated children’s book. I knew that I loved to make art and that someday I would be an artist. I knew I didn’t like to sit still unless I was reading or making art.

I knew that I didn’t like church because I had to sit still…and listen to stories I did not understand and because it made me angry that women could not be priests. I knew that girls were just as strong and smart and worthy as boys and I knew that it was okay for boys to wear pink or play with dolls or cry.

I knew that being myself was more important than being accepted; despite hating to attract attention to myself, I flat out refused to follow the trends of my peers for fear that this would make me “fake”. I knew that bottling up my frustration, excitement, anger, sadness, joy, and fear was not worth it.  Well to be fair, I did not consciously “know” this, but rather I did not yet know how to not wear my heart on my sleeve.

I knew that it was wrong when an adult at school yelled at a student who was just confused and distracted and scared. I knew that it was wrong when a teacher exasperatedly took a book away from a little boy who was “not ready for that level of reading”. I knew that it was wrong when another teacher grabbed me by the hood of my jacket and yanked me backward when I was rushing down the hall at the end of the school day in my eagerness to get home where I could feel safe and free. I knew a lot of things that happened at school were wrong. And I think those early school years were when I started to forget some of the important things I had known.

I started to let the world around me teach me new lessons. I learned that it wasn’t normal or acceptable to be quiet and reserved.  I learned that comfortable clothes were not always the right clothes and that daydreaming was not a wonderful creative escape, but rather a recipe for getting in trouble at school.

I learned that, after kindergarten, art was only worthy of forty minutes of the seven-hour school day one day per week. I learned that sitting still was a very good thing that teachers praised. I learned that boys and girls were separate and that if I was friends with a boy I would be teased by my classmates.

As I got a little older, I learned that my body was supposed to look a certain way and I learned how to hide what I was feeling. I learned that being accepted was at least as important as being myself, if not more so.

I had gathered a whole new body of knowledge that I found rather difficult to live with. If only I’d had thicker skin, had been more oblivious to the subtleties around me… Had I been somehow immune to the new and peculiar life lessons I was learning, I surely could have saved my unsuspecting family – and myself – the strain of endless meltdowns, illness, anxiety disorders, eating disorders, and other futile embodiments of a child caught off guard by a world she didn’t easily fit into.

As I’m sure many a like-minded, soul-searcher can attest to, it is no small task to sift through the layers upon layers of oneself in order to find what is real and worth keeping and what is not. As I sift, I am seeing more and more that the layers worth keeping – the real layers – are the ones that have been here all along.  It turns out my five-year-old self was wiser than I ever gave her credit for.  It turns out I kind of like the original version of me. I think she was on to something… and I think I’ll keep her. Or rather, I think I’ll continue to work toward getting her back. That is my New Year’s resolution.

4 Truths of Being a Post-grad Artist in the Suburbs

So your college days are over and most, if not all, of your artsy friends have up and moved to NYC or San Fran, or some other artist-magnet city. But you have decided that city life is not for you so you’ve gone against the grain and set up camp a town or two over from Mom and Dad.  Totally cool.  I’ve been there. Actually I am there.  When I graduated with a BFA a year and a half ago, all but one of my dancer friends rushed off New York City and I stayed here in the suburbs.  It was difficult to watch them go without me but I knew that the Big Apple was not for me.  Plus I’m admittedly a mamma’s girl and here to there is like…3 hours.  So my husband and I made the decision to give the suburbs a shot.  Of course there is an enviable abundance of job opportunities for skilled software engineers such as my beloved man and so he got nice and cozy in a steady well-paying job before I was done unpacking my college bags.  But such is life and I do not resent that because I knew well ahead of time that making a career of the arts is a dumb idea no matter where you are.  Dumb but totally worth it. Anyway, here I am, surrounded by lots and lots of normal people.  I have come to experience some stark differences between being in the presence of fellow artists almost all day every day and being in the so called real world.  For those of you who may find themselves in a similar position, here are a few findings you will learn to be true:

1)  Your interactions with others will be much less dramatic.  “Fine thanks and you?” Polite smiles. Fake chortles and aggravating small talk. We are not used to such normalities. We are used to hugs, silent hellos, dramatic goodbyes, meaningful exchanges, belly laughs, curse words, over the top gestures, and not being judged for our totally judge-worthy behavior.  Watching two dancers have a conversation is the biggest eyeful of over-kill body language you will ever see.  Musicians talk to each other with a twinkle in their eyes and a subtle laughing undertone in their voices because they all know. They all know beauty and soul and an unforgiving life and they all know that they all know. It’s the strangest most mystical thing.  And then there are the classic paint-on-their chins, tattoos-up-their-arms artists. They don’t talk, they look.  They see things and they imagine things and when with others of their kind, they skip right over the weather and jump into an informal critique, nudity, or the very definition of art itself.  And oh the writers; when they get started they get started. They have an artful brilliance inside of them that reads so clearly in their excited eyes, nervous hands, and breathtakingly vast vocabulary.   I could go on, but you get my point; normal acceptable conversation is kind of a drag, but you must and you will get better at it if only for when it is absolutely necessary.

2) Suddenly overemotional reactions will be out of place.  What?! But it used to be completely acceptable to happy-sob over the modesty of the ivory-lined moon half-hiding behind pink clouds as I listen to a super well-written metaphorical indie song through my almost broken ear buds….why is that not acceptable? Also, why is my great idea for my newest project just “interesting”? Why does everyone use the word “interesting”? What about enchanting or luscious or provocative?  Or what about leaving words out of the mix altogether and expressing your so called “interest” with a sincere hand-squeeze, a knowing smile, or a subtle but genuine nod of the head. Oh right I forgot; in real life that’s considered creepy.

3) Your passion will be mistaken for obsession.  The days of spending every possible minute on your life’s calling without anyone giving two hoots are over.  You can still do it, but now people will try to remind of things like balance and meal times and sleep.  I mean come one, who even eats lunch anyway? Who needs sleep? Who needs balance? Oh right…I do. Ever since I graduated to real life. Which brings me to….

4)  Sometimes you will get a little angry that you occasionally catch yourself being a normal. Sometimes you will feel resentful about being misunderstood.  This is when you need to pay a visit to your NYC-dwelling artist friends.  Because if you don’t, you might become TOO normal and then you will really be resentful.  But a solid weekend visit with your fellow crazies should give you just the fix you need.  And as a bonus, it will also remind you why you decided not to move to NYC in the first place.  Cockroaches, fish smells, deafening noise, and an overly concentrated population of humans aren’t your thing, remember?  And then you will go back home with a spring in your step, a twinkle in your eye, and a subtle laughing undertone in your voice because you know; you know who you are and you can be that person anywhere.

An Unscientific Theory on the Crazy Artist

We all know of the “crazy artist” stereotype. And many of us know that it is a little bit more than just a stereotype. Think about your favorite musicians, painters, writers, dancers – historical or current. Would you classify them in the ‘totally sane nothing overly unusual’ personality category? Neither would I. Come to think of it, I would not place myself in that category either and if you are an artist of any variety you can likely relate.

Why does creativity so often come packaged with mental and emotional imbalance? Well I’m sure there are many possible scientific explanations for this, but God help me if I try to read a nine-page scholarly article about a complicated study based on neuroimaging. Plus then I’d have to cite it and I was so done with citations the second I graduated college. So instead, here is my quick and super unscientific theory for what it’s worth:

I think artists easily overflow. We tend to experience everything very intensely, so naturally we accumulate an excess of ideas, inspiration, and overwhelming feelings and thoughts.  To get this all out by whatever the artistic means may be can take time. It can take trials and errors. It can be difficult and confusing. Sometimes it has to be put off because we are busy and other times it is put off because we aren’t sure how to approach it, or simply because we are all human and get lazy now and then.

Painting, writing, making music, etc.; these are our outlets. They are critical to our well being and often we cannot get enough.  Sometimes I feel like the more time and energy I spend delving into my art, the more of it need.  Call us dramatic, call us needy, but we artsy types often find ourselves in the sticky situation of lacking space for an urgent overflow of stimuli and inspiration.  This, I think, is where the crazy comes in.

When no amount of art-making can soak up our inner turmoil – both good and bad – we tend to find other, less productive outlets. These can range from something as mild as a little moodiness or a bad habit, to larger issues such as addictions or eating disorders.  I would love to follow that up with “the trick is…”, but I don’t have a trick.  I do recommend trying to use your artistic outlet(s) over other more destructive coping mechanisms as much as possible. You might choose to make more space by having more than one creative outlet.

As is the case with many artists, one art form doesn’t quite cut it for me.  I consider myself to be first and foremost a dancer and visual artist, but I have some spares on hand such as writing and music. Even still, I have not found a way to eliminate the sprinkling of crazy that seems to come with being an artist. I don’t know a single artist who has. I think it is a matter of keeping it at a manageable level rather than doing away with it altogether. After all, isn’t our irrationality – our slight disconnection from what is rational and safe and grounded – part of what makes us so deeply, if inconveniently, creative?

The Power of Commitment

I married the love of my life last weekend and I couldn’t be happier.  The wedding was perfect; simple, unique, and beautiful, followed by a reception full of love, laughter, food, wine, and lots of dancing.  Now that the excitement and anticipation of planning a wedding is over, and my wonderful husband and I have returned from our magical honeymoon, life welcomes us back into its tides. We are happy to be back in our own lovely house.  Happy to be back in the swing of our jobs, our routines, our busy but happy life together.

I feel mostly the same as I did before we got married.  The moment he got down on his knee a little over a year ago and I said yes, we made a commitment.  And I suppose that our wedding was a celebration of that commitment. It is a big one after all and surely worth celebrating.  When I said yes and he put the ring on my finger, symbolizing our loyalty to each other, I felt a subtle calmness ripple through me.  Not because I had any doubt in either of our levels of loyalty or commitment before that moment, but rather because it meant that what I knew I wanted – what we both wanted – was solidified.  I think relief is a side-effect of making any commitment.  Once we fully commit to something, there is no turning back.  Any bumps and troubles along the way will simply have to be worked through.  Once we know and whole heartedly accept that, the big decision, in whatever context it may be, has already been made.

If someone commits to running a marathon, they will train for it day after day after day. They will condition themselves and then they will run it.  It probably won’t be a breeze, but they will finish it.  If they had simply agreed to probably running a marathon, they would have woken up from time to time and decided they were too tired to run that day or that it was too cold out.  Then marathon day would come and they would try and they might get pretty far, but they would not finish because their whole heart had never been in it.

I was having a case of artist’s block a few weeks ago and ended up settling on painting a replica of a photograph I had taken in Maine last year.  I wasn’t excited about painting it and honestly I didn’t even know where to begin. But I began nonetheless and a couple of hours into it, I got so frustrated that I dipped my 2” brush into a pile of nauseous earthworm-colored paint that had been growing on my desperate palette and swiped it across the canvas with a passive aggressive smirk on my face.  Then an idea popped into my head for a painting of two roses, side by side, one in the shadows, the other exposed on the soon to be nauseous earthworm colored background.  I wasn’t sure I loved the idea, and of all the flowers I’ve painted, I had never painted a rose, but I decide to commit to it anyway.  So I took a deep breath (with my head turned away from the open jar of paint thinner) and then I just went for it.  To be perfectly honest, it was a blast, despite a few bumps along the way that I patiently worked through, and I loved the finished product!  Not to mention I just sold it at an art fair to a very appreciative customer.

I suppose I do feel ever so slightly different now that I am married.  I was committed before the wedding undoubtedly, but if there was one step higher to take, we both took it and if feels great.  Little annoyances were easy to brush off before, but now I brush them off with a smile.  All of the wonderful things about being with my man just got even better because I know worth an engagement, a wedding, and a heart full of love that I never have to go without them.

I challenge you this: Choose something in your life – a project, a goal, a relationship, even just a day in general – and shake on it.

&*#% What They Think

Remember back in the day, when no matter what the quality of your scribbled stick-figure-laden works of art, your elders would swoon and be overcome with what you interpreted as authentic awe and admiration at your impressive talent?  Remember the warm, beautiful feeling of a swelling ego as your mother hung your latest work on the fridge to be displayed with your other 72 fridge-worthy masterpieces?

Those were the days.  Hardly anything beats the feeling of pure, enthusiastic validation.  Well I hate to say it, but those days are, for the most part, gone.  Of course your family and friends will likely still enjoy your work almost as much as they did when you were 5, but now you are older, more skeptical of the swooning, and more doubtful of yourself.  And now it’s not Mom and Dad and Grandpa Joe you are trying to impress, but rather you want to please art buyers.

Except wait…sometimes you can’t please them either.  Sometimes you don’t know how to please anyone and it feels like art has turned into a stressful thing that is actually not creative at all!  A word of advice: Stop trying to please.  Like, I said, those days are over.  So stop being disappointed when there is a lack of gushing over your latest creation.  Now that you are a real grown-up, you need to please you.  It sounds cliché, but really; if you create what you are compelled to create, then you are doing your job.  If you have something to say, say it through your art. If an idea for a painting pops into your head, don’t brush it aside for another idea that you are less excited about but that you think “will sell”.  Do what calls to you.  You may not fall in love the finished product of every single project, but chances are, you will fall in love with the process. Keep working toward your own version of beautiful.  If you do this, your art will radiate your passion, and that is probably your best bet at selling anyway.

Day Job Dilemma

Let me start off by saying I realize there are many people who thrive in the corporate world.  There are people who feel at home in the sterile and orderly office setting; people who flourish as they strive toward business goals and climb the corporate ladder.  They use words like “innovation”, “ballpark”, “leverage”, and “incentive”.  Their clothes are crisp, and their communication skills are impressive.  The long, flawless verbal strings that slide effortlessly off their lips almost make one wonder if several hours of pre-workday rehearsing might have taken place.  They tend to express their enthusiasm about new ideas through acronyms, numbers, and impromptu meetings, and they typically enjoy a good flowchart.  I mean who doesn’t?  Oh right…me.

Needless to say, I am not one of these people.  Sterile, orderly office settings make me feel utterly out of place.  The bottom rung of the corporate ladder is far above my reach and I like it that way.  I don’t think I have used the word “ballpark” in a sentence ever.  My clothes are far from crisp as I do not own an iron or ironing board, and while my communication skills are decent, prefer to convey ideas through my art.

I started working as a temp. file clerk at the corporate headquarters of a big company a few months ago to get a little cash flowing, and have gotten a taste of this previously foreign world of formality and cubicles.  I walked in with a spring in my step on my first day, ecstatic to have a job and admittedly feeling pretty important with my employee badge clipped to the waste of my new straight-cut black pants.  I had convinced myself that a good solid cubicle job would be perfect for balancing me out a bit.  The contrast between a sleek and methodical workday routine and my usual scattered artsy ways would be ideal.

I was led by my new boss through a monochromatic maze of wall partitions and introduced to all of the well-dressed people for whom I would soon be filing.  And file I did.  After the corn maze tour ended, I dropped my purse and coat off at my new very own cubicle and was shown to the file room.  It is here that I was left alone to begin what I had been hired to do.  After a moment or two of standing, awestruck, amidst the shoulder-height piles of paper that dominated much of the floor space in the room, I jumped into action, maneuvering my way through the mess of dead trees to match each piece of paper with its respective folder.  Sheesh, I thought, what an environmentally unfriendly company. Apparently all of my time spent learning the ins and outs of Microsoft Excel had been pointless.  Nonetheless, I managed to keep my spirits high, getting lost in my fine-tuned Pandora radio stations and occasionally visiting my desk to alphabetize a pile using a nifty plastic office sorter I had been supplied with.

This spry, chipper version of file-clerk-me lasted one week…and that might be pushing it.  I walked out the door at the end of that first Friday wondering where all of my initial enthusiasm had gone.  And by the end of the second week, I was feeling bitter and totally out of place.  I found myself consciously suppressing the urge to vocalize my exasperation at the sound of heeled shoes click-click-clicking down the hall.  Heated irritation was steadily growing in me, replacing in surplus the short-lived new-job giddiness that had preceded.  Each day, as I sorted and filed and sorted some more, I could feel every hour as it passed, teasing me with how many better ways I could be spending my time.  I could be rich off of my art by now if I had been spending all this time painting, I thought.  My passion and skills were surely being wasted.

In reality though (reality being one of my least favorite words of course), that simply isn’t true.  If I had spent all of those hours painting that I had spent filing, yes, I would perhaps be slightly closer to my goal of being a full-time artist, but chances are I’d be stressed about trying to make money and therefore the joy of making art would be significantly reduced.  Whereas, despite having less time for art right now, I can truly enjoy the creative time that I do have because there is not a need to make money from it right away.  It is in this way that I can more slowly, but more pleasurably, work toward my goals, while reminding myself that my day job is simply a means to an end.

This is much easier said than done though; yes, wearing business pants and alphabetizing documents is my means to an end, but what about that whole thing about living in the moment?  Shouldn’t I be enjoying the journey?

I think this is where many artists make themselves crazy.  We see obstacles as things that put life on hold until we can do what we truly want without interruption.  Life can’t “officially” start until we have rid ourselves of all of these hindrances.  This train of thought has us running on a hamster wheel hoping to get somewhere, and it’s nothing but frustrating.  Meanwhile we are completely out of our element, doing what we dislike so that we may eventually be able to do what we love.

Allowing these steppingstone jobs, or whatever the obstacle may be, to be entirely separate from our passion – our art – makes us resentful.  I know this because as my ever-stifling office days dragged on, I felt less and less myself.  I became easily irritated and even felt admittedly sorry for myself.  I knew my circumstances really were not very bad by anyone’s standards, but I still craved a little meaning, and a sense of identity.  Yet I felt utterly invisible and out of place at work and I would dare guess that I am not the only artist who has been in this mildly melodramatic state of despair.

Well, I have since begun to figure out how to be an artist and bear corporate life at the same time (impressive, right?).  As much as we might cringe to accept it, a day job is often necessary in getting to where we want to go, so the trick is to find ways to be you while doing something that is not you.  Bring pieces of yourself to work; samples of your art to hang in your cubicle, business cards to hand out when your coworkers inquire about your freelancing.  Keep a notebook with you to jot down story or article ideas as they come to you.  Don’t be afraid to let your coworkers know who you are.  You’re an artist, and your boss is not going to fire you for identifying yourself as an artist rather than as a data entry clerk or administrative assistant.  As long as you keep doing your job, it’s okay to use what little free time you may have during the day to chip away at project ideas that probably have you buzzing with creative eagerness.  And if your boss does frown upon this, then maybe you should give into the dire temptation to quit.

Being out of one’s element, so to speak, often feels like wearing a mask.  It drains our energy and makes us sour.  So doing the little things that we can in order to remain ourselves in a place or situation that is so blatantly not ours, does wonders for the soul.  I don’t like corporate life any more than I did a month ago. But I’ve started to learn how to wear my artist hat with my un-ironed business casuals.  I may file, but I’m not solely a file clerk.  Someday I’ll be able hand in my employee badge and leave corporate life behind.  But for now, I will continue to return to my little cubicle, with traces of crusted paint lingering on my fingers as proof of my gloriously art-filled weekends, because my artist days have already begun and I have nothing to hide.

The Art of Starting

The idea of having my own website, and potentially starting my own business, has been dancing around in my head for a while now.  It has taken me so long to finally get started, not because I’m a lazy procrastinator, and not because I have any lack of enthusiasm about my topic, but rather because all of the possibilities have had me paralyzed.  The thought of sitting down to write my first post or list my first item, had me drowning in too many ideas.  I let myself be taken over by the “one-chance” mindset.  That’s what I call it when I start thinking as though I only have one chance to get it right.  But in reality, this is very rarely the case.  I mean, if you are a surgeon performing a life or death operation, then the “one chance” mindset would be much more practical.  But starting a blog is very obviously not heart surgery and so my paralysis over the need to create the perfect website is just silly, if not slightly embarrassing.  This concept is nothing new though for many creative people.

As artists, I think we are often so full of inspiration and ideas that we don’t know where to start.  Therefore, sometimes, we put off attacking the first brush stroke, the first word, the first note, etc.  I am learning though that this is not a viable option.  Sure, you can choose to say “No, that idea is too overwhelming, too big, too messy, too hard, too time-consuming, too intimidating, too weird, too confusing, too blah blah blah..”  Stop.  You know, you KNOW, that eventually, whether you like it or not, you will find yourself covered from head to toe in primary colors and wondering how long it’s been since you’ve eaten, slept, or gone to the bathroom.  And at the end of it, as you stand in the shower and watch the rainbow colored water disappear down the drain, you realize that you have subconsciously given into the pull of your long-suspended idea.  Dammit, you think, I wasn’t even ready.  Well clearly you were.  You were so ready, in fact, that you deemed this project of yours worthy of neglecting everything and everyone in your life for goodness knows how many hours, days, or weeks.

My suggestion, as a fairly frequent sufferer of the “one-chance” mindset, is to not wait so long next time.  Don’t wait for your wonderful, crazy ideas to begin pickling on the shelf.  I realize this is not easy.  Believe me, I have had countless encounters with these inner battles that end unfailingly in bewildered rainbow showers.  But I find that rainbow showers are so much more enjoyable when they follow a fully committed and conscious session at the art table.  Embrace your idea.  Block out some time (and you WILL find the time hiding somewhere if you look hard enough), turn on your favorite Pandora Radio station, and get to work.

You are not a surgeon (unless you are, in which case, I have no advice to offer) and therefore your efforts do not have to result in perfection on try number one.  Nor on try number two, three or four for that matter.  If you are passionate enough about whatever project you are diving into, then the act of making changes, improvements, or even starting over at the end of it will not seem worth having a pathetic artist’s meltdown over.  Those are embarrassing and useless (I know all too well first hand) and can be entirely avoided with some calmness and perspective.  Because I mean really…nobody’s life is on the line, so if you don’t like what you create, try again.  No biggie