Aim low kid.

In days of yore, I studied life drawing at a little studio with an engraved brass plate on the door reading:  ‘entree des artistes.’  My teacher was crotchety and demanding, fussing in equal amounts about cake crumbs and his bad back.  He was wonderful, actually; I miss that place like crazy.

It was in crotchety man’s drawing class that I became acquainted with a guy named Doug.

Doug was a profoundly talented artist with an adoring posse, a portfolio filled with exceptional drawings, and a model or two clamoring to sleep with him at all times.  He was also a bit of an asshole.  I loved drawing next to him–peering over his shoulder for inspiration and hoping his muse might take an interest in me–but at break-time I tried to steer clear of him.  His self-absorbed ruminations and general lack of interest in anything I said or did were off-putting. Mainly, though, I wanted to avoid hearing about the challenges of maintaining dreads when you have soft, golden hair.  You have to get beeswax!  Oh, the daily ratting, teasing struggle of it all!  It was more than I could bear.  I never suspected that Doug would teach me anything of value about life outside the studio, let alone the secret to New Year’s resolutions.

Then one January evening, years ago, I found myself stuck next to him in the line for the bathroom.  After an uncomfortable silence, I finally asked him what I ask everyone at that time of year.  “Did you make any resolutions?”

“Yeah,” he said.  “Less motherfucker and more jive turkey.”

Brilliant, really.

Here was a guy who obviously had plenty of room for improvement, merely planning on swearing a bit less.  I responded enthusiastically–perhaps embarrassingly so–but Doug was nonplussed.  “Yeah,” he said.  “Last year my goal was to learn how to cook fish.”  Herein lies Doug’s secret to meaningful New Year’s resolutions:  HE SETS VERY SPECIFIC GOALS HE CAN ACHIEVE.

For years I had been making resolutions like,  “Read all the books I’ve been meaning to read,” “Exercise five times a week,” and “Find balance.”  These were resolutions I had proven myself to be incapable of achieving.  Setting the same elusive goals year after year was only making me feel inadequate and frustrated.  How exactly was that helpful?

Shortly after our conversation, I threw out “achieve harmony between life and work” and wrote down the following:  “#1:  In the middle of every day I will sit down quietly for 20 minutes.  Maybe I will eat.  #2:  If I have been working for 12 hours, I will leave work immediately WITHOUT bringing any work home.”  Most of my friends found these resolutions to be terribly pathetic, but I found them revolutionary.  I had put on paper two tiny steps toward carving space in the day for myself, thereby greatly improving my daily life.  With a few minor exceptions–an art show, finals, major deadlines–I can sustain these goals and turn my attention to other areas that I would like to address.

Please don’t misunderstand me.  I am not saying to set your sights low for work or love.  Not at all.  But resolutions are most often about the habits and patterns of thought we hold that serve as obstacles to our health, happiness, and sense of well-being.  Setting reasonable, achievable, and sustainable goals requires a substantial shift in mindset.  I no longer consider myself a project, or some sort of approximation of the person I would like to become.  Instead, how liberating to consider oneself a decent person, doing what decent people do:  learning from last year’s experiences and working to make the coming year even better.

In the process of writing this post, I heard about Silvi Alcivar, who had always wanted to be a writer–even called herself a writer–but could not make herself write regularly as she thought a writer should.  She decided to set a goal of writing THREE MINUTES a day.  Now she she meets people all over and has very focused, intense conversations.  Then she writes them tiny, mind-blowing, three-minute poems.  I got a little weepy watching her video, but that is not surprising, I suppose.  I cried at a Keds’ commercial once.  Check Silvi out now at The Poetry Store.

In the meantime, you may be hoping that I’m planning a year with less motherfucker as well, but I have other small fish to fry.  Sorry, mom.

Why you may want to wait and have that baby AFTER art school

It’s too late for me, obviously, but you could save yourself.

Nota bene:

*Maternity pants do not look quite right with the art uniform.

*Morning sickness does not mix well with photo chemistry.  Plus, using a ventilator mask only exacerbates the feeling that you are being invaded by aliens.

*It’s unwieldy and uncomfortable to schlepp lights, view cameras, tripods, stands, drawing boards, toolboxes, and power packs around with a basketball-sized babe lodged in your uterus.

*Being surrounded by photo students means you are pretty much guaranteed to see your child’s birth canal plastered all over somebody’s senior thesis show.  That’s right. Imagine standing in a room full of 20 year olds staring at your vagina blown up to 30 x 40. Awkward.

*It is impossible to care about footnoting properly when suffering from post-partum depression.

*Babies do not amuse themselves and/or sleep soundly just because you have a gigantic critique the next day.  EVEN WHEN YOU ASK NICELY.

*6 hour studio classes mean you have to sit on the nasty floor of the bathroom and pump during the break.

There are loads of other reasons, the most heinous of which I have gladly repressed. On the other hand, a baby provides a cheap and available model for many of your projects, and lots of sleep-deprived angst to channel into something creative. If you can drag school out for a few extra years, it just might work for you. Besides, during those moments when they’re not tired, cranky, hungry, or expelling something from one end or the other, babies are really quite charming.

A few things I wish I’d learned the easy way (part one)

     You’re probably smart.  Well, you can read, anyway.  That’s something.  You probably listened to your mother, finished what you started, and paid your bills on time.  Or maybe you’re a dog owner.  The disciplined kind.  You kennel Fido at night so no one needs to worry about life and limb.  In that case, you may find the information below completely superfluous.  Feel free to add a few lessons of your own to the list for my benefit.  But for those of you who insist on learning things the hard way like me, I thought I would contribute my two cents over the next couple of days.  Perhaps it will save you some trouble.
     I’ll start with a simple one.
1.  Black cats are hard to see at night.
     Seems obvious, doesn’t it?  But it didn’t occur to me until after a number of very unfortunate incidents.  I bet my cat wishes I had figured this one out faster as well.  Maybe folks who are near-sighted should not be allowed to adopt black cats.  Still, it might behoove her to avoid lolling on the stairs or around the base of the toilet after dark.
     I would make a snide comment about Darwinism here except that she is often quite charming, and reasonably intelligent about other matters–like how to get the mouse cage off the top shelf, for example.
2.  Projecting self-confidence may have less to do with Dale Carnegie and more to do with proper carriage.  
     Despite years of ballet and constant admonishment from my mother, my terrible posture endures.  I naturally slump and slide my neck out like a chicken, and though it drives me crazy, I cannot seem to fix it. When I do actively focus on alignment it makes me sound and feel more confident, and it is amazing how people respond.  My theory is that this is the physical side of “acting as if.” (My apologies.  That phrase bugs the crap out of me, too.)
     What seemed to get good posture off the back burner was when my exasperated yoga teacher finally said:  “It’s not about pulling your shoulders down or back; it’s about leading with your sternum.”  And as I was trying to internalize her words, I realized that what she was suggesting actually feels like sticking your boobs out into the great unknown.  What’s more, it works.  Everything magically falls into place.  Seriously, if you have them, it’s worth a try.
     Unfortunately, I have also discovered some truth in “the bigger, the better,” and the first time I stood up straight and wore a wonderbra simultaneously, the response was a little frightening.  My jokes were funnier, my comments carried more weight.  Both men and women complimented me profusely and asked, “What’s different, though?  Did you change your hair?”  That was all a bit depressing, so I shelved that wiry contraption, but I guess it’s useful information to have in case of an emergency.
     Extra bonus of better posture:  fewer lectures from the cranky chiropractor.
     Downside:  It’s hard for me to concentrate on what I’m saying while working so hard to align the spine.  Now I look smarter, but sound insipid.  Oh, well.  See #3.
3.  Deep down we are all a bit shallow.
Now I should probably parent a little.  More tomorrow.