Just Keep Swimming

AHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH. 
 
     I’m tired.
     I’m also angry, but I’m mostly just very, very tired.
     These last few weeks have been one Bad Thing after another, followed by a Truly Terrible Event and then one more You-Thought-It-Was-Over-Didn’t-You. I’m normally one who just likes to put my head down and push through the bad stuff, but this morning I sat on my couch and cried, surprisingly hard. I have so much that I would like to say, so much that I don’t know how to say, and so many different people that I would like to sit down with and yell at until my voice is gone. But that isn’t really my job, is it? I don’t want my voice to speak over those whose voices need to be heard more; I don’t want my message to get twisted and taken out of context, so all I will say on my opinion is this: we have to do something.
     Last week I went to see Finding Dory, and while it may not be an Oscar-worthy masterpiece, it did have a lot to say (no spoilers in this, I promise). Somebody once said that if you want to write, write. If you want to write something important, write children’s books. The same applies for children’s movies. Pixar has taught me more about how to be a good person than I thought animated movies could. Dory never seems to disappoint.
     This forgetful little fish has gotten me through a lot in the past. Just keep swimming is a song that has been repeated tirelessly through papers and projects and long days. It’s a reminder that hey, things could get better. You just have to keep going. Keep your head up. So, there’s lesson number one for the day, folks, keep swimming.
     Finding Dory, though, is another lesson altogether. She meets a lot of fish and mammals and cephalopods from all different parts of the ocean, and not all of them are happy to meet her or helpful, or courageous or happy or- are you getting this metaphor? Or do I need to hit you over the head with it some more? No? Ok.
     But here’s the thing. Dory has a goal in mind; she needs to find her parents. And the only way to get that goal is to find help. But she doesn’t act like she’s superior; she doesn’t bully fish into doing what she wants; she’s just kind. She asks for directions and follows them to the best of her memories’ ability, accepting all of their flaws and mistakes and cheering them up in the process. She makes a lot of friends that way, friends that she otherwise wouldn’t have if she had decided to push through it all alone.
     My point is this: be kind, guys. This world is hard to live in. It’s full of angry people, rude people, bad people, and sometimes we are those people. Bad days are easy to come by these days. But there are also good people, people who are funny and write great music and tell good stories, and I believe that even though there’s a lot of bad in this world, there’s an equal amount of good happening.
     But that’s really hard to find, isn’t it? Did you know that we are bombarded with more bad news today than in the entire history of the world? Social media makes it so much easier to access other people’s stories; while this is so cool and provides so many opportunities to hear about things that we otherwise would never encounter, it makes for a pretty crappy start to the day most of the time.
     And I, for one, am tired of it.
     We are not meant to hear so much yuck blasted into our faces every day. We just aren’t. It’s not healthy, mentally or emotionally!
     So please. Be kind to each other. Put the phone away, turn off the TV, stop reading the newspaper. Read a book. Read a kids book. I personally like Goodnight Moon, the Kissing Hand, and Elmer Blunt’s Open House, because who doesn’t like bunnies in a toaster? Go get ice cream with a person you haven’t talked to in a while. Watch this guy slip on a banana peel. Go to an art museum. I may be biased, but they’re pretty awesome. Dogs are adorable, did you know that? Here, have some dogs. Talk to people. Laugh with people. Hug someone you love for longer than two seconds.
     There is so much good in this world, but you have to find it. Yesterday, one of my coworkers came in and asked us to be careful in the bathroom because she had spilled all of the Febreeze on the floor. One of the guys laughed and said, “oh, so that’s what that smell was!” I think we’ll be smelling flowers forever.
     I’m pretty sure the guy I almost ran over while rollerblading last night was trying to catch a Pokemon on the street. I hope he got what he was looking for.
     Did you know that people are already waiting for pumpkin spice season? It’s hilariously beautiful.
     Watch this video. And this one. This Coca-Cola commercial shows that there’s some pretty good moments out there. Actually, just watch all the Coca-Cola commercials. It will make you cry but it will be worth it.
     So. There’s a lot of bad in this world, I get that. This is not me trying to wash it all away and tell you that it doesn’t matter just because there’s puppies. This is me saying that I need a break, and I’m guessing you do too. In a couple of hours, you can go right back to worrying and crying and grieving and trying to change how our world works; we need to do that too. But for heaven’s sake.
     Take a break. And just keep swimming.
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A Beating Heart

For so many years, I have had a specific feeling. It usually pops up at the sound of new music or at two in the morning when I want to sleep, but that is neither here nor there. I have been trying to pin it down, and after too many cups of coffee today, I think I finally have. I want to share it with you.


     They tell me that this wild thing that beats in my chest must be panic.
     “Calm down,” They tell me. “Stop worrying, take a breath.”
     I frown at them. Do they not know? Have they not felt it? This thing that beats in my chest, this wild, uncontrollable tempo, is not panic. It is not anxiety. It is not something to be tamed or pushed aside like so much baggage.
     This thing, this wild thing that dances through my lungs is nothing more or less than life itself.
At times it lurks, in the back of my brain and in the secret places of my soul, but there are times when it comes soaring, swooping, flying wildly to the front, sending my heart racing and my head spinning and my limbs fairly tremble with the force of it.
     “Take deep breaths,” They tell me kindly. “Feel my pulse,”
     Their hearts plod along at the pace of an old car, puttering steady and soft with a quiet purpose that I cannot always have. It is boring. 
     My heart flutters like a bird, and I feel caged. I am trapped under expectations and polite disinterest, orders to “Sit still,” and “Calm down,” and they beg me to be normal, to be as I am expected to be.
     Can they not feel it? When was the last time their hearts beat with abandon, with wild happiness that is so much life that they could not explain?
     Can I explain?
     This thing, this uncontrollable feeling, it beats in my heart and explodes from my fingers, from my hands and my feet and my mouth. It overflows.
     Can they not feel it?
     The rain on my face, the wind in my hair, the feeling of grass and dirt and rocks under me, feet callused with days spent wandering, cheeks red from sun-and-wind, hair drenched with rain-and-lake-and-river, pavement vibrating with thousands-and-hundreds of footsteps, walls echoing with cries and laughter, grief and happiness in equal measure, and
     My. Heart. Beats.
     So fast. 
     The crinkle of paper, the smell of baking, of spices and fresh-cut-lawn and motor oil. The feeling of tears tracking down my cheeks, the sound of laughter of a loved one, the sigh of frustration from a stranger, of new-music-soon-to-be-memorised and old-music-worn-down.
     We were given five senses for a reason, and it is a crime to go through life only using two or three at a time.
     Open your eyes. See the blue in the sky and red flowers, vibrant spring-green grass and patterns in the trees, among their branches and among their bark.
     Breathe deep. Raise your head to the wind and smell the things that the breeze has brought you, remember the smell of your father’s cologne, of an old book or a new one, of coffee and sugar and Christmas.
     Why are you walking through life with a half-beating heart and dull senses? Wake up!
     Can you feel it now?
     “Calm down,” They tell me, “Sit still,” they reprimand.
     Why? 
     This thing, this wild thing that beats in my chest is not panic, it is not fear, it is life.
     “Breathe deep,” They tell me.
     I already am. Are you?

A Week in the Life of an Art Major (or A Lesson in Understanding)

Ah yes. You’ve all done it. When you hear the words “I’m an Art Major” all you can think of is weird people who hang out in creepy corners with a woe-is-me attitude, and sad music. And if you’ve been lucky enough to catch sight of an Art Major in the wild, good for you! They are hard to spot away from their natural habitat, AKA the Art Building. But what exactly does an Art Major even do?

Lets start with a little math, shall we? (I know, I know, you’re an Art Major, math is the enemy, but just read me out.) The maximum recommended undergraduate semester work load in college is 17-18 hours. What does that mean, the high schoolers all wonder? Well, a class is generally a three-hour course, meaning they meet for three hours a week (one hour every Monday, Wednesday, Friday or and hour and a half every Tuesday and Thursday). Fitness classes and the like usually only count for one hour, even if they meet three times a week. Don’t ask me why, Have no clue. So in theory an 18 hour course load means 18 hours of class time every week, right? And that’s the stressful end of the spectrum.

Well folks, an art major takes much more than that. All studio art courses meet for DOUBLE the time slot, and still only count for a three-hour course. So a studio course meets for six hours a week. The average studio load is three, so that’s already up to eighteen hours. Now, there are other requirements for the University that you have to meet. This means you are taking three other courses (at 2-3 hours each) so you can graduate on time. That means you may be taking 18 hours according to codes, but in terms of class time, you are spending upwards of 23-26 hours a week in a room.

Then there’s that old adage of “One hour in class needs three hours of study time outside of class.” Ha. Haha. I laugh at your measly three hours of work. All of my art professors expect to see me in the studio outside of class at least 10-12 hours a week. I am now up to about 57 hours of occupied time (yes, I used a calculator. This is the real world). Let me walk you through what that looks like.

Studio art classes have a tendency to fall at 8am. I have 8am’s straight across the board, and probably will until I graduate. It’s a fact that I hate but must accept.

So, my Monday’s start off at 8am with Photography. We do a lot of working in class for this one, our professor helps us make sure our prints are looking ok, no spots or smudges, checks our contrast so they aren’t flat, makes sure we are including elements of the project. Now, this is real film photography, and so it takes awhile to process. An hour and a half to develop and dry the film, and then you can finally look at it, only to discover that the pictures you wanted didn’t turn out, and you’ll have to go shoot them again later. You print what you can (a print takes 45 minutes to set up, expose, develop, rinse, and dry) and then it’s time to move on. I spend the break between classes studying for my other classes, quizzes and such that I could. Or I may spend it doing nothing, because it’s the beginning of the week and ignorance is bliss. Then it’s on to art history and political science, taking notes and making sure that I have all of the homework assignments and reading written down to work on later.

After class is out for the day, I usually take off for the art building, because drawing doesn’t open up for working until 5:30, and I have things to do. I usually work on Design stuff (which is on Tuesday) for two or three hours, and then I go to eat dinner with friends (gotta see them sometime, you know?) Then its off to drawing for the remainder of the evening. It usually takes about three to four hours of work to get where I need to be for the next day, and then I go home in the dark. Now I can sleep, right? Wrong. I’ve got other stuff I need to do, so for the next few hours I take care of little stuff, emails and such that need to be dealt with and have been ignored lately (being an Adult is so boring and annoying).

Finally I can shower and go to bed. But guess what? Another 8am is here! I get up and spend 3 hours in Drawing (not my favorite), trying not to tear my hair out. Then I go eat lunch before going to spend three hours in Design. This class is fun, but it also makes the biggest mess. My logic is to stay after class instead of packing it all up, so I usually don’t leave until 6 or 7, when I eat dinner.

But wait! Theres that roll of film that needs to be developed before tomorrow! So it’s back to the art building for another two or three hours to develop film and print pictures. About nine I head home. Sleep now, right? Nope. I have an essay to write for Art History and some PoliSci to read for tomorrow. And that maintenance request for the broken toilet seat, laundry from two days before to fold, and on top of that I can’t even see my floor. Sometimes I just give up and go straight to bed.

The days to the end of the week follow in similar fashion. But somehow in the middle of all of that I have to eat, sleep, talk to friends for my sanity and theirs, do laundry, fold laundry, clean my room up so I don’t choke on dirt in my sleep, pay rent, talk to professors, arrange meetings, do dishes, go grocery shopping, go art shopping, and just generally keep life from falling into disrepair. When Saturday rolls around, I sleep until noon. It’s no wonder, right?

Then it’s straight to the art building to work on stuff until dinner, then maybe I can hang out with people (if they aren’t busy either) or actually have some non-school related time for myself. Sunday is church and then a nap to catch up on more sleep before the week starts all over again on Monday.

Is it worth it? I sometimes find myself thinking.

Yes. Because when I get out of class for the day and my hands are covered in all manner of graphite, ink, paint, grease, burns, scrapes, and shavings, I am the happiest (or at least most content) I have been in a long time.

Who needs sleep anyway?

Be Careful

“Be careful,” my mom always tells me when I pick up the car keys.

I used to get annoyed, and I would shrug my shoulders and sigh. “I’m a good driver, mom,” I would grit out. “I’m always careful.” It annoyed me that she didn’t trust me to take the turns at an acceptable speed, to follow the rules of the road, to pay attention. I knew, in all my seventeen year old sureness, that I was a good driver and that I would be fine. 

But sometimes, things happen that we can’t control. Sometimes, no matter how good of a driver you are or how carefully you pay attention, something will happen that will find you in an ICU waiting room at 2:00 am, sitting and praying and hoping. It will rock your world by taking away people that you thought you would always have by your side, leaving you standing with a hole in your heart and all trains of thought derailed by this unexpected occurrence.

When things like this happen, you have no choice but to change. It hurts, badly, and in some ways it will always hurt badly. But you have to realize that life moves on. Time doesn’t care about how badly we hurt, it bulldozes right over feelings and sometimes leaves you in the dust, trying to wrap the memories of what was and keep them in mind for what will be. But this is my reminder to you that the past is over, and we can’t go back and change it, however much the what-ifs can haunt us at night.

That doesn’t mean we forget. But we change. We adapt. We stop being careless with our words, because they can bring back bad memories. We sometimes find our smiles a little strained because something small reminded us of a different time. Realize that the good memories can sometimes hurt worse than the bad. Remember that everyone moves through grief at different paces, and when you feel like you’ve healed, someone may be so far behind you that they still hurt like the pain is fresh. Know that when some people snap, they really just don’t know what else to do. Try not get angry at them.

We all show love in different ways.

“Be careful,” my mom says when I pick up the car keys.

“I will be,” I promise her solemnly.

“Drive safely,” I say to my friends. “Text me when you get home.”

We change. But we’ll be alright in the end. In the meantime, we lean on each other and we love. Sometimes that’s the best thing to do.

Harder Than You Think

I am scared. I am afraid to lose my creativity. Because you see, creativity is a hard thing to keep. People extoll it and praise it and admire it, they wish they had it, but it takes a lot of work to stay creative.

First of all, to find yourself with a mind that is creative is incredibly tiring. It keeps you up at all hours, it won’t let you sleep when you want, and it often interrupts your everyday life of tasks you need to complete by hitting you with an idea over the head until you are forced to drop anything and everything to go work on it. And when I say anything, I mean it. It will 11:00 the night before a paper is due, and when an idea hits you, you have no other choice. By golly, you will be dragging the paint out to get to work on this masterpiece in your brain, even if it means staying up until three or four in the morning to finish that paper later.
And I can hear you, out there. “Why don’t you just ignore it until later, when you aren’t busy?” Creativity doesn’t work that way. Its a very literal “You snooze, you lose” type of problem. There is a limited window to get that idea down, and life has to be put on the back burner until it’s over.
Being creative is also very much against the grain of society. These days, things are very much ‘do it right the first time, or not at all’. This is damaging to a creative person. We know instinctively that nothing we do will ever come out right the first time, and that we will probably need to practice something over two hundred times before we even begin to be satisfied with it. However, we can’t stop ourselves from getting down and disappointed when things look bad right out of the box. Sometimes, I will get so discouraged over the fact that this sketch looks wrong that I give up on doing anything like it for the next six months.
Another thing that I absolutely hate with a burning passion is the fact that every single person I’ve ever met seems to expect that at a certain age, everyone outgrows their creativity. I mean sure, we keep little bursts of it, but everyone knows that the little-kid-in-a-candy-store way of looking at life should disintegrate by the time you get old enough to learn that the world is not candy coated and the moon is not made out of cheese. So, the result end up being that creative people are accused of being children simply because the level of creativity they possess is more often seen in children than people who are older.
Some of you are thinking, ‘why would anyone expect you to outgrow your creativity? That’s a terrible thing to think!’ You’ve all done it at some point, though, whether you realize it or not. Because the problem is, at a certain point you are expected to start thinking logically instead of with what-ifs. At some point you know that the dog is not going to grow wings and fly away, logic tells you this. Anyone who believes otherwise is crazy.
But creative people, they don’t see it that way. I mean, we can think logically, but we just don’t like to. That dog might not grow wings and fly, but what if it does? Do you have any proof that it won’t? Most people look at things and see it the way they are, take things at face value. Creative people, though, see possibilities in absolutely everything. 
 
It’s not easy to see everything though. People who don’t consider themselves to be very creative think that creative people just have ideas that always appear when they need them, that are always present and that we never have to think too hard. WRONG. Its always worse when someone says, come up with this idea right now. Nope, can’t do it. My brain will blank and go out of order if you pressure me. Sometimes it takes hours of thinking and sweating and moping around doing absolutely nothing before an idea forms. And other times we will be fidgeting and want to cry with frustration because we want to create something but we have absolutely zero ideas.
Now that i’ve completely destroyed all you thought you knew about creativity and maybe made you a little sad, I have one more thing to say. It may be hard to be creative, but it pays off. When I make something awesome, and show it to people and they ooh and ahh over it, I feel one hundred percent amazing and ready to tackle whatever next project my mind cooks up.

Writing

Writing is hard. 

When I write, I write to make sense of the world. I write when I’m stressed, when I want to make decisions, when I’m happy, excited, or upset. I have journals and folders and scraps of paper that are filled with words explaining my thoughts and ideas and telling stories. 

But sometimes, wrangling those 26 letters into what you want to say is just so hard. That little cursor can just sit and blink at you for hours and nothing will be written, and with every second that passes, you get more frustrated. I can’t tell you how many word documents have started out with variations of the word “ARGH” because I just can’t get my internal dictionary under control. You trip over every syllable and delete more than you write. 

I think part of the problem is that we tend to write under the impression that we have to impress someone else. We write with the fear that everyone who reads it will be disappointed. We write for everyone else. 

That is wrong. We shouldn’t write for others. We should write for ourselves. Write what we want to hear, write what we need to read, because there is a very large chance that there are people out there who need to hear the exact same thing. The truth has a habit of sneaking onto paper when we aren’t looking, even if we didn’t know we were writing it. 

You see, writing is not a point A to point B activity. When you write, feel free to skip around. Start in the middle and skip to the beginning. Write the last paragraph first, say something that has no context anywhere else but your brain. After word vomit, go back and edit. It will all be okay. You don’t like the whole thing? Start over. 

No one can tell you when, where, and how to write. The best thinking times are in the car or in the shower. Paper is a non-judgemental surface, and you can say anything, anything you want, even if it’s just ‘no no no no’ over and over again. 

After all, that’s why I’m writing now. I had nothing to say, and as my wise english teacher Miss. Adams used to say, “Say something.” It doesn’t even have to be profound. It can be ‘I like donuts.’ 

Just write. 

Merry Christmas

I’ll keep this short, because it is Christmas Eve after all, and I know that everyone is busy getting kids to bed and busy being ‘Santa’, so I just want to leave you with a Christmas wish. 

I hope that all the lights work on your tree, I hope that your Christmas is at least chilly, if not exactly white. I hope that you get to sleep in past seven in the morning, and I wish that if you don’t, you can take a nap tomorrow afternoon. 

I hope that all your traditions are fulfilled with the utmost excitement and joy, and I hope that your night is silent. I hope that all of your stories are exciting, and I hope that the memories of this Christmas last you a lifetime. 

Most of all, I wish you a holy night, and an exciting morning. 

And in the words of my favorite Christmas movie, “there’s only one more sleep ’til Christmas”, and “God bless us, everyone”.