Sunday, February 17, 2013

The Year of the Platypus

This is not the year of the snake. This is the year of the platypus. I made this discovery while doing a little mental blogging, which is, of course, when you compose things so brilliant while changing diapers, washing dishes, and scrubbing floors that you are sure you'll never forget them. Only you do. You forget them before the next meal. They get lost among the dirty clothes, and the stacks of storybook,s and the perpetually muddy boots. Fortunately  they usually leave a little trail of ideas and words and phrases behind themselves like literary Hansels and Gretels. Unfortunately, life seems to be populated by bird like things that gobble them up while your back is turned. If you are lucky enough to find one crumb, you just might be able to arduously follow it to the next, and so on and, after a lot of convoluted wandering, end up remembering what it was that you wanted to say. Generally though, the certainly brilliant way you were going to say it has vanished entirely. Perhaps it gets sucked down the drain with dishwater.

Sometimes you do find the crumbs. I submit this blog post as evidence. I was going about my day trying to find a way to introduce an interesting TEDtalk by Tracy Chevalier, author of Girl with a Pearl Earring. If you're a writer, an artist, or a lover of art, you'll probably find it worth watching Chevalier confesses that she cruises museums stopping only to look at things that speak to her. I concur and approach them in similar fashion. Life is entirely too short to stare at art that doesn't reach back and touch your soul. That is where we part ways. I do not get bored in art museums. There was a time in my life, I think, when I primarily approached them as she does, looking for a story within the image, but not since I discovered the magic that is painting with oils. Now, I am a docent's worst nightmare. Leaning over the rope, as close to the painting as possible without actually touching it, as if to inhale creative genius by proximity, I try to comprehend the individual strokes, the perfectly mixed color, the composition of it all. Perhaps that will help you understand what struck me as the perfect introduction to Chevalier's talk: "I am not a writer, but.." It seemed so perfect, until I comprehended  with horror its meaning: that maybe deep down I wasn't really what I was claiming to be, maybe I was constructing a writing facade with nothing behind it but a desire to paint and draw.

I am a bit of a platypus, I suppose. The platypus is probably entirely happy with itself. It doesn't realize that it looks like an incongruent amalgamation of dissimilar animals: beaver, duck, reptile, snake, bear. It is just itself, and itself is a wonderful thing which is perfectly suited to everything it does. Sometimes, I feel about myself the way I feel about the platypus (not the way I imagine the platypus feels about itself). I have so many interests. Writing  drawing, and painting are only the beginning of the list. I also love cooking, interior design, gardening, architecture, history, anthropology. The list goes on actually. It is hard sometimes to see how all of the parts will fit together, or even to know which ones to pursue or keep.

I discovered a gem of a book this week. Since it's a New York Times Bestseller, it seems that I'm the only one who didn't know it existed. Steal Like an Artist by Austin Kleon is like a concentrated tangible compilation of all the amorphous things I absorbed about making art and being an artist in Hollins' art classes, plus a few more. He writes, "If I'd waited to know who I was or what I was about before I started 'being creative, ' well, I'd still be sitting around trying to figure myself out instead of making things. In my experience, it's in the act of making things and doing our work that we figure out who we are" (27). Maybe I won't end up being a writer. Maybe I'll end up being an artist. Maybe I'll be an artist who writes instead of a writer who draws. Who knows. I'll never find out if I don't explore them all. Sometimes making it as a creative seems to be all about branding and laying claim to a very narrow niche, so it was refreshing to hear a successful writer say, "If you have two or three real passions, don't feel like you have to pick and choose between them. Don't discard. Keep all your passions in your life" (68). All of them are integral to who I am. All of them are expressions of me. I'll never figure out which ones are hobbies and which ones might earn me bread and butter if I  curate before I explore. If I learned anything this week, it's that it's okay, in fact it might even be good, to be a platypus.

1 comment:

  1. I think I'm a platypus too! Nothin' wrong with that, right? Only you appear to be a platypus of many talents, which is a good problem to have! It's great to have choices, but I guess the water does get muddy sometimes...

    All I can say is: Whatever you do, don't stop writing. I love your style!