“Art enables us to find ourselves and lose ourselves, at the same time.” [part deux]

spoon o'destiny

With full scale guts-level renovations in one house and preparing the other for sale and husband heading to law school and the day-to-day slog, I’ve been busy. The house is in a state of unrest, with boxes everywhere. My nighttime written journal entries are so boring, basically lists of things I’ve done and things I need to do, it’s gotten colorless and utterly grim. They’re robotic with only the barest hints of human emotion (“feeling iffy today”), and none of this stuff is anything I want to remember when I’m older.

There’s not much time for leisure art time, so I’ve taken to drawing Outfit-of-the-Day in my bedside journal, maybe spending around 5 or 10 minutes at most on each one while I’m sprawled on my stomach in bed. The goal is not to do good art or to even record my fashionable-ness (I’m the farthest thing from a clotheshorse…maybe a clothesgerbil). The goal is to have some record of the day, and to unwind with a little sketch.

The interesting thing is, every drawing is so different.

The inescapable fact of adulthood is a narrowing of your options. That was what was so breathtaking about being in college: as my oboe teacher told me ten years ago, you have the world by the balls just by the sheer fact that you’re twenty-one years old. You can go anywhere, do anything, and it seems that every idea and profession and possibility is offering itself to you like a crush of drunken, enamored strangers at a bar. At twenty-one, there are no strings, no commitments.

I had my birthday last month, and am coming up on my first wedding anniversary. I most definitely have commitments now: a husband, a dog-beast, a job, two (!) mortgages, a dentist appointment every half year, and no less than six houseplants. The houseplants are surprisingly needy.

One one level, my prospects are certainly narrowed; I may never finish my dissertation, never go to law school, never become a professional pianist (not that I have ever wanted to accomplish all these things, but things seemed so…ripe and possible when I was younger). I will probably never be as fluent in Mandarin as I or my family would like.

Being an adult requires giving up certain things, saying no when you’d like to say yes just for the hell of it, and making choices. Irrevocable ones, which means you are killing off the unchosen options to move forward with the one you’ve chosen. Or if you’re not killing them off, they are getting short thrifted.

In simpler terms, a grad school friend told me that you could have it all (a good family life, a strong career, and a healthy/fulfilled self), but not at the same time. Inevitably, one thing suffers. Shonda Rhimes referred to this conundrum in this year’s Dartmouth commencement speech (worth a read for the “pass out, die, poop” references alone): “Whenever you see me somewhere succeeding in one area of my life, that almost certainly means I am failing in another area of my life.” Creatively, I might be failing right now, but I’m okay with that.

I am confident about my choices and mostly happy with them, despite the occasional dream about having finished the diss. I like the trajectory of my life right now, even though it’s not anything I would have predicted ten years ago.

And the interesting thing about the OOTD drawings is that they are so different, changing every day, and I still think each drawing looks like me in some way. Each one different yet accurate. Some of my freedom and some of my possibilities are dying off, that’s true, but I am not as fixed and finished a person as I thought I was when I graduated college. I guess what I’m saying is that my internal life is growing more vivid even as my life on paper looks ever more flat and limited, and I never expected that.

I remember reading in Suzanne Farrell’s memoir some reference to the fact that creativity needs  limitations and structure to really thrive, even if it’s just to break that rule or structure, spectacularly. Beauty and creativity are like roses and climbing vines, they need something to grow on.

I’m thinking of using my woefully neglected tumblr to record my OOTDs. Maybe?

Almost fourteen years ago I started college (on 9/11/2001, which was the day my parents dropped me off at my dormitory). The professor in my freshman seminar gave all the eager, anxious students in her class this poem, and I loved it very much. I’ve been thinking about it a lot lately.

Seed Leaves

Here something stubborn comes,
Dislodging the earth crumbs
And making crusty rubble.
It comes up bending double,
And looks like a green staple.
It could be seedling maple,
Or artichoke, or bean.
That remains to be seen.

Forced to make choice of ends,
The stalk in time unbends,
Shakes off the seed-case, heaves
Aloft, and spreads two leaves
Which still display no sure
And special signature.
Toothless and fat, they keep
The oval form of sleep.

This plant would like to grow
And yet be embryo;
Increase, and yet escape
The doom of taking shape;
Be vaguely vast, and climb
To the tip end of time
With all of space to fill,
Like boundless Igdrasil
That has the stars for fruit.

But something at the root
More urgent than that urge
Bids two true leaves emerge,
And now the plant, resigned
To being self-defined
Before it can commerce
With the great universe,
Takes aim at all the sky
And starts to ramify.

-Richard Wilbur, New and Collected Poems