Best-Laid Plans, Like Best-Laid Eggs, Gang Aft Agley

Robert Burns evidently knew it as a long-established fact, so I think it’s safe to assume that the unexpectedness of the turnings in life’s wonderfully wiggly path long predates Bobby and me and pretty much anyone else I could look to for a quick peek in the crystal ball. The day will always just take me where it takes me, and I will consider myself to have done well even if I can only keep going with the flow of it and not just plain get knocked down and run over. Most of the time, the moment’s, day’s, or year’s destinations are far more interesting than those I thought I’d plotted out in the first place.

P&I drwgs x2

Even thoughts are often just fly-by evolutionary phases waiting to develop into something more meaningful . . .

Yesterday, for example, I thought I’d post my Wednesday-night drawing exercise, but I was startled by the arrival in my inbox of a lovely gift and task in the form of pay-it-forward blogger recognition into doing something entirely different than my first intention predicted. In the process, I discovered not only a renewed interest in visiting and catching up with various of my previous favorite bloggers‘ sites but a whole cadre of new blogs and bloggers with whom I will now be sharing this adventure. Much better than the stodgy post dedicated to yesterday’s-drawing.

On the other hand, what it brought to mind along the way was that there are few, if any, of us that understand any of ‘what happens behind the curtain’ in anyone else’s world. Non-musicians think that because almost all human beings can make sounds, most of them in some controlled form, that a singer is just someone who opens up and pretty sounds come out rather spontaneously, not that he or she would spend years learning how to breathe properly, read music, stand, sit, move and (when necessary) act in the ways demanded by the particular repertoire. That singers have, in fact, to learn a large amount of repertoire over the years, getting to know texts, languages (pronunciation and nuances of meaning), rhythms, techniques for singing faster passages or long-drawn-out notes well, and a million other aspects of musicianship that non-singers will never know.

I think it’s hilariously misguided how readily we assume that if something is done well by another person, it must come naturally or easily, and not that–as is far more often the case–it has been honed through the now-famous 10,000 hours of practice that Malcolm Gladwell posits in Outliers as requisite for gaining expertise in one’s field. Any one of us knows from experience that things being easy and “natural” from the start is rare almost to the point of nonexistence. From bronc riding to ballroom dancing, from puzzling out the intricacies of quartz crystal cutting to those of quantum physics, there’s no place that one becomes expert or even experienced at first try, or probably tenth.

So I think it’s only fair that we teach each other what we know of these behind-closed-doors mysterious labors. You see my writing in a somewhat raw form, granted, on a daily basis because I committed to posting daily and that means I can’t spend unrealistic amounts of my waking time fussing over rewrites and editorial doctoring or the house will fall into ruin around my ears and we’ll eat nothing but what comes in random order out of the fridge at every meal. Not to mention that I won’t fit in even my Wednesday evening drawing time, let alone go on photographic wanderings or any other creative tangents.

The drawing, though, you don’t see in process or very often in its developmental stages. I draw enough stuff that I don’t have to let you see my “underwear” like this, but as I say, being a fairly truthful person I think I owe it to you to show you that not everything gets finished to the same degree or as successfully. I wouldn’t claim any of my work at all as Perfect (and where would be the fun in that, anyhow?), but there are degrees of relative completion and appeal, even in my playtime stuff. So the sketches above give you some sense of process in my case. They are literally bits pulled from my carry-around sketchbooks, and show that while I’m in a particular mode I might be working out issues not only of technique and medium but also of style, mood, intended story content (if any) and so forth, until they might gel in a drawing of the sort I’m more often going to publish here or even want people to see when they peer over my shoulder at my work.

The result of recent noodling over bird stories (yes, birds are about as recurrent as the proverbial fish and pencils in my work) in my sketchbooks led to this Wednesday’s drawing session in which I imagined what would happen if a pair of birds found one of the Easter Bunny‘s plastic eggs and raised it as their own. I’m pretty sure this is the actual origin story of marshmallow Peeps.

graphite drawing

We are artistic birds and these are our peeps . . .

Given how generous, collaborative and creative the blogging world is, I expect that eventually there will be a bit of lessening of the information gap that lets us naively believe that anything we don’t understand but someone else is good at doing must just spontaneously spring into being for them. Much better to acknowledge and admire the immensity of learning and effort that devoted practitioners devote to their wide world of doings, and the great gift that having others so dedicated and skilled around us is to us all.

Just think: if some poor cave-dwellers hadn’t squatted nekkid around the cooking fire with a fat-spitting hunk roasting over it about ten thousand times too often, we would neither have the knowledge of how to have sputtery, juicy fun at the cooker, nor would we have the majestic modern beauty and wonder of aprons.

I’d Like to be Shakespeare, but It’s Too Much Responsibility

white pencil on black paper

I'm much better at being the family curmudgeon than the curmudgeon that turns the family story into art . . .

Much as I always complained about it in my students as whiny entitlement, I too am consistently under the spell of that dream wherein one becomes Great without any sort of effort or even natural-born gift that should make it happen. I’d probably even be quite content with being a one-hit wonder, if for example it happened to be one of those comfortably money-producing sorts of a hit, because after all, it’s not the notoriety per se that appeals to me (as I still enjoy my dork-in-the-corner shy side’s privileges) but the benefits of the notoriety, i.e., exceedingly fat living supported by a steady stream of however-undeserved wealth. All the better if I can manage to convince anyone, at least myself, that it’s marginally deserved; hence, the one hit I’d gladly have.

Meanwhile, back in reality-land, I will go so far as to lay claim to having actually read work by a number of superior writers, studied art made by a talented-rogues’ gallery of artists, and paid some serious attention to what great thinkers and doers of all sorts in fact DO to make their hits just keep on coming. It’s fascinating to see who’s been prolific and who hasn’t, and perhaps more so to see who among those has produced higher or lower proportions within that of impressively high quality stuff. Not least of all, it’s intriguing, if sometimes only in a sort of sadly prurient way, to see who’s burned out our died young, and whether there appears to have been any connection between the productivity and its quality-quotient and that early “deadline” or not. It’s sometimes as though they were outfitted with a cosmic ending-detector that made them squeeze as much into and out of an unfairly short life span as they did.

My own plan is that, if that’s a requirement of greatness, I will be so unbelievably UN-productive and UN-talented and UN-dedicated as to live a Methuselah-like yet party-filled lifetime unnoticed by the gods of fame and fortune. Pretty sure I can do it.

But to be fair, lots of standouts have lived long, prosperous and even exceedingly happy lives, so my preference, my actual Plan A, is that I will get to have it all instead. There are footsteps worth following, and paths worth admiring but not wanting to touch with a ten-foot pole even when wearing full hazmat gear. Not that I wouldn’t look adorable in a hazmat suit, especially if I could find it in safety orange! With a fake fur collar!

But I digress.

If I am to succeed with Plan A, I am willing to concede that I might have to lift the proverbial bale and tote its concomitant barge. Sigh. So I do keep reading, writing, gazing, drawing, and otherwise studying and practicing whether I happen to be quite in the mood or not. It may be that my lucky stars will never get into the specific alignment required, the necessary coincidence never happen at just the right juncture, despite all of my best efforts–which would be a disappointment, given my inborn desire to enjoy all things in the least effortful possible manner and my determination to thwart that inclination in pursuit of productive betterment. But I do believe the only way to tip the odds toward, no, to actually make it possible for, any such confluence of desirable consummations, is to do the work. Pity, but there it is. So the old bum does get off her old bum. What else can I do but do?

This will not, I guarantee you, turn me into a Sure Thing. But it’ll pave the way, should any stars just get in the mood to align in my favor, and along the way, it’s kind of funny, but I find the more I work at the writing and art-making and, heck, even some other things at which I’ve been known to buckle down and work, the more often I find I can derive pleasure from the process itself. This is indeed a really fine thing; if I can’t guarantee that working hard will produce any tangible objects-o’greatness, at least I’ve figured out that I can guarantee it’ll produce some personal pleasure along the way. All else had better be considered bonuses.

Now, I am well aware that the whole idea of a one-hit wonder is fraught with a certain air of condescension among the cognoscenti. There’s more than a hint of disdain in the phrase, as though the wonder-maker were kind of a loser for not having followed up on the whole hitmaking process. I think that’s a horribly unmerciful judgement. Maybe even sour grapes. How many of us ever manage to produce a single notable achievement in our lifetimes? Talk about pressure! The response to a miracle of significant action or production, the thanks you get, is, “Cool–where’s the rest of it?”??

In spite of the danger, for as I’ve said I would be mighty impressed with myself if I could accomplish one really amazing thing in my lifetime of toiling as artist, writer–never mind as daughter, sister, friend, wife–I will keep on plugging along. Because I can’t, finally, figure out how to stop it. Because Twain and da Vinci and Shakespeare and Morisot are dead and so I don’t have to compete with them, only my yesterday’s-self. Because it’s worth doing even when only the process makes it worth doing. Just because.

mixed media portrait on paper

. . . because I Will do it . . .