Bland Like Me

photo montageThe marvelous Diana of A Holistic Journey has been writing posts asking about the influences of race, culture, national origin, education, and so forth and the ways that they shape who we are and how we perceive ourselves. This series of hers is proving an outstanding eye-opening and thought-provoking exercise for me, too. I have spent most of my life living amid and being part of The Majority—middle-class, white, English speaking, native-born, educated, boringly predictable, etc, etc. There were a few touches of diversity around me here and there, of course, this country of the so-called United States being what it is, but those were relatively small and isolated, so mostly I grew up sheltered and unchallenged in nearly all ways.

Yet as an individual I came to know myself as being different in one way or another from most of what I thought of as the ‘norms’ of my own environs, and even learned over time that what I thought was my Majority milieu was mostly just my very narrow path through it in life. While a lot of my classmates, immediate neighbors and friends when I was a kid, for example, were also little pasty white critters like me, the friends I remember best as seeming most interesting to me were ones like Eha, the Estonian girl, or Karen, one of my few black classmates, or the Japanese friends who shared exotic treats from their lunches and who performed classical Japanese dance in a miniature celebration of the Cherry Blossom Festival at school. I have hardly any memories so suffused with longing as that of watching the girls flutter their fans, while dressed in exquisite kimonos and dancing their stately, courtly dance to the strains of the tune ‘Sakura’, which melody in turn still fills me with delicately melancholy love.

My ideals of human physical beauty, as my husband and I have often noted musingly, are nearly all attached to non-whites or mixed-race people, not something I think of as a conscious or intentional choice but a persistent reality for me ever since I can remember. My superficial list of Most Beautiful People would probably have a paucity of caucasian members among its top fifty. While I have never been either very adventurous or flexible in my choices and tastes and experiences, I suppose I have always been fascinated by what seemed different or even exotic to me. I am a fantasist and a romantic in the cheap, popular versions of those ideas, I guess.

I have even wondered, in a broader sense, if part of my very nature is simply to feel like an outsider for no very specific reason. I was always shy, and learned as an adult that this expressed not only a naturally introverted character on my part but also demonstrated lifelong social anxiety and probably the incipient state of my developing depression that didn’t come to full fruition until later. Those, along with undiagnosed dyslexia, tremors, the dysphonia that came into play in my forties, and who knows what other quirks of my unique persona and biological makeup, could perhaps explain why I never felt I fit in with any particular group or was especially central to its character. But I still can’t say I felt consciously sad or was overtly unhappy or removed or, certainly, ostracized for any of this.

What was odder was that as I reached adulthood and gradually began to find a more comfortable sense of self and direction, I have a feeling I may have chosen to put myself into groups where it was plain that I didn’t quite match the norm, specifically because, if I knew there was no possibility of my being an exemplar in its midst of the highest standard, I might unconsciously feel safe from being expected to be so by anyone else. This might be complete nonsense, but it gives me pause. In any event, I spend a great deal of my ‘quality time’ nowadays in the company of people who are immersed in and even expert at music, pedagogy, administration, and a number of other topics in which I have no training whatsoever and only a very little observational knowledge, and I am very happy in this environment.

Conversely, I tend to keep my company of good visual artists and writers and others with training or knowledge more likely to be similar to mine at the seemingly safer arm’s-length of cyberspace, and that probably doesn’t reflect well on my personal fortitude. I never did, at least, make any claims of being any better than a big ol’ chicken. Being a scaredy-pants is probably not race-specific. Or attached with any particularity to culture, social stratum, nationality, educational accomplishment, religion, language, income level, or anything else in question. Being a scaredy-pants is just part of being myself, and the unique combination of qualities and characteristics that make up the wonderfulness of Me.

On the other hand, being attracted to, frightened by or otherwise connected to or dissociated from people who are Not Like Me is a central consideration of understanding how the human species works. Or doesn’t. And there’s no doubt that all of those things influenced by proximity (physical or metaphorical), the aforementioned race, culture, social strata, and so forth, are very potent indicators and influencers of how we will experience the concept of Self and Other at any level.

So what does that ‘solve’ about me, about how I feel about those who are or seem in any way different from me? I’m still not at all sure. Perhaps the best I can say is that my feeling of being, in a value-neutral way, unlike those around me makes me unwilling to assume much about them, in turn. I would generally rather let personalities and individuality be revealed to me and my understanding of my surroundings at the moment unfold in their own sweet time than that I jump in and make any precipitous assumptions. I’m perfectly capable of finding lots of other ways of being wrong and making a fool of myself without constantly worrying over whether I’m being judged, rightly or wrongly, as a stereotype of either the majority or the minority on hand.

Most of my blogging friends and acquaintances are significantly different from me in nearly all of the aforementioned identifying categories, and yet I feel remarkably at home among you. So I’ll let you decide if sameness or difference affects how you see me. I feel at home, and that’s good enough for my part of the bargain.photo montage

Super Chicken

mixed media artworkMy superpower, if I could be said to have any, is being supremely ordinary. Yeah, I’m really, really good at that. Now, you may think it’s not impressive that I’m good at being so-so, and you could be forgiven for thinking it. And yet . . .

Besides that it requires massive numbers of us mid-range sorts to keep nature in a sort of balance with the various human outliers at the top (and bottom) of the spectrum, there’s also the comfort and safety of being able to travel under the radar of scrutiny and pressure to which both kinds of exceptional people are exposed.

What on earth does this mean I am good at doing, at being? Why, I do what’s expected. I go to sleep; I wake up. I eat and I walk and I get dressed and undressed, and the world carries right on around me. And though I don’t at the moment have employment outside of our home, my current occupation being Homemaker, I spend myself and my efforts, rather, on doing the small and yet significant things that might not be essential to keeping the world operational but grease the gears, instead. And keeping the cogs working relatively smoothly is as useful in its own way as being the driver, the engineer or a cog myself. I go to meetings and do Projects, too, to be sure, but mostly what I do nowadays is fix a meal, repair a door-jamb, ferry my spouse and a student to a rehearsal. I do laundry; I prune the plantings near the window. Glamorous? Just exactly enough.

Because the luster of the day comes not from being admired and lauded but from being appreciated, even if it’s hardly necessary to hear that announced constantly–after all, the proof of its value is in plain view if the needful things get done. Any reward lies in the belief that I make life that one tiny iota smoother and pleasanter for that one brief instant, even if only for this one other person. It’s borne on the smile of relief worn by him whose sheaf of office paperwork got filed at last when he couldn’t get to it himself, or whose old slippers have been mended by the time he gets home from the office at the end of the day. It’s in the neighbor being glad to have the excess garden supplies or box of art materials I’ve collected to send to school with her. It’s with me when I arrange the chairs alongside the singers before a rehearsal when I come by to listen to their work. It’s mostly in knowing that the stuff needed to keep quotidian action on course is being looked after, bit by little bit. And that I’m the person for the job.

I don’t do this selflessly, of course, because I would hardly keep it up for long if it weren’t so simply and inherently rewarding. And it certainly bespeaks no genius or courage on my part that I do it, for clearly it takes greater skill and ingenuity and bravery to do all of the shiny, showy things for which I provide my atoms of encouragement from the periphery. Maybe a jot of courage only to admit to being a homemaker and loving it. So many who haven’t the privilege of the life seem to disdain it and misconstrue its meaning, especially if it doesn’t have either children or wealth as part of the equation. I am far more fearful of having no sense of purpose than of being thought unimportant by anyone else; I care more about feeling my own worth than having it validated by any outside agents.

So if I seem to anyone to be afraid of taking a larger role in the Real World as they see it, I suppose I ought to admit that in one sense I am. I know that having this Job for a few years has given me new strength and the ability to go out in the wider world for a so-called Real one again when the time comes, yet I do dread leaving this role that has given me a feeling of vocation more than anything else I’ve ever done and risking the dimming of any of the self-worth I’ve garnered or the value I’ve learned to impute to the tasks of being normal and simple and everyday, which I’ve learned to see as so much deeper and richer than they’d seemed until I tried on the role of their custodian myself. I do, at the end of it, think that if I’m a dull, bland or unimportant grease-monkey to the cogs of the world, I’m a damn good one, and if I’m scared of giving up that high honor, then I at least credit myself with being a superior variety of chicken.

More Myths about Inspiration & Creativity

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Don’t accept a falsehood for your reality–if you have to create your own, then do it!

Back on that old topic of whimpering: of all the [wonderfully dire and woefully valid] reasons I can’t possibly do the enormous amount of work required by this assignment, there’s none simpler or more honest than Number 11:

11         BUT I DON’T WANT  TO _______________ (you fill in the blank)!

            Boo Hoo.  It’s not always optional, is it. Just keep firmly in mind that sometimes doing the required thing leads to unexpected delights in the end product. Not to mention the thoroughly predictable delight of having it done, finished, off the To Do list and out of nagging territory. Just get it out of the way now and you’ll be ever so relieved. Maybe even pleased with yourself!

12        ALL CREATIVE PEOPLE ARE (take your pick):

Eccentric; loose; savants; savages; radical; anti-intellectual; uncontrollable; fluff-headed; egocentric; snobbish; smelly…

Everybody is one or more of the above at some point; look at all of our pop-culture idols who get hung out to dry on a daily basis, not to mention all of the religious, educational and political Saints who irk the multitudes so regularly.  So imperfection is hardly a reasonable excuse for avoiding being (or being in the company of) an art maker.

13        IT’S SELFISH &/OR IRRESPONSIBLE TO BE AN ARTIST.

How about how selfish and irresponsible it is to be good at something that enriches lives and shapes culture and to refuse to exercise, to share, those gifts.  How unkind it is to stifle your true self and passions (and spend your life unfulfilled or with a chip on your shoulder) so that you live a half life and cheat your friends and loved ones out of your rich complexity.  How about that for selfish and irresponsible, huh? Choosing a ‘safe’ path never guaranteed anyone’s actually being safe, anyway.

14        NOBODY (read: Not Everybody in the Universe) WILL LIKE IT.

If you find anything that everybody likes, let me know.  For that matter, if you find anything NOBODY likes, I’ll be mighty surprised.  So, isn’t it good enough for you if you think your work has some value?  It may not make you a market mogul, but it’s amazingly fulfilling to be an artist, and (other than food, which is admittedly desirable) practically no other wealth compares.

15        THE GREATEST!!!

Who says?  There is no single Greatest of anything that everyone will agree on yet, and the odds are pretty good that they won’t all agree anything you do is the Greatest—or worst—ever, so why lose sleep over an untried concept.  Do your best and be done with it.

16        IF YOU CAN’T SAY (do) ANYTHING NICE (or well), DON’T SAY ANYTHING AT ALL.

A half-baked effort is usually better than no effort at all; no effort guarantees a lack of (or negative) result, and misguided or incomplete efforts can occasionally be rescued or luck into a better-than-deserved result.

digital artwork from a photo

Think beautiful thoughts!

17        IT ISN’T AS GOOD AS _________________’S.

Probably nothing anybody else ever does will be as good as my work, but aside from that impossibly high standard, you have as good a chance as any of doing work better than somebody’s, at least occasionally, as long as you do work.

18        ALL GOOD THINGS COME TO THOSE WHO WAIT.

But they don’t come to all of the specific people who desire them, or ‘on time,’ or in the desired form.  Your dream might end up in someone else’s stash of prizes if you don’t put up a fight for it.

19        I CAN’T DRAW A STRAIGHT LINE.

No, but a computer can do it for you, or you can use a straightedge, or you can hire a stand-in to draw your straight lines.  Don’t tell me your whole oeuvre as an artist/designer is going to be straight lines.  Sheesh.

20        CREATIVITY = INTUITION.

Intuition is an indefinable sense or sensation that can bring soul and emotional depth to the work (both process and product), but true creativity takes that nebulous touchy-feely power and combines it with study, effort, logic, research, skill and courage and synthesizes all of the elements of an artist’s knowledge and experience and passions into a concrete Work of Art (process and/or product).

21        THERE’S NOT ENOUGH TIME.

True.  We’ll never be given enough time for everything that’s important.  So it’s up to us to TAKE the time.  And MAKE the time.  There’s no real alternative.  It’s called Making Choices (and living with them).

22        YOU CAN’T FAKE INSPIRATION.

Maybe you can’t, but I can.  Seriously, folks, most people won’t know the difference if you substitute delirious hard work and enthusiasm and use all of your know-how to its limits.  If that isn’t quite Inspiration, at least it’s mighty inspirational.  When in doubt, review Item Number 10 in Tuesday’s post (linked above).

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Go ahead: try your wings!

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.