A Little Bull Session

digital illustrationHow Beauty Contributes to Survival of the Species

A longhorn with a handsome set of horns as curly as they get

Was slightly cowed by what he saw when shown the Long Arm of the Law;

He’d had some hope he was exempt from need to keep his long horns kempt

And polished to a shiny sheen like pearl, his hooves polished to keen,

Dark, perfect handsomeness, the ring hooked in his nose, and everything

In fashion, grand in every way; turns out, he’d missed his class the day

The rules were set out in his youth, and so he lacked this simple truth.

So he was startled when the fuzz pulled him aside and said because

He’d failed to keep in such fine style, he’d have to go to jail awhile.

You, also, may not know these rules, if you too missed time in your school’s

Important seminars, so here I share them with you; do not fear

That cops will catch you; do not dread, but spiff your hooves and horns instead,

And you’ll be free to roam and graze in any pasture, all your days.

Why do I share this? Cattle, kine, or beeves all ought to look as fine

As stud bulls, just in case they meet random policemen on the street,

For at the least—or, maybe, most—they won’t then end up as a roast.digital illustration

How Quickly We Learn

Even when we’re young we pick up clues pretty swiftly regarding what sort of behavior and attitude is expected of us in our interactions with others. As a child, I learned ever so quickly that I am not the boss of anyone else and practically everyone else is the boss of me, and not much has ever changed in that department. Whether happily or unfortunately, depending entirely on your point of view, I also figured out as speedily as most kids do that as long as I behaved in the expected manner when anyone was watching I could get away with a fair amount of far more self-indulgent–if not subversive–ways. Sure does simplify my life!graphite drawingShow of Proper Respect

The Mistress in her jewelry and finery and furs

Thinks everyone should bow and kiss the ground—that’s also hers—

And genuflect before her grand tiara and her mace,

So that is what we tend to do—at least do to her face.digital illustration from a graphite drawingAll frivolous jocularity on the topic aside, however, getting trained by our elders and betters, in particular our mothers, is both more complicated and more happily meaningful for those of us who are blessed with great moms. Me, I’ve got two. The mother who gave birth to me and raised me from my days as an only mildly subversive little sprout into the silly but exceedingly happy big kid you see before you today is worthy of recognition as one of the great teachers not only for giving me a framework on which to hang my sense of right and wrong and general grasp of manners but also the education and freedom and knowledge of being unconditionally loved that enabled me to choose how to build on those foundations as I grew. My second Mom, brought to me courtesy of (her son) my beloved husband, gets credit for instilling the same curiosity and drive in her children and, in turn, for reinforcing in me through her example what it means to be a lively and lovely person who is good company, an active part of the household and community at every turn, and a tireless learner and adventurer who earns her place in those settings with remarkable grace. Whether I can live up to the standards set by either of my Moms remains to be seen, but they certainly give me the tools that should make it possible if anything can.

If it can’t, I guess I’ll have to fall back on my naturally ridiculous ways and just pretend to be better than I am for as long as I can keep up the front. Those of you who are looking for reliably good, sound company, go see Mom W and Mom S. And also my sisters and my sister-in-law, great mothers to their children, and all of those other mothers, who by birth, adoption, random acquisition and teaching, raise better people, who in turn make the world a better place altogether. All of whom I thank profusely not only on Mother’s Day but every day for being such great examples even for those of us who are a little too childish to be motherly examples ourselves. Go ahead, you can say it right in front of me. I’ve learned that much, at least!

The Power of Being Well Behaved

When I was teaching, I thought it useful to devote a bit of the informational materials I handed out at the beginning of every term to basic issues of classroom decorum. The idea that so-called common courtesy has to be taught, not just to children but to all ages, is no less ridiculous than understanding constant the need for training and refreshing what is called common knowledge or common sense. Generations have passed since people saw a need to comment on or complain about the uncommonness of all of these virtues.

More significantly, as a teacher I knew that if I didn’t encourage, if not demand, attention to such virtues in my classroom there was little hope of any other sort of learning happening in there. I’m old-fashioned that way. The silly thing is probably that it was only after leaving teaching that I thought very clearly about how much these attitudes mattered in any and every kind of cooperative venture, not only in the classroom but in the boardroom, the living room, and certainly in the places where politics, religion, health care, social activities and civic progress are in progress. At least, if we want actual progress to occur.

And that’s how my two cents came out as a personalized set of ten ‘commandments’. Ah, well. I’m kind of a megalomaniac, and I did feel the need to keep my eyes on what was happening.pen & ink

THE BIG OL’ HOW-TO LIST

for getting along with Kathryn

I   Come to class unless you are dead.

II   Show up on time. Lectures don’t always begin on the dot of the class-starting time, but if a deadline is stated as “beginning of class, 18 March” and you  arrive one minute late, technically I can tell you that you missed the deadline and so your project is rejected. Flunked. That’s harsh. But trust me, it’s fair. Besides, it’s a safe bet that if the lecture does start on time and you miss part of it, I’m not going to be terribly enthusiastic about repeating myself and your classmates who have just heard the stuff will definitely not be amused to have it reiterated. Be in place, cell phone and watch alarms and headsets off and fully participating in class, and we’ll all get along famously. Hurray for good manners!

III   Bring all assigned materials and have them in ready-to-use position when class starts. Written tests, especially pop quizzes, are uncommon in my classes (they do exist), but notes and written critiques can be required at any time. Be ready. Write down everything, and date it. Even if I don’t say you have to. Then you have documentation of what I told you (and when) if I should change plans inexplicably or you have a question. Also, it makes you look attentive and enthusiastic whether you are or not.

IV   Flattery will get you places. Forget that baloney about it getting you nowhere. You lose nothing by Making Nice with people and attempting to impress them with your admirable and outstanding qualities; they might even enjoy buying into the whole idea. It’s an excellent tool for impressing others, this making them think you find them worthwhile and fabulous. Conversely, the quickest way to turn a potential ally into a pain in the neck is to belittle, ignore, challenge the primacy of, argue with or antagonize her. Diplomacy and tact mean that you can frankly say, “I disagree,” or “what do you think of _____,” and get a respectful hearing. We are only human (if we’re lucky).

V   By the way, if your death prevents your attending class, call and let me know in advance.

VI   If you have big plans, talk to me. It’s possible that your previous experience with and knowledge of this topic mean you can quickly “test out” of the class requirements and go forward into a more challenging and personally fulfilling independent project. If so, let’s work together to get maximum use out of your time and energies.

VII   If you feel out of your depth, it’s okay to swim over to the shallow end and meet with me privately by appointment. Probably all you need is a bit of individual coaching beyond what’s available or comfortable in class time. Of course, if you’ll kindly risk asking the question in class, there are always others who benefit by having their identical question answered, and probably your learning it together will make it simpler.

VIII   Ignorance shouldn’t embarrass you. Holding on to ignorance should. You’re in class, presumably,because you don’t know Everything yet, same as the rest of us.  So ask your “stupid question,” please. Real stupidity is avoiding or refusing to try or doing something wrong because fear of lowering yourself prevented your asking the question that would’ve resolved the problem.

IX   Be patient. Spend the time. Attempt the highest levels of craftsmanship and professionalism. Pay attention to the tiniest detail.

X   Be bold and adventurous. Climb out of ruts. Seek a new perspective on the familiar and become familiar with the alien. Look for connections. Expect the infinite.

More Myths about Inspiration & Creativity

photo

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).

digital artwork from a photo

Go ahead: try your wings!

Apparently I Executed the Secret Handshake Wrong or Something

digital artwork

Cinderella Opts Out

From your assessment of my deportment,

I must ask what the statement “of a sort” meant–

Oh, was I, I wonder, a shade improper,

Not brass perhaps, but a hint of copper?

Did I stand out from the regal crowd

By being a decibel too loud?

When I met the Queen, did I rudely greet her

With a curtsey too small by a millimeter?

Did I jostle the King, or step on his toes,

Or remark on the magnitude of his nose?

Have I shocked the royal entourage

With an unplanned glimpse of décolletage?

Say, what have I done in these latter days

To occasion such backward, lukewarm praise?

Do tell me where this prejudice starts

That substitutes etiquette for hearts!

I’ll not be one of the prince’s bijoux

Knowing I can’t have the wit to please you–

I’m off for home, where they make no sport

If my manners are only “of a sort”.digital artwork