Sunday, November 11, 2012

This Is What I Thought I Could Do

Hold on to your hats! "Creative" punctuation ahead - and a lot of gobbledygook. But then this is a blog.

One big thing that happened this year is that Pete and I entertained the idea of selling our place in Vermont and moving to Durham, North Carolina.

This was traumatic for me. It forced me to face the fact that I'd been undervaluing the things that weren't working in the way we'd been living our lives. It showed me that my dreams had turned out to be just that: unrealistic and impractical. I wanted to do too much with too little time and no help. Nuts!

In Vermont I have an artist's dream studio: plenty of square footage, a sink, a deck (! What artist even dreams of having a deck off their studio? For many artists even a sink is a dream) near but not in my house, safely accessible at all hours, very few distractions, surrounded by wildlife and incredible views. It's probably the best studio I'll ever have. How could I think of giving that up?

Because it's frigging lonely up there! We're too far from our friends and family. We keep having to travel so we can fulfill our family duties and charge our social batteries.

Every time I leave it upsets my creative rhythm which takes days to re-establish - a problem I couldn't figure out how to get around. Thanks to list-making I have been able to keep producing work I'm proud of. My dreams were rosier though. I thought that if I had a great studio and dedicated my time to my work that my productivity would take off. Maybe it would have but in all the years we've been there I have rarely been able to devote the unbroken stretches of time to my work that I thought I would.

Ultimately that's life. Nobody can just be an artist. Everybody has family and needs to eat lunch and gets interrupted by the details of life. Everybody knows that life is where art comes from.

But it wasn't just my art-making that got interrupted. I wasn't around enough for my garden either. I had dreams of turning our property into a verdant paradise of multiple garden rooms, fruit trees and a potager.

I also thought I was going to decorate the house beautifully and cook gourmet meals made with vegetables we'd grown ourselves.

What an insane fantasy! Look out - here we go... I'll whip up some pear and ginger scones to have with home made yogurt first thing in the morning for breakfast! After an hour's walk in the woods with Fay, it's off to my studio to paint and sew and sculpt and create installations that are in demand the world over! With Pete's help I'll spend a couple of hours tending to the weeding, pruning dead-heading and other garden maintenance. Then it's back to the sparklingly clean and tidy house with the flowers I've picked for an arrangement to decorate the entry room table (we don't have an entry room table) I'll make us a lovely cucumber and green bean salad with fresh dill from the garden and poached fish for lunch! Then back to the studio for more brilliant creations! Then I'll work out for an hour (gotta keep in shape!) then go to the mailbox to pick up the multi-thousand-dollar checks that arrive there daily and then play with Fay in the yard for another hour. Then it's back to the house to create a delicious gourmet dinner with fresh baked pie for dessert! Satisfied, Pete and I will share a nightcap on the patio by the fire pit, under the stars and I'll knit while we discuss the arts, culture and the latest issue of the "New Yorker." Then we'll retire and spend an hour or so before sleep catching up on reading those "New Yorker"s and about physics, philosophy, history, movements in art and technology etc. Then off  to a peaceful night's sleep full of fascinating, revelatory dreams (G-rated version)

Uhhhh... Smoke much?

In fact, no, that ridiculousness was the product of my own, unaltered mind. I did that all by myself! That's like a month-and-a-half's worth of activity I imagined I could pack into every day, not to mention my plans for Pete's assistance that I didn't consult him about. Not to mention expecting Fay to remain young and healthy. I mean, it took about a week to just read that paragraph, didn't it?

So yeah, that wasn't working out at all and I was FRUSTRATED about it. I was a FAILURE for FAILING to accomplish the IMPOSSIBLE. But I kept trying! It was like I was trying to live in a Thomas Kinkade painting or something - a literal, two-dimensional painting. I clawed into that dream for everything I was worth. It took me traumatic months to begin to release my grip on that baroque tableau.

You know, when I look at it that way I see that I actually accomplished a lot, all things considered. I just was never able to complete even one aspect of that fantasy. We're so backed up on the "New Yorker." I mean I could chip away at things. I did bake and grow things and make art and learn (A LOT) I just don't live in my own wet-dream of aesthetic/intellectual/domestic productivity. I don't have Hermione's time turner. If I did I'd probably use it to nap anyway.

So we may still move down to Durham somewhere down the line. I've been trying to spend more time in one place. I've been in Cambridge for the last couple of weeks trying to catch up with friends and figure out a rational plan for moving forward. That's hard for me. I still don't want to give up any of my activities and I want to get a full time job. Clearly something still has to give. I do think my expectations have changed though.

The number one thing I've come to terms with is that I can't provide myself with enough mental stimulation all on my own. I'll need to be around more people which means I should be based in the city. I'll have to trade the company of the critters for my sanity. I love the critters. And the beauty and the solitude. Something has to give.

So please wish me luck!


Hope said...

I read about one New Yorker a month these days. :p I would do much better if it was a biannual magazine.

I do occasionally finish an issue, but that's because I've given myself permission to not read the articles about Egypt, Syria, and Libya. Those things are stoppers if you're trying to read an issue cover to cover!

John Gregg said...

I'm catching up with you - I didn't realize you were back, blogospherically speaking.

One of the advantages of children is that it is an instant out, for you and for everyone else: I got kids. that's what I've been doing! Of course, you still watch TV, do sudoku, whatever, instead of being productive, following your dreams, etc.

As to your ideal studio, it reminds me of what a coworker said once about resources vs. creative output. Startup companies that are very well funded often fail, while those on a shoestring succeed. Constraints force choices, and help you focus. This coworker said look at Princeton's Institute for Advanced Study. It sounds great - you get the best minds in the world and just let them hang out, strolling the gravel paths, and coming up with great stuff. But it doesn't work that way. People go into the IAS and are never heard from again.

Personally, I have a Batman thing. That's my impossible model. He leads his busy life as Bruce Wayne, but then goes down into his cave and manages to build the world's best crime lab and keep on top of everything that goes down in Gotham City, and is an expert in countless fields, and generally is more effective than any 20 people ever could be. I should be able to hold down a day job and my "normal" responsibilities and also be creative and effective and focussed in other ways. But - Batman is fictional. No one could actually be Batman. I try not to beat myself up too much about it, but you know, just enough to get my butt off the couch once in a while.

melissa weiss said...

Thanks, John. I'd meant to tell you I was back but it got away from me. It's nice to know I'm in good company with my unrealistic expectations. Whenever I start going off in that direction again I hope I remember to think of you, subterranean, in a cowl. That ought to lighten me up. :)