Art is Hard

In high school, I gravitated toward the creative kids.  I took ceramics and creative writing; I found myself in drama class doing a poor version of Monty Python’s silly walk. (I just couldn’t loosen up enough to be that silly.)  No matter what class I was sitting in, I suffered from imposter syndrome.  I was just the average teen admiring the output of kids destined for fancy art schools, exhibits, and Broadway musicals.

Fast forward a few years later, one of these artistic peeps I grew up with came home from RIT to visit family and friends.  We were at a mutual gathering and I saw her cute little VW in the driveway with a bumper sticker that read “ART IS HARD”.  This bumper sticker mentally glued itself to my brain and over a decade later, it still kicks around.

Art is hard. 

Yup, art really is fucking hard.

On a much larger scale, this bumper sticker is necessary because so many people undervalue the arts.  I’m not writing a dissertation here, but I think we all know that art education programs are either non-existent or underfunded.  Combined with the pressure to teach to standardized tests and an emphasis on STEM education, art fades into the background.  Let’s also be brutally honest and raw:  there’s still the starving artist stigma.  Parents are fearful that if their kids purse artistic endeavors, they will fail to be successful as defined by our culture’s limited definition of what success actually entails.  Anecdotally, I can’t tell you how many disparaging comments I have received for majoring in the liberal arts and for wasting my time blogging and doodling.

Just like a painting, this bumper sticker also lends itself to a different perspective.  Not only is it a reminder to others, but it also serves the artist.  I still have a hard time identifying as “writer” or “artist”, but for all intents and purposes, I am part of the club.  I have all of the emotional baggage and unreasonable expectations that come with the title:

  • My expectations for are unreasonable.
  • I want it to be perfect on the first try.
  • I believe that it comes easy to other artists and I lack the intrinsic talent necessary to succeed.

A glimpse into my private journal illustrates the point succinctly:

 

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The reminder is necessary.  Art is hard.  This isn’t supposed to be easy.  From start to finish.  As Malcolm Gladwell argues in his book Outliers, the people that we perceive as naturally talented have practiced intensively – at least an estimated 10,000 hours.  That means that they set aside time to perfect their craft and they don’t give up when the first attempt sucks.  The creator must be resilient to continue onwards.

This brings me to the present moment:

I’ve been creatively blocked in a major way.  A few weeks ago, I realized that I wasn’t even allowing myself freedom to privately journal without censorship.  I changed that course of action, which inspired some movement.

Then I bought a sketch kit at Target (designed for kids) and decided to get back into drawing.  I spent my morning in the throes of frustration and near tears.  It has been so long since I had exercised this muscle and I felt the strain.  I started with the instruction booklets simple exercises and then decided to sketch a picture of an Eastern Casque-Headed Iguana.  Somewhere between the sketching and shading, I felt a release.

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Subject: Eastern Casque-Headed Iguana

 

Iguana.jpg

Artist’s rendering

 

Does it look like a picture? Duh, no.  It doesn’t even closely resemble the picture.  If I were to start critiquing, I could find a dozen inconsistencies.

It doesn’t really matter though.  It’s mine and it made me feel something good wonderful.  It brought me back to where I want to be and also reminded me that it’s supposed to be hard.  Process, not product.

Millennial Malaise

I am fairly positive that at this very moment there is someone who is feeling like I am tonight.  Not only do I have my very first toothache (and potentially my very first root canal on the horizon), but I also feel depleted.  Emotionally and spiritually depleted.  Lost in the woods. Aimless, wandering and wondering.  I am sitting at my writing desk contemplating a question which many of my fellow millennials continue to grapple with despite our best efforts:

What the fuck am I doing with my life?

All these feelings may be a dangerous by-product of consuming too much Radiohead and Tori Amos.

Or…

Maybe I am having my own Hannah Horvath moment.  “I think that I may be the voice of my generation.  Or at least a voice.  Of a generation”.

Hannah.gif

 

Unicorn

I’m at the point in my life where I’ve checked off a few things on the collective checklist of (arguably) successful adulting: Educated.  Married.  Homeowner.  3.5 household pets.  Retirement accounts.  Job.

I’m self-sufficient.  Responsible.  I’m paying back my student loans and very rarely make late payments on my other bills. Except Comcast.  Curse you, Comcast. Yes, I drink Polar seltzer’s “Unicorn Kisses” and regularly read children’s literature. But I also have my ish together.

Still, there is something about my life that’s as dull and nagging as the pain in my lower jaw.  It is a common malaise: I’m unfulfilled.  Comfortable.  Too comfortable.  My daily existence = shampoo instructions.  Lather. Rinse. Repeat.

I can hear my husband’s voice in my head, nagging me to sit at my desk and write.  At least once a week, if not more, he nags me about writing.  Write anything.  Just write.  He’s right about the writing.  It is the thing that makes my heart pitter patter.  It simultaneously scares and challenges me.  Writing pleads for my attention, and I treat her like a unworthy mistress.

Instead of pursing the thing which fulfills me, I flip through my mental OCD Rolodex:

Card One:  I should go to graduate school.  If I take up a profession, I’ll be able to exercise my intellectual abilities.  This will lead to greater fulfillment.

Nope.  It really won’t.  Graduate school may be intellectually stimulating, but there are plenty of unsatisfied graduates.  MFA. MBA. LCSW.  Doesn’t matter unless you really want it.  Plus, student loans.

Card Two:  It’s time to move.  I’ve lived in South Florida my ENTIRE life.  There’s nothing that moss covered trees and southern hospitality won’t cure.  It’s time to downsize and join the tiny house movement.

While a change of scenery might inspire, it could also be extremely disruptive.  I’m fragile in that way.  Am I really ready to be uprooted to a new state?  And: “Wherever you go, there you are.”  Thanks, Jon Kabat-Zinn.

Card Three: (Disclaimer: This is a deeply personal share.)  Mark and I should have a baby.  I am nurturing and motherly.  I care for my animals as if they emerged from my own uterus.  I love gummy, baby smiles.  A child’s perspective tends to cheer me up on a bad day.  I am 100% certain that we would have a beautiful and sensitive child.

All of the above may be true, but I also don’t function well without sleep.  We both work so much and our family support systems are not intact.  On my side, my child would never know their grandparents and this saddens me deeply.  I don’t have siblings.  I would feel a fierce and unforgiving isolation from the generational happiness which often occurs when one procreates.

Around and around I go. We all have these myths and misconceptions about how our lives would improve if we could only accomplish x, y, or z.

As always, wisdom and shares are welcome.  Also, if anyone can tell me the meaning to “Cornflake Girl”, drop me a line.

 

Spiritual and Linguistic Explorations

I typically avoid making New Year’s resolutions.  I am suspicious of calendar-based and time sensitive life inventories.  We are creatures of habit; it takes more than a hyped-up holiday to make effecting changes.

Yet, hineni.  Here I am.

Everywhere I go lately, there seems to be something or someone pushing me towards setting an intention.  When I see a common theme popping up in my life (or in literature), I really like to ponder it.  So, here it goes….

Intention| noun |  in·ten·tion

:  a determination to act in a certain way: resolve

or

a thing intended; an aim or plan

 

And since I am kind of bilingual:

The Hebrew root for intention is kaf-vav-nun.  (Hebrew 101: All Hebrew words are derivatives of three letter roots, which are the building blocks for the Hebrew language.)  I pulled out my handy dandy 501 Hebrew Verbs to look up the root and discovered the following associations:

Prepare, provide, be prepared/furnished, prepare oneself, get ready, mean, intend, direct, aim, adjust, calibrate

Such an expanded meaning.  I find myself wondering: “Am I ready for my intention?”  Have I prepared myself?  Sure, I can list off a whole bunch of intentions. That’s what we all seem to do just before the new year. But what work have I done to prepare myself for my intentions?

The Hebrew word for intention is kavanah.  A fully loaded Hebrew word.  It’s not merely a dictionary definition, but a spiritual undertaking.  In order to carry out our intentions, we must be prepared.  Our hearts must be adjusted.  Similar to Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice his most beloved Isaac, we must be ready for our own sacrifices.  In a quiet whisper or a dramatic shout, we find ourselves saying, “Hineni”.  Here I am.

This blog post tickles me because I had a completely different intention, but once I started to really explore the meaning of the word “intention”, I found myself in new terrain.  I was going to jump on the NYE bandwagon and publicly list off all my intentions for the coming year.  And now I find myself exploring the spiritual facet of intention making.

I wish I had a how-to for defining this process.  I don’t.  I’m still on the path myself, and if I am allowing myself to be completely vulnerable, I am deep in the woods.  Instead, I offer this up:

Hineni

Vidui (Confessions)

Today is the holiest of holidays in Judaism, Yom KippurYom Kippur is the Day of Atonement.  On this day, we repent (teshuvah) and confess (vidui).  We beat our chests as we utter each transgression.  We deny ourselves earthly pleasures: food and drink; bathing;  lotions and perfumes; feeling the softness of leather on our skin; and sex.  Repentance, prayer, and charity combined will save us from God’s judgment.  Unlike other religious traditions, there is no one to repent for our sins except ourselves.  We ask for forgiveness to all we have harmed.  We pray that God forgives us.  We hope our names are added to the Book of Life.  We remember the dead.

I will start with my first confession: Yom Kippur rattles me.  Ever since I was a child, the imagery of my name being inscribed into the Book of Life has caused anxiety.  What if I don’t make it?  What if I wasn’t good enough?  One year, I stole stickers from a classmate.  I had asked her where she had purchased them (with every intention of getting my own) and she refused to tell me.  This wasn’t the first time I was refused information.  I was incensed.  When she wasn’t looking, I took them.  I remember trembling when it was time to face my own actions.

Growing up, I was perplexed as to why  Rosh Hashanah (the Jewish New Year) came before Yom Kippur.  I could still taste the sweetness of honey-dipped apples while imagining worst case scenarios.  Why couldn’t we reflect, apologize, and then celebrate?

My relationship with Yom Kippur only grew more complex as time passed.  As I grew older, it wasn’t just about stolen stickers.  My concerns became more philosophically complex.  Some sins are black and white, while others exist in the gray.  I struggled with ideas of theodicy and judgment.  How is a judgmental God compatible with a loving God?  How can a just God allow evil to exist?  Why are good people punished?

As my own nuclear family started to deteriorate, I tried harder.  I became more observant.  More thoughtful.  I prayed.  I bargained.  I simultaneously was angry.  If I was doing everything I could, why was this happening?  Was it about the fucking stickers?  Honestly, I thought this for awhile.  And then I had my own awakening and realized the irrationality of this thought.

As I studied Judaism from an academic perspective, I was able to take a step back and develop a healthier perspective on what this time can mean to me.  I still wasn’t there yet, though.  The tipping point was finding my own recovery through a 12 step program (Al-Anon).  I came in at my lowest point, still fearing God and believing that I was being punished.  But then I came to understand God on my own terms, or “as we understood Him.”  My 12 step work wasn’t just recovery from addiction and other “-isms”, it was also a spiritual recovery.

The steps also reinforce the idea of personal accountability in a healthy, manageable way.  We look at our own character defects and make direct amends.  Step 10 asks us to take personal inventory.  It is a continual process of reflection, connection, and growth.  My program also helps me weed out what belongs to me and what belongs to others.

I have fallen in love with Judaism countless times in my life, but it also takes courage to be critical of your own religion.  I realized that my relationship with Yom Kippur was dysfunctional.  I still get those nagging worries, but I also remind myself to be gentle.  Making amends doesn’t happen in a week or a day.  It is a continual process of self-reflection.

On this Yom Kippur, I am not observing in the traditional sense.  I’m not a synagogue nor do I have a grumbling tummy.  However, the traditions which I choose to observe compliment other parts of my life.  I believe strongly in making direct amends and taking personal inventory.  I am sorry to anyone I may have harmed, knowingly or otherwise.

Life is pure adventure, and the sooner we realize that, the quicker we will be able to treat life as art: to bring all our energies to each encounter, to remain flexible enough to notice and admit when what we expected to happen did not happen.  We need to remember that we are created creative and can invent new scenarios as frequently as they are needed.

Maya Angelou

I don’t have a lot of space in my life for harsh judgments.  Instead, I pray for openness, new experiences, understanding, compassion, flexibility and acceptance.

 

 

 

Play Chess, Not Checkers: Advice From a Boss Bitch

It seems like the word “entrepreneur” can be found everywhere.  Entrepreneur is a  buzz word that’s usually prefaced by a hashtag or splashed onto an IG post in a trendy font.  The fascination is understandable – there is a certain glamour associated with the term.  Who doesn’t want to be known for taking a risk and coming out on top?  How many of us fantasize about owning our own business, managing our own schedules, and nourishing our own ideas?  At the end of the day, we all want autonomy.  For myself, that autonomy is found through blogging.  I freely admit that I have my own entrepreneurial ambitions and I am continually seeking guidance from fellow boss babes and bitches.

Since I am new to the whole idea of owning and growing a business, I was excited to discover a how-to guidebook, Boss Bitch: A Simple 12-Step Plan to Take Charge of Your Career, written by fellow millennial Nicole Lapin.  Lapin’s bio is impressive: a NYT bestselling author, news anchor, consultant, and nationally syndicated personality.  And did I mention that she is only one month older than me (33 years old)?  Yikes.

Boss BitchThe book is a mixture of practical advice and motivational pep talks.  Whether self-employed or an employee, Lapin encourages women to shun traditionally rewarded role of passivity.  The main message of the book (which is encapsulated in the bright yellow dust jacket): shine bright,  aim high, and create an empowering professional life. 

Boss Bitch is a really great primer for women who are just starting off on their own or looking to create a side hustle.  I wouldn’t recommend it to those who are seasoned professionals, or those turned off by the repeated use of the word “bitch”. It’s in the book.  A lot. 

One of my favorite quotes pertains to leadership:

 

A leader plays chess and not checkers.  Even though I’m terrible at chess, I know that not all pieces are the same; each one has it owns special moves and role as part of the strategy of the whole game.  But in checkers, all the pieces are the same and interchangeable.  A manager might look at her employees that way, as proverbial cogs in the work machine.  No one likes to feel like that.  Leaders, on the other hand, understand that each player and eace move is unique, and play the game accordingly.

Great advice for all boss bitches, current and aspiring. 

I received this book from Blogging for Books in exchange for this review.

BlogHer17: A Reluctant Attendee’s Perspective

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If you know me personally, then you are intimately aware of my ability to deliberate ad nauseam.  Whether it’s buying a pair of pajamas or scheduling a surgery (both are true events), I have the tendency to contemplate the pros and cons to the point where they start bleeding into each other, leaving me with nothing but a muddled mess that once resembled a decision. 

I started to feel curious about attending a blogging conference after my good friend and former coworker, Asia, wrote about her own experience at TBEX.  (By the way, Asia’s blog, Navigable World, is filled with beautiful pictures, inspiring posts, and awesomeness.)  I knew that I wanted something that was local, substantive, and relevant to my blogging interests.  After a straightforward Google search, I discovered BlogHer17

Orlando? You’ve got my attention. 

Workshops about storytelling and professional development? Yep, that’s what I need in my life.

Amazing keynote speakers? Stop.  Seriously, JUST STOP.  Now you’re just showing off…

I had the perfect (for me) blogging conference staring me in the face, but I still was reluctant to commit.  Reasons started swirling in my head: my poodle is dependent on my company, the tabby cat has had a bad cough, it’s too expensive, I have never traveled alone, my threshold for socialization is low, etc.  The list was already taking shape in my head and I was leaning towards a solid “NO”. 

Yet……despite all of the cons and my inner fears of leaving my comfort zone, a small whisper inside of me said, “Yassss.”  So I clicked on the registration, booked the hotel, and was on my merry way to my first blogging conference.

It really wouldn’t be fair to you, dear reader, to bore you with the minutiae of the conference.  My personal goals for attending included:

  1. Networking and picking the minds of fellow writers/bloggers
  2. Learning more about developing my platform professionally (branding, monetizing, etc)
  3. Strengthening my storytelling skills

It was a challenge to pick out which workshops to attend, but the ones I ended up going with included:

  • Storytelling Your Way to Healing and Support
  • Best Practices for Creating Multiple Online Income Streams
  • Powering Up Your Business For Success: A Discussion on Becoming a Business Magnate
  • Activism for the Part-Time Revolutionary: How to Make a Real Impact
  • Book Publishing Today: Self- Publishing and Hybrid Publishing Are the New Normal

All of the workshops I attended included knowledgable and impactful speakers.  I was busy taking notes (btw, I totally take great notes).  I learned about some great tools and platforms to enhance my blog, and my own list of takeaways from the conference included:

  1. I am totally entrepreneurial and I need to embrace this part of myself.  I am a #girlboss. If I harness that power for good, I can do amazing things.
  2. Diversify your income streams.  There are so many ways to build your blog and earn income, but the trick is not to get stuck on only one idea.  If something doesn’t work, keep on moving.
  3. Build relationships.  Seems like a no brainer, right?  Yet, we often are too busy doing our own thing to notice the people around us (or online).  We get so busy being the content producers that we forget to connect.  Take time to notice what others are working on.  Be present.
  4. Self-publishing shouldn’t be stigmatized.  Traditional publishing methods are extremely competitive and don’t always guarantee the best outcome.  Self-publishing allows authors to retain control and often means higher revenue. 
  5. Editors are your friend.  Invest in someone who can proofread your work.

I came home buzzing with excitement from all of the wonderful people that I met and the amazing workshops I attended.  Plus, Chelsea Clinton.

Chelsea

Taken on my inadequate phone, but I was really this close.  Seriously.  It was great.

Without any hesitation, I am excited to say that I am looking forward to attending BlogHer18. : )

Fiction or Foreshadowing: Tell Me How This Ends Well

Common bookworm struggles include discovering new reads and having a large enough budget to accommodate said book discoveries.  When I stumbled upon Penguin Random House’s program, Blogging for Books, I was thrilled.  Free books in exchange for book reviews (which I happen to love writing)….a definite no brainer! 

9780451496881Within the literary fiction genre, David Samuel Levinson’s Tell Me How This End Well grabbed my interest as a work of Jewish American literature. The colorful dust jacket and cartoonish font belies the narrative found inside Levinson’s story, which is packed with complex characters and literary themes.  Some themes which grabbed my attention include:

From Bondage to Freedom

Passover, the Jewish holiday which recalls the Israelites escape from Egyptian bondage, serves as the symbolic backdrop for the novel’s main plot development.  The Jacobson family has endured the emotional (and sometimes physical) abuse of its patriarch, Julian Jacobson.  Julian has all of the traits of a psychopath and the family has suffered long enough under Julian’s watch.  As the family reluctantly gathers for the family Seder, a plan unfolds with the intention of killing Julian. 

The plot is revealed through the narration of each of the Jacobson children, Jacob, Edith, and Mo, followed by their mother, Roz.  The individual attention given to each family member’s perspective is one of my favorite parts of the novel.  Readers are able to see Julian through the eyes of each person, and just like in real life, each Jacobson has internalized Julian’s actions differently. The plot to kill Julian is messy and often takes unexpected turns.  The family initially is not working together, which leaves the reader to ponder, “Which family member will lead the Jacobson family out of their own personal Egypt?”

Second Generation Relationships

An added dimension to Levinson’s novel is the tense relationships that exist between second (and even third) generation Jews and Germans, post-Holocaust.  Readers are first introduced to Jacob Jacobson, a queer screenplay writer living in Germany with his lover, Dietrich.  Levinson spends a lot of time describing the tensions between Dietrich and Jacob, which culminate in a bizarre beach scene where Jacob and Diet are arrested by the police for public indecency.  “What wasn’t right was so wrong, so utterly, horribly, disgustingly wrong, that it was nearly indescribable, nearly but not quite, for there was Jacob in the schmatte with the yellow Star of David embroidered into the pocket and there was Dietrich in the SS uniform, shiny black leather boots and all.”

It would take a lot of psychoanalysis and white space to break down the complexity of this scene.  My interpretation is that Jacob and Diet’s relationship ties into larger themes of power struggles, personal empowerment, and what it means to be a Jew in the 21st century.

Isolationism vs Interventionism

In the futuristic landscape of 2022, American Jews are the subject of regular anti-Semitic attacks.  Israel has been disbanded and Israeli refugees find themselves unwelcome guests.  Even though this may be a work of fiction, Levinson’s portrayal of an isolationist United States is not too far off from our current political climate.  The questions which Levinson’s novel pokes at, and which every Jewish person has found themselves asking include, “What happens when things go south again?  What safe haven will exist for Jews?”  In fact, the title of the book, Tell Me How This Ends Well, can be an invitation to discuss not only the personal ending to Julian Jacobson’s reign of terror, but the larger ending (or beginning?) of the Jewish plight. 

As the novel comes to a close, readers discover that Jacob is welcomed in Berlin.  Germany has become an unexpected ally to the Jews.  The U.S. Jacobson family members continue to struggle with anti-Semitism.  Jacob tries to convince them to join him in Germany, “…which made it a capital offense to harm in any way or kill a person of Jewish descent”.  Fast forward to 2024 and the last page of the novel, where Roz Jacobson has passed away and Germany has ratified the law, removing Jews from “The Approved List of Protected Species”.  In an uncertain and unsafe landscape without their matriarch, the Jacobson children continue onwards.

Tell Me How This Ends Well is a challenging and thought provoking novel.  The characters are memorable.  There are so many competing themes in the narrative and I felt the pull of all of theme, which served as a distraction.  With that being said, this would be a great book selection for a JCC book club or Jewish American literature class, as there are many angles to discuss.

I received this book from Blogging for Books in exchange for this review.