Friday, January 30, 2015

protect your imagination

Those who fear the imagination condemn it: something childish, they say, something monsterish, misbegotten. Not all of us dream awake. But those who do have no choice. - Patricia A. McKillip
I’ve long since deliberated over whether I was a weirdly imaginative kid by nature, or by nurture, and I’m still not sure which it is. Growing up on a farm in the Niagara region, surrounded by orchards and vineyards and valleys and forests, I grew up with a deep sense of wonder. Television was only allowed in very small doses and once the TV got turned off and we got kicked out of the house, we were on our own.

This setting was a very safe one for me and there is thankfulness for that in my heart that I carry with me everywhere. I grew up protected by my family – grandparents, aunts, uncles, great aunts and uncles– but not overprotected by them. They fed me and clothed me and gave me a bed to sleep in and the love I needed, and then they left me to do my own thing.

I was also protected by the landscape around me. Those vineyards and forests were a refuge, a place where I was free to be my truest self. Again, I’m not sure if this made me into the sensitive child I was, or if it just nurtured that sensitivity, but whatever the case, I ended up with this sort of soft, naive interior. But a wandering imagination coupled with a sensitive spirit quickly became a problem the moment I stepped across the threshold of that refuge.

The problem was this: traditionally, those who hold the most power in the world tend to have the least imagination. I don't say that to offend or cut down, I say that because power and imagination (along with its sister, creativity) are opposites. Power, by its very nature, is about knowledge and control and effective, measurable results. Imagination and creativity, on the other hand, require wonder and curiosity, long periods of time daydreaming, as well as chaos, uncertainty, and a willingness to take risks, to try something that will probably fail. Power does not like these things. So when those who have the most influence in our lives are also the ones who see imagination as something that is not only useless, but detrimental, a conflict arises. The worst part is when those who love you most, those who want the best for you, are the people who see imagination as something that you don’t take with you when you grow up. In their minds, imagination is something you leave behind in childhood, because that’s where they left it. And because they’re tasked with helping you grow up, they see it as their responsibility to dissuade or diminish or snuff out your imagination entirely – not to be cruel, but because they love you and they think it’s in your best interest. They want you to value things like knowledge and control and effective, measurable results.

You can probably sense where this is going.

The sensitive, imaginative child needs to foster these parts of herself, so that she can become more fully who she is. But if the ones around her – the ones who love her most and have the most control in her life – are explicitly or implicitly* dissuading or diminishing these parts of her, she has to make a decision. She’s too young to cut herself off from her loved ones and pave her own way, so she has two choices, which are actually just variations on the same choice: she can actively turn against her true self, or she can hide her true self. Both of these things are detrimental to her, and I would argue, to the ones she loves.

The good news is, the damage is reversible. Usually the reversal happens much later, in adulthood, when the threads that bind us to the ones we love most start to loosen and we start to see things in a new way. But there’s a lot of work to do. Not only do you have to reclaim those parts of yourself you hid or turned against, you have all of these dysfunctional strategies to counter now. You can’t just water that little seed and hope it grows, you have to pull out all the weeds (and keep pulling out the weeds) and expose it to the right amount of sunlight and you might even have to put up a fence to help protect it from all the things that want to eat it up.

It’s hard work, but it’s more than possible. And it’s important, work, I think. For you, and for all the ones just like you who haven’t come through it yet. So protect your imagination. It's precious and the world needs it.

*The distinction between explicit and implicit is important here, because the sensitive child is adept at reading implicit messages, like body language or silence or sarcasm, and implicit messages are harder to negate or act against. For example, it's far easier to say: "Dad said that reading all day is a waste of time, but he's wrong because [insert logical reason here]." When nothing is said outright, though, when the loved one uses implicit signs (like slamming cupboards or constantly interrupting the child from reading to remind her she has homework to do, or whatever), it's much more difficult to figure out. All the child knows is that she now has a feeling of shame associated with reading all day and she doesn't quite know where it comes from and if she doesn't know where it comes from, then maybe it's inherent. With implicit messages, the child can't confront her father and say, "It's okay for me to read all day because this is the only time I have to read all week and reading is important to me for these reasons..." Because her father will say, "I never said you shouldn't read all day." Which will be both true and untrue, and the child will be left with the feeling of shame without any way to negate it. That's a much harder web to disentangle yourself from. When something is clear and concrete, you can concretely act against it. When something is unclear and illusive, you can't. 

Friday, January 23, 2015


I was a little bit shocked when I checked my voicemail the other day to find a message from the One of a Kind Show saying that my application was accepted. The first thing I did was call my mom. Because that's my default shock response. And then I started thinking about cogs.

I'm thinking a lot about cogs these days because my writing mentor is really into cogs and she's ingrained her cog theory into my brain.

Let me explain.

Just over a week ago, I was presented with this opportunity that was really comfortable, knowable, good, and financially secure, but would require me to set aside a good chunk of my art-making goals in order to take it on. I wavered on the threshold of that decision all week, conflicted, until someone in my life gave me bad news (bad news for me, good news for them) and my immediate response was: I support this person 100% and I absolutely want them to take this leap even if it comes at a cost to me. They were saying "no" to something and that "no" negatively affected me. But it didn't matter.

What if I could say no too?

I did. I pulled up my bootstraps and turned down this good, comfortable, financially secure opportunity to take a leap into the dark. And then, three days later, I got that call from OoaK.

I never would have been able to say yes to OoaK if I hadn't of said no to that opportunity, and I might not have been able to say no to that opportunity if no hadn't been said to me.

So: cogs. They're beautiful things.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

some art links

On Managing Time, Insecurities, and the Magic Mirror Gate is an article by Giuseppe Castellano, art director at Penguin US. The thing I loved most was his idea that productivity isn't found by working on one project all the way through until it's finished, but in working on all the projects, little by little. He suggests breaking your day down into one hour chunks and working on a different project every hour. So, for example, one hour you work on that sketch and when that hour is up, you switch to working on that revision, and when that hour is up you go cut and shape your slabs, and when that hour is up... You get the idea. This is something I'd definitely like to try, because as of right now I feel like I need more time in the day to get everything done.

Whether You Make It Or Not Is Never About Talent is by Yuko Shimizu, an illustrator and teacher at the School of Visual Arts in NYC. She talks about how hard work trumps talent and how those with the least talent are often more successful because they have to push themselves that much harder to achieve their goals. So basically: Don't give up!

Elizabeth Gilbert's Instagram, wherein she posted this gem, saying "You guys, seriously: If you want to do and make wonderful things with your life, sometimes you have to really not give a fuck." Which I happen to think is completely true. In fact, I would even take out the "sometimes". 

And here's a random glimpse of my work station this week. I've been avoiding my studio because the basement is cold and also haunted (I know this because my dog acts all weird whenever he's down there with me). So the pottery has taken over my writing desk:

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

when they tell you

Found in my sketchbook today.

Thursday, January 1, 2015

new year, new goals (mostly)

In my last post, I deconstructed my goals for 2014 and decided they were a) not specific enough and b) not challenging enough. In light of what I learned, I've come up with some new goals for 2015 as well as action plans I hope will help me reach those goals. Because I love hearing about other people's goals and how they keep them, I'm posting mine here. Voilà:

#1 Write Every Day

Action plan: Since there's always some writing project in need of attention (usually a revision) I'm less interested in laying down specific projects and more interested in how to keep myself accountable to working on those projects. So I bought a super cheap, super ugly "writing" calendar that I'm keeping on my writing desk for the sole purpose of crossing off days when I've put in my quota. My quota being: just get writing done. It doesn't matter when it happens or how long (though I'm thinking of scheduling it into my mornings, since that's my most productive time) just that it happens.

#2 Draw Every Day

Action plan: I'm going to make my daily drawing part of my early morning routine - wake up, make coffee, walk Yonder, drink coffee, make my to-do list for the day, and draw. After that comes everything else. I've also broken down the first six months of 2015 into "themes" (ie. the “female form”, “architecture”, “mammals”, etc.). I'm not necessarily holding myself to those themes, they're just there so I can't make excuses. If I don't know what to draw, I have a list to fall back on. I also might try posting my sketches here once a week as a way to keep me accountable.

#3 Finish Revising Novel "Y"

Action plan: I'm still undergoing that mentorship I mentioned in my last post, so right now that is keeping me accountable. But even when it ends in a few months, I have goal #1 to keep me on track. 

#4 Re-apply to That Illustration Program

Two years ago I applied to Sheridan for Illustration and, miraculously, I got in. Then I immediately chickened out because the program is four years long, requires an hour commute there and back, and costs $10,000 a year. But when I went to HSTA this fall, I realized a few things: I could pay for art school by selling my art, commuting is survivable (hello audio books!!) and those four years are going to pass whether I'm in school or not. So I've decided to reapply and this time, if I can get in again, I'm going to GO. No chickening out. If I start the program and discover it isn't what I want, then I'll quit. But I at least want to try.

My action plan has various parts, including goal #2, but also: getting my portfolio back in shape (planning out 2-3 large pieces), redoing my drawing test from 2 years ago (that's 8 more pieces), and taking a life-drawing class. That's a lot, but I did it two years ago when I first applied and I was working two jobs then, so I'm not daunted.

#5 Make $XX,XXX With My Pottery

Action plan: I have an exact dollar amount written down that I’m not sharing with the internet, which is specific and challenging. I also have concrete ways that I plan to achieve this, some of which are highlighted in goals #6-8.

#6 Apply To At Least Three New Shows

Last year's "show" goal was a lazy one, so I want this year's to be the opposite. My action plan is thus: First of all, I have a list of shows, complete with their application costs and deadlines, to keep me on track. Second of all, at least one new show I do has to be in Toronto, because I have this irrational fear of doing shows in Toronto. Third of all, one application must be to the One of a Kind Show because it is specific, it has one of the most challenging applications, and I've always been a bit terrified of showing there (partially because they are the only venue that's ever rejected me - that one and only time I applied). I want to note, though, that the goal is not to get in to OOAK because getting in is outside of my control. Instead, the goal is to put together the best application I can - something very much within my control.

#7 Fine-Tune and Expand My Pottery Line

Action plan: I'm going to set aside one morning or evening a week to just doodle and dream up new designs. I'm lumping the actual day-to-day production of pots in with this goal too. And the way I'm going to accomplish that is by purchasing a slab roller, setting studio hours every week and holding to those hours, and imposing structure on myself when I'm working: no internet and phone, frequent breaks, daily to-do lists, and things like podcasts, audiobooks and playlists to keep me working.

#8 Get My Work Into Two New Shops

Action plan: I have specific shops written down and I'm going to make my own "application deadlines" and pencil them into my calendar.

#9 Start Walking Everywhere Again

A few years ago, before I started working at a bakery in Guelph that required me to get up at 3:30am and commute, I did not own a car. I was making ceramic jewellery and selling it full-time and when I needed a car for my business, I borrowed or rented one. And when I needed to get somewhere just for me, I walked. I walked a lot, every day, and I loved it. But once I got the car, I stopped walking everywhere. So this is my action plan: unless I absolutely need the car to get somewhere, I will leave it at home and walk or bike where I need to go instead. On top of this, I must walk downtown and back (or the equivalent) five days a week to write in a café, go to the library, or meet Joe after work.

#10 Find Ways to Get More Energy

Action plan: See goal #9. Also, pay attention to how much time I spend sitting while writing, drawing, reading or making pots and figure out ways to incorporate standing or moving while I do these things. For example, take frequent breaks, buy a mini trampoline for my writing desk, etc. Also, I'm hoping to eradicate processed sugar from my diet, so I'm making a rule of no sugar unless there is a very good reason (for example, I'm at someone's house and they've made dessert and I don't want to refuse their hospitality). And last, go to bed early. I find that when I go to bed early, I get up early, and I'm most productive earlier in the day.

#11 Call My Grandmother Once a Week

My grandmother is important to me and with my grandfather gone, I want to make her a priority in my life. Action plan: Decide on the best day and time to call and pencil that into my weekly to-do list.

Whew. That seems like a lot. Significantly more challenging than last year, which makes it significantly more exciting.

Happy 2015 everyone!

First Sketch of 2015