As both an artist and a career business professional, I embrace both and switch back and forth in my brain, depending on the situation. One pays the bills, the other pays my soul.
I am currently on a business trip for a fairly important meeting and at these events it is customary to have a group photograph taken by a professional photographer.
To that end, yesterday we were told to gather in the lobby for this year’s group photo. We were told we were going outside where it was a bit cold, so the photographer was going to arrange us inside then we’d head outside for the shots in front of a lovely green space.
Immediately the carping began “Why are we going outside, it’s cold out there!?” The photographer’s answer, “Because it’s very pretty outside and will make for a much nicer photo.”
“Can’t we just do it in here?” The photographer’s answer “Yes, but we want a really good photo and the lobby isn’t very nice.”
Then the photographer began to evaluate the shot and arrange us by height, clothing color, and other aesthetics he wanted to see.
Herding about 20 bossy people is no small task, but this photographer is an old hand and firmly took command.
“You in the blue shirt, would you switch places with this person in the charcoal jacket?” and so we’d switch around, moving forward and back as he studied the pose.
More than once I heard a comment along the lines of “Artists, sheesh! Just take the picture!”
Or “Why all this fuss, let’s get on with it!”
Or “This is an awful lot of trouble for a picture, can’t we just use a cellphone and be done with it?”
With this, my hackles began to rise. You see, a business professional is what I do, an artist is what I am. To hear this kind of careless talk is not unexpected, but fully disheartening. I took it personally.
Maybe people don’t see photographers as “real artists” or maybe because the photographer is employed by our institution and not hired from outside he is subject to coworker’s careless talk, but I found the comments rather tactless.
What stings me the most is when the word “artist” is said in an unkind and sarcastic way. As if being an artist is somehow bad.
It is not the first time I’ve run across this in my work setting, only the most recent.
I have been at my creative work for a long time, and I’ve long since grown past any discomfort or sheepishness I have in calling myself an artist. In other words, I own it and I’m well beyond trying to defend it. It just is.
However, I somehow have not gotten past people going “pfft, sure” when I describe myself that way.
I think there is a perception that an artist is a hippy-dippy, flowing skirt, wacky hair, free spirited, out of touch soul. And why not? But in my experience a working artist is also a nuts and bolts, down to earth, hardworking soul with enormous amounts of self-discipline, organization, and drive.
In this instance, I get that people don’t like having their photo taken, but if a photo is taken, people certainly want it to look nice. Good work takes work.
People love to consume art, but for some reason underestimate the work it takes to produce quality art. A few minutes in the Choosing Beggars sub-Reddit offers a few sobering examples.
I do sometimes feel like there are two of me walking around in a one-human unit, and that’s okay. My business side brings some discipline to my art and my artist side brings some creativity to my business work.
So while I grimaced a bit and noted the careless and arguably rude undertone in the use of the word artist, I chose to move past it (under the guise of “pick your battles”), moved where the photographer told me to stand without comment, and thanked him when we were done.
Dear Package of Fruit of the Loom underwear that were on sale at Target:
Look, let me just start with the end in mind. It’s not going to work out between us. Mostly because of the way you have behaved around my hind end.
Oh sure, the early days were grand. Glorious. Filled with anticipation. You lured me over to your side by wearing that fabulous “on sale” tag at my local Target store. Your price was so shiny and new and your colors, oh your colors. Yes.
I’d been with my old yonderwear brand for years. And years. YEARS I TELL YOU! And I had been wanting to get some new pairs, since time makes fools of us all. Yes, the holes, the leg elastic is shot, the droopy nature of the old drawers made me long for something fresh.
The store for my usual brand of chones is a bit of a drive and I thought hey, maybe it’s time for a change. Maybe I can make a new friend with a new brand and I won’t have to drive over hell and tarnation and deal with a jacked up parking lot just to get undergarments.
Just as I was thinking this, you entered my life. There I was already at Target and your price was right and you looked cute and I thought “why not?”
Why not, indeed.
I flipped over your simple package and I looked at the sizing chart on the back. I checked and double checked and yes, I picked out the right size in the right colors in the right style.
Oh how excited I was to bring you home and try you on! I’d also procured a new nightgown so I looked forward to all of the newness and shiny and happy and joy in my house!
I did hesitate for a moment. Yes, I did. I also walked over and considered another brand of undershorts but they were more expensive. You got me on price. Oh ho ho, you sure got me.
I put you into my basket and then took you out again. Then I decided I was being a fool and put you back in there.
That warm Saturday evening I took a nice long bath, scrubbed up, shaved the ol’ legs and then toweled off, ready for my new garments.
I opened your pack, picked a color and slid on my new skivvy fashions. Ah yes, they fit perfectly. Excellent!
But then, oh then, I began to move around. I picked up some towels and hung them up, put some things in the hamper, emptied out the trash in my room.
The bending over. That’s where things took a long bad trip. Instead of being supportive and helpful, each time I bent over you packed up shop and moved north.
Very far north.
And so I’d forcefully tug you back in your assigned location only to have you shoot north again at every turn.
Twenty minutes. That’s how long you lasted on my nether regions. Twenty. Minutes.
Then you were cursed at and quickly removed and thrown across the room in favor of a pair of the ol’ standby. The brand that knows my curves and cherishes them so. I did a bend test and nary a problem in Ol’ Faithful. Everyone stayed in their assigned campground and didn’t drift in wrong directions.
So here’s the thing Fruit of the Loom knickers…it’s not me, it’s you. Very much you. One hundred and ten percent YOU.
I’m so disappointed and so ashamed I cheated on my loyal and trusted brand.
“I’m good enough, I’m smart enough, and doggone it, people like me” — Stuart Smally
For those of us of a certain age, we remember the Stuart Smally pseudo-self -help skits by Al Franken on Saturday Night Live.
The catchphrase became an oft quoted in regular conversation, both joking and more than a bit serious.
In reality, there are an awful lot of resources out there that tell us about self-talk, about taking a strong stance, about giving ourselves positive affirmation phrases to bolster our courage and bring us to great heights.
Good words are all well and good, but do they actually work?
Here’s the thing, all the pretty words in the world are not a replacement for the discipline needed to actually take that first step.
Mohammad Ali told himself and the world that he was the greatest fighter that ever lived, then he went out there in the ring and proved it.
He did that not because of his hype words, but by putting in the training work well before the fight. The kind of work that’s less pretty words and all the more necessary.
What I’m saying is: The road less traveled doesn’t get traveled until you strap on your boots and walk it.
Self-care and self-discipline matter a whole lot more to your success than the perfect laser cut vinyl words stickered to your wall.
Live, laugh, love is all well and good, but you have to live by taking care of yourself, drinking enough water and for god’s sake eat a salad now and again.
You have to laugh, even when you are in such a dark place that laugher feels hollow. Sometimes it takes work to find anything funny, but once it’s there, the laugher soars.
And love, a lovely romantic notion but real true love takes hard work, which is, unto itself, cotton candy words. We all talk about “how hard” it is to make a marriage work, but you have to commit yourself to actually doing the work, to sticking around when everything in your brain says to run, to firmly holding that trash can while the love of your life barfs their brains out three days before the wedding.
Okay, that last one may be just a bit too personally specific.
How about this one:
Huh, really? Pretty sure that is impossible. There will ALWAYS be someone more than happy believe the bad stuff about you, even if you were the best person that ever lived.
Shouldn’t it be more like “Live in such a way that if someone spoke badly of you, it might make you sad for a little while, and then maybe you get a little drunk or eat french fries about it. Then you either hold on to that pain for a lifetime or you talk to your therapist about it and find a way to move on.”
I know talking about “doing the work” isn’t crazy cool, fun, and sexy. It doesn’t look cute on a shirt with butterflies and shooting stars. But that is how you get where you want to go, and by that I mean real, tangible results take effort.
Which is not to say you shouldn’t have some fighting words in your pocket to inspire when it is go time. I’m trying to say that catchy words are fine, but they don’t get the work done, so don’t get so lost in the memes, wallpaper or the “inspirations” aisle at the craft store that you forget to focus.
I mean, if you want to chant a phrase to get you fired up, get you off the couch and augment your inner motivation, then by all means!
I myself love to watch YouTube videos of tribal Maori doing a Haka dance. The strength and passion gets me fired UP to go out there and kick some butt.
I am not Maori so I try not to appropriate anyone’s culture, but I admit sometimes in the bathroom before a big presentation, I’ll stick my tongue out to my reflection in the mirror and make my best Haka face. AAAAGH!
Then I go out there and do the work. I stand tall and get it done. If I succeed or I fail, it wasn’t because of my affirmation phrases or my faces, but because I put in the time, dug deep, and did the work.
What follows is me working out some “stuff” up there in the ol’ brain pan. A bit indulgent to do this publicly, but maybe putting it out there helps someone else. Or makes me accountable for my own crap. Either way.
So here it is… I have been taking part in a Flickr group that challenges its members to do a new macro photo every week based on a theme the moderators choose.
I started participating on December 4th with this photo:
I felt clever. Sassy. Like my photo was more creative and of better quality than the others in the group. Go me! I was rewarded with well over one hundred faves in the first day. Hey, fun!
So I kept going. Each week working hard and having fun doing these weekly photo challenges. Creating a new image every week. Some weeks I worked really hard (or agonized) over executing my idea.
Other weeks it came easy to me, I snapped a photo that was exactly what I wanted and went on about my day.
But always having fun and not taking it too seriously.
Until two weeks ago. Two weeks ago I stopped having fun and got deadly (overly) serious about my weekly photo entry.
Let me back up. This Flickr group is huge, over 13,000 members. Each Monday between 800 to 1,200 photos are posted for the theme. This means in order to function, the group must be tightly moderated. And it is. Tightly.
I both like and respect that there are heavily enforced rules for the group. But I also HATE it because I’m an *artist* and The Muse can’t be contained by your silly rules. I should be able to break them because MY work is the best.
Yeah, okay. I own it. I got weird. I hate it when I get weird.
The week’s theme was monochromatic, and I turned this one in:
I really like this photo. I worked hard on it and felt really good about it. I feel like I did something worthwhile. Artistic.
Less than ten minutes after adding it to the group, a moderator pulled it, telling me “This is not monochromatic, I can see both brown and green.”
I seethed. I stewed. I started looking at other photos in the group and found SEVERAL that also had tiny bits of another color that made it through the moderator’s net.
I bellowed about how unfair it was. I started making a list of all the other photos that were let through. I prepared to launch my vitriol on anyone who would listen and demand answers for my mistreatment. How could they hate my photo so much!?!?! (I know, I know)
Then I went to talk to The Good Man, and as I detailed all the ways I had been wronged, I heard myself. I listened to my words and realized…aw damn…I’d stopped having fun. I was this worked up over a photo on Flickr in a group where the only prize is some eyes seeing the photo and some faves.
Yeah. I hit the wall pretty hard. This came just a day after struggling with a story for a writing contest that just would not gel for me. I hadn’t given myself enough time to work on it and the story would not come together no matter how hard I tried. I tried to shotgun it and I failed hard. I did still turn in the story but I know it’s not good.
You see, I wasn’t mad at that stupid unfair moderator. I was mad at me.
And that’s no way to create. That is the antithesis of creativity. This dampens The Muse.
So I went all the way there and now I’m reeling myself back in. I swear. I sat my Muse and my brain down and we had a talk. Feelings were felt and admonitions were issued. Promises to be better. To loosen up. To remember why I do any of my creative work…to have fun. To let the creativity out. To create something.
And I’m better. I am. The following week I swore I wasn’t going to participate in the Flickr group again, but that was EXACTLY why I needed to get back in the game. So I made a photo based on the theme “in a bottle.”
Here’s my Valentine to myself. Green like the Hulk who gets very, very mad. Sweet like the victory of turning out a piece of art and something I really like. It also met the rules and made it past the moderators.
So without going into specifics (because it’s the internet and who knows what people do with facts anymore) the job I do every day is, essentially, a customer service gig. We don’t support the general public, but support the operations of my employer. We serve all of my coworkers as customers. Confusing enough?
Anyhow, since we have a focus on customer service and have standard corporate performance measurements to maintain, on a regular basis we send surveys to our customers to ask how we did so they can grade us and provide feedback.
Fairly standard stuff. If the surveys for my team come in good, then fabulous. It’s logged and reported and so forth. If a survey comes in bad, then a member of the team that collates responses will discreetly make a copy and slide it onto my desk. This usually happens when I am off in a meeting or something so they don’t have to make eye contact. It’s all very clandestine.
Bad surveys happen. It’s normal. I usually review them, see what the beef is about and move on.
Except for yesterday. Yesterday gave me pause. I returned to my office to find the dreaded folded sheet of paper on my desk. “Ugh” was my first thought as I unfolded and read the survey.
It was a good time. Suffice to say, my team was blamed for everything wrong in this person’s life, including (and I’m not kidding) the reason the person is leaving our institution to go work somewhere else. All our fault.
The words “byzantine” and “Kafkaesque” were used. And after looking up what those words meant, I was really offended.
Just kidding, I wasn’t offended. To be honest if bureaucratic, surreal and nightmarish processes aren’t your bag, then working anywhere that receives federal funding is not going to be a fun time.
This unhappy person did wrap up by saying they thought my employee that they worked with lovely, but the processes were ugly.
To be honest, I appreciate this customer for giving me the first good laugh I’ve ever had over a bad survey response.
And the search for just the right image for this post was also a nice distraction from my byzantine day.
I think I nailed it:
**An actual Franz Kafka quote that just supremely fit this post