Good Art

I’m not going to try and rival Neil Gaiman’s speech, but I guess you could say that I’m still a little hung up on making “good art.”  Maybe it’s because “good art” is one of things that is so hard to define, but so obvious once found.  

Sure, there are the immediate entertaining thrills.  You can throw stale bread at me for this, but I read Twilight when it first came out and was horrified by the fact that pink sunlight was trickling across my pillow as I still read it.  Yeah, it was a phase.  Then again, so was the “dress up like a lion and pretend to be part of Wizard of Oz” stint.  The breathless (and I do mean breathless) stories sort of grab us, then pull us along in one big sweeping motion until we’re dumped back into our everyday lives wondering what the hell happened.  

And they’re gone.  Like a wisp of wind.  No more.

No sooner than two months passed, and I was pretty much done with Twilight, angrily realizing that, no, Bella would not be attacked by a horde of vampires, and no, the series would not end with her driving a stake through Edward’s heart.  Same thing with America’s Next Top Model.  I’m hooked, I can’t stop, then it’s done and I do.

Then it, too, fades.

The thing with good art is that it lasts.  I can spend hours in front of the TV and not remember any scrap of dialogue (which, according to NCIS, “well, you know Gibbs…” is a good filler, though it only hedges actual character development).  Then, there are the shows I do watch that tingle the spine in ways it didn’t know it could tingle.  It sticks. Good art sticks around, lodging itself into our brains, making us wake up the next day and the next still mulling it over, or wondering what it could  mean.  

I don’t mull over bad art (unless it’s so bad I can’t stop trying to convey it to others).  I don’t stare out of my window, thinking “what if?” after watching another fast-talking police drama.  It’s when I read something that truly challenges the way I look at the world, or saw a well-crafted television show like Dr. Who, or listened to Rimsky-Korsakov that the world cracks open and invites me to jump in.  Good art does this.  And the best part is, I can never tell how.

For me, it’s like a brownie: you can really mess it up if you want to.  You can even drug it up if that will get people to eat it.  Sometimes all we want is a regular brownie, that’s all.  But it’s the truly talented cooks who know how to take a regular-old brownie and make it the most special thing you’ve ever tasted.  Maybe they just know the right order to cook it.  Maybe they add a hint of spice.  All you know is that, what you’re eating is by all rights “just a brownie,” but it’s more “just a brownie” than anyone else has ever made.  A brownie is nothing new, it’s a dessert that’s been made before, and yet no one can make it the same way.  A really good brownie is one that seems familiar, but different enough that every bite is like seeing the world new.

That’s what good art is like: the thing you think is average that changes your life without trying.  

Of course, the “not trying”: is up for debate.  Any artists out there can tell me how much they try (I’m with you!) and we’ll come out knowing that it takes lots of work to look like you’re not working.  But all of it is worth it because good art is always worth it. 

The real trick is the actual making of it, since it is all too easy to make bad art.  And that, I think, is something that takes an entire life of effort to do.  But, as Neil Gaiman suggested in his speech, isn’t that a life worth living?

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Make Good Art

Make Good Art

A simple scroll along Facebook shows me pictures of St. Olaf friends recently graduated, Carlton friends yet to graduate, and Mankato friends long graduated.  It’s such a strange thought, that time can morph and switch like this.  The same day can drag along for one person, zip by for the next, all within the identical 24-hour time period.  It’s up to us to figure out what to do with it, how to make the world beautiful even as it blurs past.  

So, it’s weird looking at other commencement pictures a week after my own.  BUT, part of the joy in not having commencement ceremonies in tandem with other schools is that I can troll through the other speeches and pretend that I’m back in those seats, that these words of wisdom are for me.

Which is perfect, especially if it’s the amazing writer Neil Gaiman.  

Make Good Art

A simple scroll along Facebook shows me pictures of St. Olaf friends recently graduated, Carlton friends yet to graduate, and Mankato friends long graduated.  It’s such a strange thought, that time can morph and switch like this.  The same day can drag along for one person, zip by for the next, all within the identical 24-hour time period.  It’s up to us to figure out what to do with it, how to make the world beautiful even as it blurs past.  

So, it’s weird looking at other commencement pictures a week after my own.  BUT, part of the joy in not having commencement ceremonies in tandem with other schools is that I can troll through the other speeches and pretend that I’m back in those seats, that these words of wisdom are for me.

Which is perfect, especially if it’s the amazing writer Neil Gaiman.  

The First Step

As of last Sunday, I’m considered a post-grad, an alum.  I knew the day was coming, as did everyone who piled into the wobbly plastic seats in black probably-only-taken-out-of-the-package-that-morning robes.  We’d been planning for four years how to strap the ideals and opportunities onto our safety belts that would hopefully illuminate who we really are, as if saying “yes, but a RELIGION minor” would tell people the careful nuance of my life lost in everyday conversation.  This all comes together once you hit senior year, or so I’ve been told.

Or, it all falls apart.  One of the two.

I can easily say that senior year was both the best and worst year of my life so far.  There were moments that I’d feel the darkness of the uncertain future crushing me to smithereens as more and more facebook statuses trumpeted new-found successes and plans.  Then, there were the times that I’d be crushed by all the activities I’d decided to do that were just so important YOU DON’T EVEN KNOW at the time.  Not to mention the times that I’d wonder if friendships bested proximity, or if after the dream of college ended and I walked off that stage with an IOU of a diploma, I’d be utterly alone.  I had this nightmarish image of friends, family, conversations, knowledge, everything orbiting away from me into the inconquerable darkness that is the future.  Or, if I was being less melodramatic, it was more like the “mile run” I did as an elementary school kid, where I’d always be right smack at the end, next to the kids with asthma.  “Wait for me!”  I’d pant, but I could never seem to catch up.  

But then, there were all the better times, the reminders that maybe it’s not so much a race or a skid to the end, but a journey made side-by-side with other, equally terrified friends.  And, maybe it’s not even a race.  Maybe the journey never ends, and we only like saying “the journey” as it relates to school because it looks better on postcards than “the movement from one place to the next that doesn’t get you too off-kilter with the rest of the world.”

But I digress.

All I know is that, one moment, it’s senior week and all of my friends are doing their utmost to avoid thinking about this graduation thing, and the next: we’re walking through a sea of professors wishing us well and telling us they’ll miss us.  

Miss me?  I’m not going anywhere!  I’m still right here!  I’m…oh yeah.  An alum.  A post-grad.

Well damn.

The thing with graduating, I feel, is that you’re supposed to be “transformed by the journey,” as I’ve been told time and time again by Luther College.  I should feel like an utterly different person, as though crossing through the threshold into the world should, I don’t know, at least give me wings or something.  I should feel illustrious.  A post-grad, thank you very much.  

It comes in waves.  Sometimes I’ll feel like I really am on the cusp of something profound, others, that I’m the same stupid girl that thinks putting Whipped Cream onto toast isn’t the worst thing she could be doing with her time.  A year ago, I was convinced that everything would change in a year, but that it would change for the worse.  I can’t really tell if it’s for the better or the worse.  It’s just a change.

And that brings me to why I’ve started this blog in the first place.  I was going to wait until the end of the summer–that is, when I’ll be heading off to China to teach English at a University (i.e. the excitement in my life that people might actually want to hear about).  But then I realized that there are a lot of other transitions: not being in school anymore, working as a puppeteer in a puppet wagon, participating in my best friend’s wedding in June, even living with as full a heart as I can without it snapping apart in the winds of fortune. 

Changes aren’t a huge sweeping realization that everything is different from how it used to be.  If anything, a change is nothing more than finding an old picture and thinking of the day it was taken.  “Is that what I used to say?” “Is that who I used to be?”  Because change is never about the present: it’s looking back, seeing where once we stood and realizing that we don’t stand there anymore.  A year ago, I wasn’t very fair to my soon-to-be-wedded friend, as I was too hung up on how I could potentially feel somewhere down the road.  Looking back, I can’t really say what particular steps have been taken away from that “me,” but they must have been gradual, because I’m miles away and don’t know how I even got there.  Now, I’m nothing but excited for her, and I know that a name change doesn’t change the friend that I love.  

Because changes are made from the steps we take along the backs of people supporting us all along the way.  This undercurrent, supporting everything we do, every person that we are, never really leaves us.  Sometimes the way gets dark and we can’t see it, that’s all.

It’s like a Chinese folktale: that a fish, once it leaps through the gate, becomes a dragon.  I’m leaping, not really knowing where I’ll end up on the other side, only hoping that I will earn my scales, bit by bit, and be the dragon waiting, dormant, inside of me.  That’s all I really can do.  Leap.  Because there’s no way of predicting what will happen, and if there was, well, it wouldn’t really be a leap, then, would it?