Sometimes grad school makes you feel inside out and upside down. Questioning yourself, your experiences, your motivations, your goals, your honesty with yourself. How much you want to do this thing, be on this particular road. But, I mean, do you really have any other options at this point – what else can you do? (Ok, ok the “you” is definitely “me.”)
I’m thinking about that Robert Frost poem. You know the one. I’m sure you read it in high school or have seen quotes emblazoned on glass-is-half-full mugs.
“The Road Not Taken” – Robert Frost
The classic American poem is alternately interpreted as a championing of individualism OR an unsettling reflection on choice-making. That’s because “all the difference” is so… unpindownable. “All the difference” can be delightful or dreary depending upon your intonation, mood, blood sugar.
What’s the difference?
In arithmetic “difference” is the distance between two numbers on a number line. Distance (as opposed to displacement) is mathematically “ignorant of direction.” How appropriate here, as the narrator, (like any person making a choice) at the moment of decision is ignorant of the directions either road will have taken beyond the narrator’s immediate view. Since these potential roads are abstract, they are quantities like x and y, we don’t know if either is of greater or lesser value, nor in which order to subtract them. Which one is the subtrahend? Which the minuend? We might set up the general equation for difference as |𝑥−𝑦|=|𝑦−𝑥|, the absolute value, or positive difference, or just distance between two (real) numbers.
So back to questioning. Every choice you make and have made. Positive? Negative? Potentially negative but you’re making it positive by looking at what you deem the “absolute value” of what you’ve done? Neither?
That’s the point of a graduate program in the arts ( a life in the arts?) maybe, but how easily I feel lost-ish.
I’m encountering questions around whether I am enough of an artist -with a capital A- to be here. And annoyed with the “obnoxiously self-indulgent existential crisis” again. MFA. Master of Fine Arts. But who is ever a Master? (At least while they’re alive). And the few living people touted as “Masters” – are they happy?
In Professor Jennifer Schlueter’s Multidisciplinary Seminar I get to talk to MFA students in other departments. People who do other things. People who write novels and short stories. People who sculpt and paint. People who write poems. People who light stages. People who make hard to label time-based-art, animation, and interactive installations.
Distinguish between artistic brilliance and life brilliance. OR: Never talk to a person about happiness who has less of it than you.
I’ve been thinking a lot about the model artists, the masters, we discuss in dance history. The “greats,” the “written- abouts.” The capital R Royals, capital M Moderns, Capital P Postmoderns, the purposefully-lowercase-all-the-time postmoderns. Were they people? Were they happy? Were they horrible to work with? We don’t get to that part usually. (Though the scuttlebutt is invariably the latter).
I think about the professionals who I’ve been instantly & keenly aware of my distaste for. (You might know the type. The “big” name who you’ve met at least fifteen times and on the sixteenth they introduce themselves with their schtick and salesman handshake as if it’s your first meeting). And reflecting upon the very different people to whom I gravitate.
I know I’d rather have life-brilliance than art-brilliance.
detour? distraction? exactly the right place?
Right now I’m taking an advanced undergraduate anatomy course as a prerequisite for a graduate course. It “doesn’t count” for me and takes up five full credits. And I’m relishing it in several ways.
At the start of this term I was very worried (of course didn’t say so here – I was busy keeping up art-appearances) about my excitement differential between non-dance and dance courses, (particularly in regards to Anatomy). Worried that I might be regretting path choices from that point in the yellow wood. (The yellow wood being the state of being nineteen years old and choosing thespian-tinged wonderfully exciting fields of study at the University at Buffalo, and maybe every job “choice” since. And all the other yellow woods.)
Worried that I might consider re-routing. Worried that if I decide to do so that would mean I’m a sham or a failure.
But at the moment, other than the immense satisfaction of deepening real-life practical content knowledge, I’m finding the way of learning in this class a welcome shift. Read, look, touch, memorize – input input input, from read, watch, analyze, synthesize – output, output, output.
It’s refreshing, like I’m filling an empty well.
(I’m also observing all the disturbing ways teachers can sabotage curiosity in big assessment-based lecture classes. But that’s another post!)
Emotional aside – emotional centering
The first cadaver lab day, hit me in a way I wasn’t expecting. After all, I have seen and worked with prosections of cadaveric material before. (What a strangely clinical way to talk about human remains). The night before the first lab I had a discussion with a good friend and colleague from home, who was losing a parent, making them comfortable at home, and dealing with the emotional trauma of caring for the dying.
The fact of the human tissue in front of me, the full cadavers – with gender, age, and cause of death listed on the wall of the lab – in the context of that reverberating conversation, struck directly at the very liminal space, the fine line between “person” and “human tissue.” I was so moved. That evening I cried for a good while, sitting at my kitchen table. Not out of fear or sadness, but a fullness of emotion around the whole idea of life and how we live it. And considering the body, as a friend recently put it so eloquently, as “the great equalizer.”
So what I’m getting at…I think
I’m excited to keep digging at the powerful things. Right now making dances for the sake of it just doesn’t do it for me. Cue crisis? Maybe, maybe not.
I’m taking a step at a time, seeing how way leads on to way. Patiently filling my curiosity buckets. Living life creatively. Balloons in my living room, flashcards on the floor.
I’m going to trust that following the things that make life brilliant will make my creative experiences much more satisfying than trying to keep up appearances of being good at art-making.
And way will lead on to interesting way.
Though I sometimes I’m scared and wish I had a definite map. With Numbers. And Directions.