Conception, my boy, fundamental brain work, is what makes all the difference in art. –Dante Gabriel Rossetti
As someone who loves color, I was majorly disappointed when I walked into my first oil painting class and was told we would spend the first two weeks painting only in black and white. I had just bought all these exciting new colors, actual artist quality colors, not just cheap grocery store paint. Even their names were beautiful: viridian green, cadmium red light, phthalo blue, ultramarine blue, madder lake deep, quinacridone gold, dioxazine purple. My inner painter loved the color and my geeky brain loved the chemistry, and I couldn’t wait to get started.
But not those first two weeks. Those first two weeks, I was stuck with titanium white and mars black.
Of course, my professor knew exactly what he was doing. By the end of those two weeks we all made leaps and bounds, we were much better prepared to enter the world of color, and I found I really loved painting in black and white.
This is what working in black and white does for you:
It helps you see values as they actually are. When you have a reference photo that’s in full color, it can be hard to tell which areas are lighter and which are darker. We have natural biases about color value; we assume that cool colors are darker than warm colors, we assume that if colors are the same intensity they’ll be about the same value, we assume ares of the same color will have the same value, and so on. Take this parrot for example. Just looking at the colored image, I might assume that the entire red area was basically one value, or I might assume that the white eye area was lighter than the yellow feathers. But looking at the black and white image, it becomes easy to see the shadows in the red feathers, and it’s clear that the eye area and the light feathers are in the same range. Even if you intend to work in color, reverting an image to black and white helps you compare value easily.
It moves much faster. Color is complicated. You have to constantly mix up new colors, clean out your brushes, clean out your water cup, dig through your pile of colored pencils for the right one. Working in gray-scale, you don’t have to deal with any of that, so you can bust out pieces in a third of the time.
It removes distractions so you can focus on form. Remember these balls and cubes that we all had to draw at one point? It shows how light and shadow form around objects, and it is very obvious in black and white images. It’s just simpler: pure light is white, deepest shadow is black, things with light on them are lighter gray and things with less light are darker gray. The end. This helps you see the form of what you’re drawing, and also helps it read easier to others looking at your work. Everyone wins!
It improves your ability to work with colors. This seems backward, but it works. You can see values better, work faster, learn how to show form and patterns of light, and master the basics without worrying. One you have that down, adding color is much less daunting. Even if you’re a skilled color artist, working in black and white helps you remember those fundamentals.
I recently rediscovered my enjoyment of working in only black and white, and plan to do it much more often, especially now that my life is getting busier.
Is there anything you initially hated about learning your craft, but now use regularly? I’d love to hear your stories!
I’m an avid devourer of young adult/teen fiction, partly because I recently exited that age demographic and mostly because that’s the target demographic for my work in progress. I’ve read a bunch of these, from popular series to the obscure ones found only in the back of the library or on my parents’ bookshelf, and I’ve noticed a trend.
There is almost always a bully, and they are almost always completely terrible.
I don’t mean terrible person–I mean terrible character. Unrealistic, oversimplified, predictable, and stupidly cliche.
You probably know what I’m talking about. The protagonist is the unpopular loner kid, and the bully is nothing but a ball of cliches with the IQ of a seven-year-old. They are rich, spoiled, entitled, and have brainless loyal cronies backing them up. They chant, they sneer, they steal desserts, they stuff people in toilets and garbage cans. This bully hates the protagonist, for reasons that are usually not even explained, and is fervently committed to to torturing them in particular. The bystanders look on in fear, or better yet, snigger in appreciation. This bully is the very epitome of basic and nasty, and there is really just no good explanation for why they are like this.
I hate this trope because it just doesn’t happen like that in real life. Not all rich kids are automatically rude jerks. Most bullies don’t simply call someone stupid and steal their lunch, and most have complicated motivations and life stories. Especially at high school age, most onlookers will be more indifferent than fearful, and I have never once heard any of them actually snigger. (Seriously, no one sniggers.)
Yes, horrible nasty bullying does exist in the world, especially in schools–but not like this. Real bullies usually aren’t so flat and cheap; there is a whole spectrum of attitudes and methods that teenagers employ to hurt each other. There are the fake friends, the two-faced, the sarcastic, the ignorers, the false victims, the fierce competitors, the subtle excluders, the pranksters, the violent, the passive-aggressive … the list goes on, yet most of these novels use only the most basic and obvious and juvenile.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not just bashing on YA writers. I read their work all the time, and I really do love these books. That’s why these bully characters are so disappointing to me. I’ll open a book with a fun premise, good protagonist, witty humor, great writing, and then bam–the stereotypical bully materializes.
And I get it. As a writer you don’t want to spend tons of time creating a fantastic bully character. They aren’t all that important and only exist to serve a few purposes: provide some minor initial conflict, make the protagonist more sympathetic, and be horrible enough that the protagonist seems better by contrast. The tacky trope bully accomplishes these purposes, so what’s the issue?
Here are the issues.
It makes the story less believable. I’m sorry, but as soon as a sixteen-year-old starts sniggering and calling someone a pathetic loser, it breaks the suspension of disbelief for me. Real people don’t act like that. They’ll be rude, but not stupid. Even if some real people do act like that, it’s become so overused that it feels fake regardless.
It’s boring.So many YA novels have this character that it’s not anywhere near original anymore. You can see this bully coming from a chapter away and probably find their exact dialogue in the novel you wrote at age eleven. “You’re an idiot!” (yawn) “You don’t have any friends!” (sigh) We’ve all read that before, countless times. Give us something new! There are so many more creative ways to give your character some interpersonal conflict, even so many more interesting and meaningful ways to show bullying.
It’s not helpful for real kids who are being bullied. This is perhaps the most important issue. A lot of kids read these novels right at the age that is the peak of both bullying and insecurity. And what do they see? They see bullying as a flat caricature, and the bully is usually defeated by being publicly humiliated or taken down by someone’s magical powers. Neither of those are positive or realistic solutions.
Really, it isn’t hard to get past these stereotypes. Think back to your own teenage days. You must have had a petty classmate, a friend who talked about you behind your back, a friend who didn’t realize how self-centered they were acting, a friend who expected too much of you. Even look around you now for a coworker who won’t give you credit for your work or a passive-aggressive manager or anyone who makes your life harder than it has to be. Real life is full of complex and diverse examples of interpersonal conflict, all of which can serve the purpose of the cliche bully without all the problems.
Be sure to taste your words before you spit them out.
Around the time Moana first hit theaters, Disney released a costume so kids could dress up as the character Maui, a Polynesian demigod. This costume was essentially a brown jumpsuit patterned like the character’s tattoos, and the internet exploded. The costume was seen as cultural appropriation, insensitive, and disrespectful to Polynesians, and was quickly pulled.
A few months later while I was living in Hawaii, my mom and I were helping manage and entertain a group of young children at a church function. A native Hawaiian girl looked up with a huge grin and happily informed us she was going to be Elsa from Frozen for Halloween. My mom thought this was adorable, and later told me she thinks a lot of “cultural appropriation” is just people overreacting. There’s nothing harmful about a little girl dressing up as a princess, right?
Cultural sensitivity has become a huge topic of discussion in the past decades, and usually comes up in occasions like the infamous Maui costume. The internet will temporarily ignite with impassioned speeches bashing on the offender and annoyed retorts claiming it was harmless. If you look past the surface of inflamed Twitter debates, there is a deeply interesting issue here, one that is definitely worth discussing.
Cambridge Dictionary defines cultural appropriation as “the act of of taking or using things from a culture that is not your own, especially without showing that you understand or respect this culture.” It applies to everything from clothing, to hairstyles, to music, to symbols, and to patterns of speech, and refers to cultures that are geographical, political, racial, ethnic, social, or religious. It’s easy to see why this can be offensive. No one wants to see their identity turned into mass consumer products, Halloween costumes, Pinterest trends, or a standing joke.
As one tumblr user expressed, cultural appropriation is like working all semester on a project and getting an F, and then having someone copy you and get full credit.
On the other hand, there is certainly nothing wrong with appreciating, enjoying, and being exposed to other cultures. Things like learning their languages, listening to their music, and trying their food aren’t inherently negative. The Urban Dictionary defines cultural appropriation as “the idiotic conflation of culture with racism; essentially the absurd belief that the cultural exchange that has served to enrich humanity throughout all of human history is wrong because racists exist.”
As another tumblr user expressed, “I’m tired of people whining about cultural appropriation. I’m flattered that you find something in my culture beautiful.”
So where is the disconnect? You will find determined people on both sides of this debate, and they usually won’t listen to each other or even say their opponent has no right to even weigh in on the matter if they aren’t a minority.
It all comes down to the last part of the Cambridge definition: showing that you understand and respect this culture.
There is a key difference between dressing up as Maui and dressing up as Elsa (and it’s not just that Elsa is white). Frozen was never intended to represent a culture. It seems to be inspired by Scandinavian countries, but not much more than Tangled is inspired by Germany. It has all the look of a standard Disney princess movie, with simple outfits that could be easily made into costumes for additional profit. Just look at it–it was clearly made to be marketable and sell millions of products (which it has). We’ve all seen remakes of Elsa’s iconic dress.
In the production of Moana, however, being historically accurate and culturally appropriate were a high priority. The crew traveled to the Pacific Islands and did everything in their power to make the clothing, tattoos, structures, food, landscape, and dancing as accurate as possible. Take Moana’s dress. It was created to look like it was made of tapa cloth and pandanus, nothing that couldn’t be found on the island. Maui himself, while perhaps being the most visually iconic, is also the least able to be turned into cheap products. He isn’t visually defined as just a dress that we can easily duplicate; his most defining characteristics (his hook and his tattoos) are also defining characteristics of Polynesian history. His tattoos aren’t just aesthetic. Polynesian tattoos are symbolic of family, history, societal rank, religion, and warfare: so someone from outside of the culture with no understanding of it covering themselves in fake Polynesian tattoos is at the very least a little bit weird, if not entirely offensive.
A Hawaiian girl dressing up as Elsa is harmless, because Elsa was never meant to represent a culture. A white boy dressing up in the aforementioned Maui costume is less harmless, because Maui was made to be a reflection of culture and his appearance contains several elements of cultural significance. Dressing up as Maui is essentially dressing up as a culture–treating a culture as a costume.
I think the bottom line is respect. Using pieces of a culture that isn’t your own isn’t inherently harmful; it becomes harmful when you treat it like a fad, claim it as yours, don’t give credit, and most importantly, don’t respect the culture it came from.
I’m certainly not an authority on this, and I’d love to have a productive conversation in the comments.
Big thanks to Baroque Myriam for nominating me for this award! Check out her blog here, she writes about her life as a college student and her blog is one of my new favorites 🙂
For those who don’t know, “liebster” is a German word that means beloved, darling, or sweetheart. The Liebster Award is essentially a mechanism for bloggers to recognize and get to know each other, especially new bloggers. It’s like speed dating but without the awkwardness 🙂 There are a few variations of the rules, but here is the general idea:
Acknowledge/thank the blog that nominated you.
Answer the 11 questions they gave you.
Give 11 random facts about yourself.
Nominate other blogs and notify them.
Give your nominees 11 questions to answer.
Baroque Myriam’s Questions:
Would you rather watch a movie or read a book? Read a book, I like imagining characters for myself
Favorite place in the world to visit? Grandparents’ houses
If you could use anything, how would you decorate your house, like what style? I don’t have a particular style, but I enjoy clean lines, open space, and lots of color
Favorite place you went on vacation ever? Birmingham, Alabama (National Speech and Debate Competition)
Why did you start your blog? I wanted to connect with other writers, artists, and people like me. I also wanted a space to spend more time writing and express all the thoughts running around my head.
If you started your own business, what would it be? I would love to have a business selling artwork and doing commissions.
Glasses or contact lenses? Glasses, though I don’t wear them as often as I should
When did you get your first job? I got my first official job as a lifeguard when I was fifteen.
Favorite kind of shoe? All-Star Converse, and flip-flops
Coffee or tea? Hot chocolate 🙂
What’s your goal in life? I have so many, but my main goals are to be a positive influence wherever I am and to find deeper understanding.
11 Random Facts About Me:
I hate ketchup.
I’m still working on a book series I started when I was eleven.
I’m a certified swim instructor.
I can argue any subject for hours on end.
I make really good pizza.
I have a deep love for peanut butter.
I was in marching band in high school.
I’m really good at setting up cute planners but really bad at consistently using them.
I’m usually the resident first aid person in any group.
I love complicated board games.
I have an extremely powerful sense of smell.
My 11 Questions:
What is the funnest thing you did this summer?
What was your favorite childhood toy?
If you could live in a different time period, which would you choose?
What career would you hate the most?
What hobby would you start if time and money were no issue?
What is your biggest pet peeve?
Where in the world would you most like to live?
What do you do to feel better after a bad day?
What popular trend do you dislike?
If all jobs had the same pay and hours, what would your dream job be?
What are you most looking forward to in the next few years?
I wasn’t sure what to do for this one. I’m a new blogger and only know a small number of other bloggers, most of them have already been recently nominated, and I’m not sure some of them would want to be.
So I’ll keep it simple. If you read my blog and haven’t yet received a Liebster Award, consider yourself nominated!
I’m looking forward to seeing everyone’s answers and getting to know all of you better 🙂
The great thing about new friends is that they bring new energy to your soul. –Shanna Rodriguez
You’ve heard of method actors? I have a coworker who calls himself a method writer. He tries to put himself through the same experiences his characters go through, all so that he will better know how to write it.
For example, he’s currently working on a short story about an awkward guy going on a date with a girl he considers to be out of his league. So he signs up for several dating apps, starts chatting, and sets up no less than seven blind dates for the weekend to get a better feel for awkward first date vibes. He recently wrote a different story where a character is completely isolated, so he spent a day locked inside his apartment not using his phone or computer to force his mind into that lonely place.
Of course, he draws the line at serious personal harm (though he draws it a little closer than I would think to). He won’t jump into oncoming traffic, but he will stand right by the road and go on thrill rides and jump into canals.
Many of our fellow coworkers probably think he’s nuts, but I think his insanity borders on genius.
Most writers make efforts to understand what they write about. We’ll travel to the places we want our stories set in so we can find fun details, observe the locals, and get a feel for the area. We’ll spend hours on the internet looking up plausible animal species, how the body reacts to trauma, legal system details, and all sorts of things that can get us flagged as creepy stalker criminals (or is that just me?). Beyond that, we use pieces of our own lives in our writing.
It all comes down to a simple truth: we write better when we write what we know. If I’ve never been to Spain, I’ll get it all wrong if I write a scene based there. If I’ve never had an eating disorder or known someone who has, my attempt at writing a character with one will probably feel fake and contrived. Of course it’s great to push your limits as a writer, and part of the magic of writing is exploring things you otherwise couldn’t. But everything we write is at least based in our own reality.
Method writing capitalizes on this. It’s the same idea as researching locations or pulling inspiration from everyday life, just far more literal and deliberate. Instead of just mentally projecting yourself into the narrative, you literally live out the narrative. My coworker does it to really know how something feels and how real people react. It clearly works for him, because he’s still an undergrad and already has an editor publishing his stories.
Personally I love this idea, and I’ve already started trying it out. Here’s what I’ve found so far while using method writing:
It’s much easier to express real human emotions. Often when I try to write emotional scenes or just describe emotions of everyday life, my writing feels flat and fake (I guess I’m too much of a cold-hearted logician). Once I experience something for myself, I know it exactly how it feels. My writing is authentic and no longer sounds like it’s trying too hard.
It’s much easier to avoid cliches. I think most writers use cliches by default, almost without thinking, just because they’re easy and we’re used to them. But life isn’t made of cliches: most people’s eyes don’t look like the sparkling sea, tears don’t actually roll down cheeks, and moonlight doesn’t usually bathe anything. A method writer has real-life experience with just about everything in their story, so they don’t need these overused phrases as a thoughtless fallback. I can avoid cliches and overused phrases because I don’t need to draw from any other writing or experience than my own.
It makes your writing more unique and memorable. This happens partly because of the stronger emotions, and partly because of your unique life experience. Take my coworker for example. He didn’t end up writing a generically awkward first date with a generic awkward guy and generic flashy girl. He combined the funnest quirks and memorable moments from all of his seven blind dates, and created a completely unexpected but delightful scene. When you do something for yourself, you’ll find details and turns of events you never would have thought of before, and all of that can improve your story.
It is incredibly fun. Method writing brings your writing to life, literally. You get to keep working on your story even while away from your computer or notebook, and you get to try things and expose yourself to new experiences and put yourself in your characters’ shoes.
I’m definitely going to keep using this idea, and one day I’ll call myself a method writer too.
Either write something worth reading or do something worth writing. –Benjamin Franklin
Some people dream of success, while other people get up every morning and make it happen. –Wayne Huizenga
I’ve tried to become a morning person countless times, and every time I’ve failed.
Sometimes I get all inspired and actually wake up with my alarm. The world is still asleep, the sky is that pale fragile blue, a faint chill lingers in the air, and only the birds interrupt the peaceful silence. My mind is wide open. Writing is quicker and higher quality, cleaning is suddenly no longer a chore, and I can think of a million things I want to create and accomplish and do with my life. In those early hours I haven’t yet sunk into the everyday hustle and the world feels wide open.
I’ll do this for a few mornings and then inevitably I’ll have a late shift, a hard workout, or stay up working on projects into the unholy hours, and there is nothing I hate more than that alarm in the early morning. My body feels welded to the sheets and my brain is irrationally upset and the last thing I want to do is wake up and face life. I’ll snooze the alarm several times, try to go back to sleep, fail to go back to sleep, scroll through Instagram … and then suddenly realize that I’ve laid like a wasted slug through those magical morning hours. And the worst part is, even after extra sleep, I’m still tired.
Thus I fall right back down the slippery slope. I’m tired and try to sleep in but can’t, which leaves me more tired, which makes me even less likely to wake up early, which means I waste time and have to stay up later, which leaves me more tired.
I recently read an article called “The Miracle of Mornings: Attempting Six Impossible Things Before Breakfast” (full article linked below). The author, a self proclaimed long proponent of early mornings, writes about the magic of the early hours “before the masses rouse to distract and interrupt, siphoning off our willpower and attention.” She enjoys going to stores right when they open and going for a run right after getting out of bed. On vacation, she loves seeing the sights before the crowds converge and the heat of the day beats down. She says, “When you rise early, you take the day on your own terms. You commandeer the sun, pulling dawn into morning like the Greek god Helios. Or like the very mortal people that we are, we greet each day like the miracle that it is, another day of bison and bread, fish and bridges, all best seen on foot by the morning light.”
The artist in me loves the poetry of quotes like that. I love the beauty of the morning, the peaceful sounds, soft colors, dewy grass. I love the whole morning person aesthetic. I love the way my imagination hasn’t taken a back seat yet, and I feel strokes of pure inspiration. Some artists work into the night, but my artist brain flourishes in the morning.
My logical side loves mornings for their practical function. I love working without distractions from people and work. I’m always more productive in the morning, and grow lazier and lazier as the day goes on (which is why it’s such a problem for me when I start the day lazy). Mornings are perfect for all those things I know I won’t do if I put them off until later, like journalling and scripture study and exercise, and all those things I might not have time for later, like writing. All the studies and articles I’ve read indicate that waking up consistently early is good for your sleep cycle, self-esteem, health, and even brain function. Logically, waking up early makes so much sense.
Overall I think my desire to become a morning person arises from a deeper desire to have a productive life. I may hit the snooze button several times on my weaker days, but ultimately I keep setting it at night. I don’t want to sleep my life away, literally or metaphorically; I want to wake up and live at the top of my lungs.
Are you a morning person, or have you ever tried to become one? What helps you get up in the morning?
The best way to make your dreams come true is to wake up. –Paul Valery
“The Miracle of Mornings: Attempting Six Impossible Things Before Breakfast”
Sometimes messy is the necessary beginning to the making of extraordinary. –Michele Cushatt
If you’re anything like me, you hate wasting art supplies. They can be so expensive, and it’s sad to see all that potential artwork just washed down the drain or tossed in the trash. I always run into this problem with my oil paints (my most expensive medium). A few nights ago I had extra blobs of almost every color left on my palette, and being the cheapskate I am, I decided I had to find a purpose for it. Thus I invented one of my new favorite painting practices.
I’m calling it sloppy copy:
Finish a painting using your normal process.
Using whatever paint is left on your palette, paint the same thing again as fast as you possibly can. The goal of this second painting is to be quick, messy, and rough while still conveying the general idea of the original.
The purpose of this exercise is threefold. First, it lets you experiment without being afraid of messing up your beautiful artwork. The pressure is off and the paint will be wasted anyway, so you’re free to push the chroma, play with thick textures, and try anything you thought of doing in the first painting but decided against. Second, it helps you loosen up your style. There’s no time to nit-pick and try to perfect everything to photo-realism, so you’re forced into a more impressionistic feel. (Even if you don’t want your work to have that look, it still has value as a training exercise; more on this in a post coming soon). Third, it trains you to be a faster painter. You already did all the work with the original painting, so you can achieve the general idea in a fraction of the time. Since you’re pushing yourself to go fast, you learn to make each brushstroke purposeful and accomplish more with less.
A few tips to make this process easier and more effective:
Keep it small. I used 5″x7″ and that felt about right. Small is perfect for this because it is faster and the canvas/paper/board is cheaper. If you do want to sloppy copy a larger painting, just make the copy smaller (ex. copy a 18″x24″ onto a 5″x7″ and fudge the proportions a little).
Keep it fairly simple. Something complicated like, say, a chandelier, would be extremely difficult to reproduce quickly. Of course, if it’s too simple then the recreation will be too easy. You want to find the happy medium with enough detail to interest you but enough simplicity not to frustrate you. (A still life would be great for this exercise.)
Set a timer, or at least take note of when you start and finish. Try to finish the sloppy copy in a third of the time it took you to complete the original, or less.
Show both copies to a friend and ask for their opinion, what they like in each one, and which they think is better. They don’t have to be an artist in any way; I think non-artistic friends have the most valuable feedback because they’ll have a totally different and honest perspective.
Here’s a side by side comparison, with the original painting on the left and the sloppy copy on the right.
The first painting is smoother, more dimensional, more subdued, and more predictable. I had plenty of time to obsess over the details, mix up all the colors I wanted, and layer over any areas I didn’t like.
The second has rougher textures, a flatter feel, and plenty of raw colors straight from the tube. I was trying to use of paint, so I didn’t hesitate to lay it down thick and let the colors be bold. (I realize that compared to many paintings out there this “sloppy copy” really isn’t very sloppy or rough, but it is for me compared to how I usually paint.)
Here’s what I’ve learned from this exercise so far:
I’m a very nit-picky and literal painter when I give myself time to be. Comparing the original to the fast version, it looks pretty predictable and almost boring. I worked on the details almost to the point of overworking the paint because I was trying to exactly duplicate my reference images. This was good for me because I was forced to relax. If you also struggle with being to rigid and obsessive when you paint, I highly recommend giving this a try.
Colors straight from the tube are fun and bold, but too many can ruin a painting. The fast version is definitely more colorful, but since everything is chromatic and nothing is very subdued, it comes out almost like a coloring book. I want to try to push colors more in the future but be careful not to go crazy with them.
I actually like the look of a little texture. Usually I’m very careful to “cover my tracks” and not leave behind any rough, ugly brushstrokes, but the original painting almost looks too smooth. It drove me nuts to leave thick paint chunks, but they really don’t look as thick and rough from a distance.
Overall, I loved this exercise. I still prefer the original painting, but there are aspects of the sloppy copy that I also love and want to try to implement in the future. And of course, it was great to save that paint from going to waste 🙂
While scrolling through my Facebook feed the other day, I came across an article that pulled my attention (full article linked below).
It was titled, “I Was ‘The Girl Who Travels’, and I Regretted It.”
Initially this pulled my interest because “the girl who travels” is a very clear stereotype of my generation, the late millenials. It’s the girl who fills her Instagram with wanderlust quotes, considers herself a photographer whether she has training or not, fills everyone’s feed with travel pictures from around the globe, probably owns a vintage/recycled/hand-woven backpack, and actively blogs or journals all of her adventures. Her bank account can somehow handle all of this, her schooling is put on hold, her career is ambiguous, and her older relatives are just left to wonder.
I’ve met a few people who travel like this, and during my time living in Hawaii, I met countless girls who aspired to be this person. They were always planning time to surf and visit food trucks and explore illegal hiking trails, planning vacations to all over the map, saying things like “I want to see the world and expand my horizons” and “not all who wander are lost.”
In the article, the “girl who travels” stated that through all her years of travelling through various impoverished countries, the “most defining characteristic of that persona was my privilege.” I was a little taken aback by that statement. I had expected this article to say she regretted her travels because of the financial strain, or because she had to postpone her degree or her career, or because she was far from family. She did mention those factors later on, but the first issue she brought up was her privilege.
Privilege is such a buzz word that I’m going to proceed with caution, but I’m also going to be honest. My reaction to this article came from a place of privilege. I’m a white girl living in a first world country with stable finances, and my first reaction to a life of travel was being far from family, delaying school and work, and not having the funds. This girl had parents who were wealthy enough to continually bail her out of trouble, pay for college and housing, and let her stay with them in between trips, and she didn’t see this as privilege initially.
In her words, “Of course they would bail me out, I was their daughter. Of course I could go live there, it was financially-smart. Of course they paid for all my college and related expenses, that’s what they saved the money for. And most of the people I met while traveling and living that life came from similar backgrounds, so my level of privilege seemed normal in comparison, even low.” When that type of lifestyle is all you know, it doesn’t feel like privilege. It just feels normal. But after her years of living as a nomad, she started to see the issues it created.
She was a burden on her parents–not that they couldn’t handle the costs, but they shouldn’t have needed to handle them as often as they did for as long as they did. She never did the work to stay anywhere more than a few months, so she never grew into the community or built a career or helped the area she was visiting. She said, “I also think that the benefits I got from a lot of my experiences are in some ways outweighed by the fact that it allowed me to live a more prolonged adolescence, emotionally and financially. I wasn’t growing into the person I needed to be.”
The issue I thought was most interesting was that she said she was living in a “bubble.” She traveled with other people like her, from well-off first world families, who all wanted to be photographers or novelists. Even while in diverse places with horrible economic conditions, this circle of travelers had their flawless Instagrams. All her stays were temporary, so she never felt like she had to deal with the stress of making big mistakes, and she always had her parents as her financial safety net.
Looking back, many of the people I knew in Hawaii were the same way, including myself. In the dorms I stayed in there were tons of white freshmen girls from the mainland. They all wanted to see the world and have a diverse experience, yet they went about it by spending all their time with other white freshmen girls from the mainland who were exactly like them. They mostly saw the island through their phone camera filters, and while they saw much more than the tourists who stayed in Honolulu, they didn’t see the North Shore as intimately or thoroughly as the locals did. They were technically there for college, but really they came to relax in an island paradise and be a long term quasi-tourist. They didn’t see Hawaii like the ancient Hawaiians did, or as the modern Hawaiians do, or even as the modern locals do. They lived out their time in Hawaii mostly in a bubble.
In a lot of ways, I was just like “the girl who travels.” I came to Hawaii for school because I thought it would be wonderful and exciting to get a degree in paradise. My roommate was a white girl from the state next to mine, and my parents always had my back financially. I didn’t set out to integrate myself into the local society because I knew I would be leaving soon.
Now, I wasn’t completely closed off. Over half the staff at my job were Asian and Polynesian, and I talked with them a great deal. I always saw locals in the grocery store and on the beaches, and I talked to them as well. I lived in the climate, walked through the torrential rains of February, walked the small dirty beaches as well as the nice ones, took a few classes that taught me more about the culture, sat by people of all races during class, and was usually the only white mainland kid in the group when we did group assignments. I was able to catch a glimpse of so many cultures, especially native Hawaiian. But I definitely let myself live inside a bubble, and there were definitely times I caught myself “playing tourist” even on my own campus.
I think most of us live as “the girl who travels” a lot more than we realize, and in more ways than one. When we see cultures that are starkly different from our own, we are generally interested from a distance, but it rarely changes our lives. We’ll get a temporary low wage job to help pay the bills, and we don’t put in a ton of effort because, well, we don’t want it forever and don’t let it become part of our self-identity. We’ll slack off at the end of the school year because we’ve lost our enthusiasm and it’s almost over. We’ll sit with the same people at the same table during every lunch break, yet consider ourselves daring and open-minded just because we wore a brightly colored pair of pants. When we travel for vacations we aren’t looking for anything permanent; we just want to relax, have fun, see something exotic, hang out with only our closest friends. That’s all fine and good for vacations, but it can be a problem when it leaks over into the rest of our lives.
Call it what you will, entitlement, laziness, or just being a millennial, the “girl who travels” mindset isn’t a meaningful way to live. It prevents us from forming deep and lasting relationships with new people. It can hold us back from big opportunities that require commitment and hard work. Like the author of the article I read, it can keep us stuck in a state of perpetual adolescence, living for the moment of temporary pleasure, avoiding big risks, and not taking full responsibility for our own success. Frankly, it’s a waste of our privilege.
Instead, let’s be fully present wherever we are. Let’s expand our horizons, not just by visiting new places but by connecting with new people, experiencing new ways of life, hearing new perspectives. Let’s step outside of our bubble of comfort and self-service, and instead use what we’ve been given to improve the world.
The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes. –Marcel Proust
I haven’t blogged for almost two weeks, and I’ve been left with a strange combination of guilt and defiance. The guilt comes because I let myself down, because I haven’t been working on my writing, and because I chose to take this hiatus right at the moment I gained more followers who probably didn’t expect me to vanish after I’d been posting every few days. The defiance comes because I shouldn’t have to feel guilty for being human, and part of me is so very stubborn that I’ll fight doing something as soon as it becomes a chore to be checked off.
During this short off time I still read from other blogs and various internet articles, and it struck me that I hear similar things from creative people everywhere. My dad hated piano lessons when he was a kid, and only became a great and enthusiastic player after he was allowed to quit formal lessons. I’ve known people who love baking and wish they could make it a full time job, but those few who seriously tried it grew overwhelmed, felt artistically constrained, and quickly learned that they liked baking much more when it wasn’t their job. I’ve seen countless YouTube and Facebook rants about artists being offended when people ask them to create art for free, or for ridiculously cheap, or in an unreasonable amount of time. One Quora user expressed that she loved making cupcakes to bring to her work parties, but once an annoying new colleague expected her to make some for his birthday, not even asking or offering payment, she abruptly stopped. In her words, “It sucks when you do something because you enjoy it and want to share it with others, and people start expecting you to do it.” (Full story linked below.)
I’m the same way. I love painting, writing, crafting, playing music, cooking, and several other things. But every time I’ve tried to put myself on a schedule, it falls apart. I think it’s that stubborn voice inside of me; I tell myself I have to write for thirty minutes each day, and immediately it becomes something I want to procrastinate. Writing shouldn’t be a chore, I cry! I’m a creative artist, not a robot! I write because I want to, not because anyone tells me to! *shakes fists aggressively*
I realize that this is a teeny bit ridiculous, but sometimes I do it anyway.
I was the same in my art classes in college for the last few semesters. I loved working on the big projects when we were allowed to chose our own subject matter. It was easy to get inspired and work for hours when I was drawing something I loved and knew I had plenty of time. But often I’d get irritated by the more technical exercises, such as drawing ten noses from different angles or painting the random ugly shop tools our professor dug out of his office. Logically I knew it was good for me, but they felt like a drag, and I didn’t feel like I was making anything beautiful or meaningful. I wanted to create art that mattered to me and had some satisfying payoff. I wanted to feel like an artist, not a photocopy machine.
Thus my artistic cycle continues. I get inspired and start working on projects, I start to feel imposed on by other people’s expectations or my own, I put things off, I lose my drive, and drop off until I get a new spurt of inspiration. Sound familiar?
But again, this is a teeny bit ridiculous. We love what we do, remember? If we didn’t, we would have quit as soon as started feeling like a drag. We’re always telling ourselves to pursue our passions and not care so much what other people expect. Why don’t we take our own advice?
The truth is, sometimes being a serious creator will feel like a drag. Every profession feels like a drag sometimes, when you have to push through the boring paperwork or mindless daily tasks or repetitive projects. People will develop their own expectations and expect you to rise to them, and you’ll have to live by a schedule and not only create when you feel that burst of inspiration. That’s just a fact of having a job. But the rare and wonderful thing about creating is that even in the drag, you’re still making something beautiful, and you can push through for those moments of true inspiration.
I’m preparing to start a new semester of college, and I know that it’ll be really tempting to put my writing and painting on the back burner. That’s probably where they should be while I’m in school, but I don’t want to let them fall off the map entirely. I’m publicly committing that I will make time to be creative and work on my projects at least once a week. I would say every day but that honestly isn’t realistic with my class load, and I don’t want to set goals that I can’t keep.
Does creating ever feel like a chore to you? What helps you find your inspiration again?