a little soul-searching

I was doing my morning cruise through Facebook and came across a lovely interview with my old buddy Kelly Bjork. Kelly and I went to the same high school, but at that time we didn’t speak much. It wasn’t until university where we both became art majors that we began to get to know each other. During art school, Kelly has always been an inspiration, and we even became art collaborators for a short time. We made images and did performance art work together, and it was a blast.

Kelly has been thriving in the Seattle art scene and I am so happy and proud of her (please check out her website and blog). Together with her live-in artist boo she even runs a very interesting gallery space called Two Shelves out of her own apartment. I haven’t had the pleasure of visiting her apartment-as-gallery, but it looks pretty awesome.

Seeing Kelly’s interview stirred up a lot of feelings in me. Her drawings have always given me a sense of nostalgia, as though they are all old friends I’m seeing after a long time apart. They are familiar somehow, and also light and carefree in a way that brings me a lot of joy just viewing them. The heart of Kelly’s work, I think, is about finding the good in the object or subject she draws and then letting the viewer discover it both for and within themselves.

If I am being honest though, once I got past all those good feelings, I also found just a little bit of jealousy too. Seeing her, and some other fellow art schoolmates of mine, being so artistically prolific and passionate makes me feel as though it exposes the artistic gap in my own life. Where did all the art go? Why aren’t I making things? Can I even call myself an artist anymore? Those questions lead to other, heavier, more stressful questions too. If I am not an artist anymore, what am I? Can I really call myself a teacher? When I go back to the States, how am I going to make a living? Do I really want to be a teacher forever?  Why did I waste so much time and money getting an art degree if I am not going to use it? What do I want to do for the rest of my life? And eventually, the dreaded: Who am I really?

It is becoming harder and harder for me to slow down that negative thought process these days, and today in particular its feels heavy and overwhelming. Is that because it’s rainy season, or because I just started my period, or am I just becoming an insufferable worrier? I am really not sure. Regardless of why, I want to try to break it all down and bring it into the light, so here are those same thoughts from a more positive perspective:

  1. A lot of your anxiety stems from the fact that you care far too much about comparing yourself to others and about what others think about you. You need to stop using other people as a measuring stick for your success. Comparisons are neither practical nor realistic.
  2. All artists aren’t created equal. Some people go the whole nine yards and make art their career. Some people don’t. And the people who don’t are allowed to have fulfilling art-making and -viewing experiences too. The word “artist” is inclusive, not exclusive.
  3. The people who are making art their career are able to do so because they are earning it. Their successes aren’t casual and they aren’t easy. You shouldn’t discredit their hardwork by assuming that if you just decided to -poof- you could make art your career too. Deciding is merely the first step in a long and bumpy road.
  4. Decisions are important, but you don’t need to decide EVERYTHING right this second. For some people careers and passions aren’t made until much later in life, and that may be a little scary but it’s still okay. Rather than trying to make big, sweeping decisions that you’ll probably either regret or end up not truly committing to anyway, try making small decisions that have potential to blossom and naturally make room for more opportunities. For example, if you’re not sure if you’re an artist anymore, why not, well, decide to draw or paint something? And if it feels good, do it again, and again, and then see what happens? And if it doesn’t feel good, ask yourself what does and do that instead. Remember, this doesn’t have to be agonizing. Just open yourself up and see what’s there.
  5.  Right now you are traveling, seeing beautiful (and some ugly) places, and soaking up each places’ unique history. You are meeting new people and learning about how to communicate across cultures and ages and beyond languages. You are gaining perspective on who you are as an American, a Pacific Islander, a mixed race individual, a minority, a family member, a wife, a woman, an English speaker, a teacher, and a student. The list goes on. Don’t forget that all of these experiences are valuable and applicable. Whatever happens, these experiences are going to help you become a better, more wordly version of yourself.
  6. Recognize and appreciate all of the wonderful things you have in your life now. You have a lot to be thankful for. Did you even read #5?! Uncertainty of the future should never diminish the goodness of the present.
  7. Don’t consider your uncertainty a curse when it has potential to be a blessing. If you don’t know what you want to do, it means everything is a possibility. Yeah, that terrifies you, but before your mind goes down the rabbithole of endless choices and has a panic attack, stop for a moment. It is more than likely that you aren’t going to have a choice at all, really. Everything in life is a result of the things we’ve said or done or felt in the past. Those things are who we are. So just keep being who you are, and by that I mean keep making those small decisions in your best interests that feel good and right and make you happy. Eventually your career, your passion, will find and choose you.

All right. Well, if you read all of that, I know most of it was specific to myself… but I hope you could apply some small pieces to your own life. Even though I haven’t totally gotten over myself, I do feel a lot better because I wrote this post.

Before I sign off, I want to give a big shoutout to people like my friend Kelly who force me to think deeply and thoughtfully about art, about myself, and about my relationship to art. I also want to share my respect for their commitment to their career and craft. You inspire and motivate me. Thank you.


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