I was talking with some mothers I hadn’t seen in ages, due to the pandemic and because none of us live in the same state. We were enjoying the pleasures of in person engagement while sitting together at an open-air food court. Of course, we talked a lot about our teen age kids. I’ve known one of these women since our kids bonded in preschool, we’ve done this journey together.
As we were catching up, I was having a bit of that what is wrong with kids today feeling. I am never sure if this is because kids have changed or because I am older and in the stage of life where I would feel this no matter what kids were doing. It’s just that at some point in life you start to be old enough that young people freak you out. It’s really hard to know if it’s your fault or their fault.
I am telling myself that it is my fault and not to indulge this impulse. I see it all around me and I don’t like it. I think it’s the first slip on the downward slope to curmudgeonville. For the love of all that’s good in the world, don’t let me end up there! I’d rather die young. Too late for that but you get what I am saying.
Watching my child become an adult feels so intense, like the most challenging experience of my life. But is it? Or does everything feel like that because everything is always in the now and the now always feels more intense than the future or the past?
I suspect the later. It’s all intense and challenging all the time. It was intense and challenging when I was young. It’s intense and challenging now. I think worrying about young people being different than they used to be is wrong. The difference in perception is more attributable to different developmental stages then different cultural moments. We freaked our parents out and now it’s our turn to be freaked.
But being freaked out is a choice, it’s a reaction we could adjust. I am mostly freaked out because I want to know my kid will be ok like I am ok. I want to sort of bypass all the decades of learning from experience and know my kid will be where I am at. But that makes no sense. Do I want my kid to miss all that interesting stuff just so they can be worrying about their kids?
Worrying about other people is just a way to take the heat off of ourselves. Maybe I wouldn’t be so scared if everyone else was perfect. But I am the only thing I have control over and so I am going to assume I am the problem in the question that is the title of this essay. I am going to look for the good. There is plenty there.
What I have noticed is my kid is better when I am better. That could translate to, the young people are better when the older people are better. So, get your act together older people. The young people need us!
Because we are conscious beings we tend to think we chose what we do that we deem important, such as, I am out of half and half so I will put my body in my car and drive to Trader Joes. Yay me! But if my heart isn’t pumping blood the whole time, I will crash and never have another delicious cup of creamy coffee. I get credit for telling myself to haul ass to the grocery store but not for the more foundational decision to pump blood to the big ego organ in my skull.
Let me make a metaphorical comparison between the idea above and making art. We might think the genesis of art is in our heads. It might appear that way, especially if a beautiful idea comes out of nowhere. But the foundational part of art is experiential. It’s the doing it all the time and all the learning that comes from the constant doing. You can’t execute great ideas that come out of nowhere if you have no actual skills or pragmatic knowledge. These two things are not two things, they are not separate. It’s not like, learn than do. It’s like doing is the whole thing. Doing is the thing that allows ideas to pop into your head.
Here’s a sort of reverse example but with a twist. My brother, whom I adore and could easily spend five hours talking nonstop about everything interesting thing under the sun, doesn’t cook much. Briefly a few years ago he decided to cook more and to just make it all up out of his own head. So he calls me and said: I just invented sauce! He then proceeds to tell me how he made sauce from raw vegetables including carrots by putting them in a blender. Ok brother. That’s not sauce. That’s a smoothie. Most people prefer to drink your type of sauce directly out of a glass in the morning rather than slosh it on pasta in the evening. But you do you.
I applaud the impulse to play and experiment. If he is satisfied eating a textured carrot puddle on his penne, that’s awesome. He is one of the most creative and imaginative people I know. His form of doing is to act boldly and wildly and see what happens. It might not lead to a new food revolution, but it’s great to hang out with him because his just do it attitude makes adventure happen. His good ideas are more about the experience of the process, rather than the end result. He is a connoisseur of experimenting. He is committed to trying things, not to achieve a goal but to satisfy his curiosity. He can do this because he does it all the time. He doesn’t censor his creative urges and so they bloom and grow.
The point is, ideas are not one big thing, they are an accumulation of thousands of small things. If you are drawing, it’s every decision you make and every reason you make it; too close to the edge of the paper, not close enough, the colors work well together, the colors don’t. You are evaluating everything in real time and codifying it for future use. You have to do it an incredible amount to learn enough to have original ideas. There isn’t even such a thing an original idea, it’s more like you learn what you personally approve of or have an affinity for and what you don’t. You gravitate towards that and very slowly a style builds up. That style is the beginning of a good idea.
Sidewalk Face 275
Two short stories and a lesson.
Story One. I like to drink coffee in the morning, and I like it hot, hotter than the coffee maker makes it. So, I put my mug in the microwave for an additional 20 second blast and then I race to grab as much silverware as I can out of the dish drain and try to put it all away before the buzzer goes off. If I’m not holding it when I hear the sound I win and if I am still holding it, I lose. Despite the absence of stakes, I feel a little upset if I don’t get it done in time. Functional!
Story Two. Sometime before 3rd grade I lived in a very hilly neighborhood with winding roads. I liked to tell myself I could only use the breaks on my bike two times while coming home. This ultimately resulted in a total wipe out that ruined my bike and left me bloody and limping. Commitment!
Lesson. Create artificial restraints in your art practice. Make some rules. The thing about rules is they have to be clear as day and non-negotiable. They do not have to make sense or be good. Even if they make no sense they will work. The other thing about rules is they have to be fun. Fun to YOU! Not a rule you wanted or hoped would be fun. No, that’s Monopoly, a long and stupid game that you don’t want to play. The rules absolutely, positively have to be FUN! Make a piece of art, you win.
If you make up weird little rules for yourself, please share. I would love to know I am not the only weirdo.
Sidewalk Face 784