Yesterday’s post didn’t generate the results I was hoping for. Not yet, anyway. Patience, patience, I tell myself. Give it time.
I’ve been telling myself that a lot for the past couple of months, ever since I’ve been working out more regularly. I may not look as big as the giant in the photo above, but it feels that way, especially comparing my current body, in the privacy of my own bathroom mirror, with the photo of a younger, thinner me that Nan just found.
Since starting the concerted effort to drop some weight, I’ve gone jogging perhaps a dozen times, run/walked up and down the stadium stairs at the Colorado College, just blocks from my home, maybe four or five times, and used the school’s gym for upper body strengthening a few times as well. I’ve kayaked a few times, once for five hours, and gone biking with my wife twice.
And then there’s my “day job”, which is fairly physical in and of itself. Two days ago, I took a momentary break from shoveling dirt and raking rocks to talk with a friend on the phone who was at the same stage with a similar build a week ago. Though a furniture maker who often makes chairs, he, like me, rarely sits in one during a typical work day, and yet he said he was pretty well whipped by the end of a day and a half of backfilling and grading dirt in preparation for concrete flatwork.
At the time of the call, late afternoon, I wasn’t feeling tired at all, and had the thought: all my working out must finally be paying off. But just a few short hours later that night, alas, I sent him a gif of a guy flopping onto the floor, admitting:
Yesterday morning, as I was jogging with Ruby, my faithful, furry companion (who at this moment, at 2:37 am, is lying just feet away in the kitchen, making light smacking noises with her mouth while fast asleep – probably dreaming, as I would be, were I sleeping at the moment, about the jalepeño Cheetos Nan wouldn’t let me run down to 7-11 and buy last night), I thought about the overlay between exercising one’s body and exercising one’s creativity. To wit: for me, anyway, both require an inordinate amount of patience before seeing any real progress.
For me, regress, in the case of working out, is progress. I’m trying to literally roll back that insidious weight gain which, despite my typically physically active life, has been slowly creeping up over time.
As I knew would be the case before I began my coordinated, multi pronged attack on my excess poundage, there’s a period of time you have to slog through where despite seeing some small positive changes, the big one you’re after – concrete evidence on the scale that you’re beginning to lose weight – stubbornly refuses to occur. In fact, often, you gain weight initially, as the muscles you’re strengthening weigh more than the fat that’s hopefully being consumed.
So while I’m not nearly as concerned with the potential of coughing and having my shorts’ button shooting across the room and putting someone’s eye out, what I’m really desiring still, alas, eludes me: Weight loss.
I know that with every ten pounds of weight I lose, my jogging times will significantly decrease as well, yet another goal. I know the amount of time I can jog up and down the stadium stairs, before having to switch to alternating jogging with walking, will increase. (Flashback to around thirteen years ago when I could jog up and down the stadium stairs for an hour without resorting to walking once while wearing a Kelty child carrier pack containing Nate, our youngest. My, how it’s true – you don’t know what you have until it’s gone.)
That’s what I said to Nan, the other day, after she showed me the following photo of me with what I obviously must have thought at the time would never leave: washboard abs (hence, the lackadaisical consuming of mountains of ice cream on a nightly basis). Never mind the hair loss, for which, hey, what can you do; all my hopes for a full head of hair went down the drain years ago. Sigh.
(Ed. note – after reading this post to Nan, I asked her if she could find the photo above again so I could include it in today’s post. Then, I suggested she stick it on the fridge as a visual reminder of why I shouldn’t reach for the handle as often as I do. She countered that it would be more effectively posted on 7-11’s front door.)
Point is, currently, I’m putting my money where my mouth is. I’m not darkening 7’11’s door much. Day by day, I’m continuing to tie on my running shoes. I’m doing one more rep on the machine than I think I can. I’m adding another minute to the length of time I run up and down the stadium stairs before, lungs working hard, I switch to a lower run/walk, and finally an even lower walk/walk gear.
And I said it to myself again yesterday, while experiencing that typical slightly uncomfortable feeling – partly physical, but primarily mental – that I tend to get while on a run, times I’m not able to let my mind wander to other things:
sooner or later, this had better pay off.
The weight had better come off. The minutes it takes to complete my go-to 3.5 mile circuit should drop off. Slowly, at first, but eventually it’ll be a steady decline.
If. I. don’t. get. discouraged. and. stop.
The same lesson applies to many areas of life, but since this is Art Regard, I’ll overlay the lesson, still for me in the moment taken on faith, that a more svelte version of me will eventually stare back at me in the mirror, over the creative enterprise.
It seems there’s some sort of unstated rule where one must row against the tide for what feels like an eternity in the art world before the tide turns – slows its in-the-moment seemingly unending, seemingly personally pernicious offensive against your every attempt to advance.
You’ve built your own stretchers and stretched and gessoed your own canvases to save money. You’ve been putting in the time. After a long day at work and an evening with your family, you’ve put your kids and your husband or wife to bed and spent hours on your computer, honing your graphic style. You’ve scrimped and saved to get that welder you’ve been needing. You’ve been careful to document your work. You’ve built your portfolio website. You’ve posted regularly on Instagram. You’ve added another post to your blog. You’ve updated your CV. You’ve applied for yet another residency. Another public art project. Another call for entry for an exhibition related to the work you do. You’ve made contacts. You’ve made the rounds at art openings, letting your peers and the powers that be know that you’re hard at work in your studio.
And what have all your efforts resulted in? Precious little, to date. Oh, you’ve seen small glimpses of progress, or potential progress, anyway. You have a dozen beautiful, blank canvases leaning against the studio wall. All the time you’ve put into painting or turning pots or grinding or hammering in your studio has created what is beginning to look like an integrated body of work. You’ve found yourself, for the past few weeks, so engaged in your graphic novel that, at times, you’ve been surprised to see your significant other appear in the doorway. “Why are you up?” you ask. “Why are you still up?” comes the reply, and you realize you haven’t been working for minutes but all night long. You buy the welder and put it through its paces, allowing you to make the things you’ve been wanting to. Your documented work has allowed you to present to the world, via social media and your portfolio website, the image you’ve been wanting them to see: Serious Artist. In fact, a collector of note begins to follow you on Instagram. You’ve been accepted for a residency. Been added to a pre-selected pool of artists from which this city or that state will request proposals for their 1% for art projects for the next three years. You’ve gotten into a group show out of state. Gotten to know, on a first name basis, that gallerist who you’ve been hoping to get your work in front of.
But when it comes down to brass tacks, what you’ve been desiring to see – insert your own as of yet unfulfilled dream – seems locked behind bars of iron.
And seriously, who sees all this effort you’re putting in? Precious few. If you take a week or two or three off from your pursuit, who’d know? Pretty much no one, that’s who. The studio enterprise is not unlike the Starship Enterprise – it can be a cold and lonely journey in your private work world. No planets capable of supporting life have yet been discovered, not at a living wage, anyway.
It’s this existential threat of a moment that I want to address. Because I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: one telltale mark of achievement is painful effort. Sometimes mental effort, sometimes physical, sometimes psychological, sometimes spiritual, and, unhelpfully, often times a combination of all four.
If, like my daughter-in-law, Haley, you’re walking a bit slower and more robotically because the day before you were in the gym yet again, or, as is also true of her life these days due to the long and taxing slog that will eventually earn her a master’s in PT, you fall asleep in a coffee shop while sitting with your husband, you should know that those are telltale signs that you’re on the right track.
You may not see the light at the end of the tunnel. The tide may, in fact, be increasing its intensity against your little craft. (Speaking of which – the opening image is of the giant in the film Time Bandits, who cluelessly rose out of the sea precisely below the ship that the main characters were in.) Due to an ongoing family emergency, you still have a dozen stretched canvases gathering dust in your studio or you’re only a few pages into your graphic novel, and the little spark of interest you’d hoped would have roared into a full-fledged creative bonfire by now has been smoldering ineffectually for days, weeks, months – years? Decades?? (Been there, done that). Your expensive iPhone may die (as mine did, yesterday) at a most inconvenient time, delaying the purchase of that welder just as it was nearly in your grasp. Your friend may let slip in a private message, probably after overindulging, that they think all that work you’ve been making is pedantic, mediocre, trite, derivative… (Or, the thinly veiled comment I was once relayed that someone said after viewing a large-scale piece in my home studio; it was “Awesome.” I.e. gauche, heavy-handed, etc.) Of late, there’s been precious little work to document anyway. That domain name you purchased sits unused out there in the ether. On Instagram, you find yourself using #funnypets #adogslife #catlover, and the like more than you do #artcollector #studioartist #hardatwork #artistsofinstagram. Your last blog post was dated a year and a half ago. Your CV hasn’t been updated for three. You’ve stopped applying for residencies, public art projects, show calls. You’ve stopped maintaining regular contact with anyone who might be able to open doors for you in the art world. Stopped frequenting other artists’ exhibits.
Again, I want to say, both to myself in the flesh and to any of you out there who have felt like you can’t win for losing in your creative career, or what you hope will develop, sooner or later, into a creative career:
Dont. Get. Discouraged. And. Stop.
Wait – you’ve already stopped? Fine. Get back in the game. Me, I hadn’t worked out, not with this focused of an intensity, for years. Of course that’s going to produce a discouraging (lack of) results.
I know I’m not saying anything revolutionary here. I rarely do. But that’s the thing about wisdom. It’s usually so simple. So accessible. (It’s just like a gym membership. Cheaper, both in the short and the long run, than frequenting 7-11 on a daily basis). You just have to shake yourself out of that fog and start to take some positive steps.
I love the scene in the original Incredibles movie where Edna Mode gives Elastigirl, distraught at having found evidence that has led her to believe that her husband, Mr. Incredible, is cheating on her, a “pep talk“. You and I need such pull-no-punches straight talk from time to time.
Elastigirl: “I let this happen, you know. The new sports car, the getting in shape, the blond hair, the lies…”
Edna Mode: “Yes, the attempts to remember the past…”
Elastigirl: “Oh, I’m losing him! (sobs) Oh, what’ll I do? What’ll I do?? (more sobs)”
Mode: “What are you talking about?“
Mode: “You are Elastigirl! My God, pull (smacks Elastigirl with a rolled up piece of paper) yourself (smack) together! (smack) What will you do? Is-is-is this a question? You must show him you remember he is Mr. Incredible and you will remind him who you are. Ah, you know where he is – go! Confront the problem! Fight. Win!!! And call me when you get back, darling, I enjoy our little visits.”
Perhaps for additional “encouragement”, those of you needing just a bit more of a shock to their system might imagine, rather than a diminutive Edna Mode, a life-sized Andy Tirado jumping on your table, its legs buckling under the load, as I loom menacingly over you, smacking you upside the head with a rolled up piece of paper. You’re welcome.
I’ll stop there, but somewhere in the last sentence I’ve included a key word that can unlock those doors of iron. A powerful word. A word you’ve perhaps kept under lock and key for a long time now. The first tool of a word you must begin to use with regularity before you can hope that the mastery of any other tools will produce the skills and the significant, lasting results you desire.