Sunday, April 29, 2012

In the final stretch now. Finals week has officially arrived. I technically have three, but one of them is my thesis defense, which is next Thursday. I have two papers due on Tuesday and a boatload of black and white prints due on Thursday.

Currently I'm aboard an intense emotional rollercoaster. In one moment I feel relief, anticipation, excitement, and just a tiny hint of pride over having come this far (somehow), the end is so near and in less than two weeks' time I will be a free girl. Then, in the blink of an eye, I find myself suddenly overwhelmed by doubt, terror, and intense anxiety.

That seems to be the motif for all art-things in general. There are two sides to the coin, and it never stops flipping.

Right now I'm taking a break from painting. The final painting of my art-school-whatever. That in itself is a relief. Unless I somehow mess it up. I'm banking on not doing that though.

I was hired at a government-owned golf course nearby as a server for weddings, and late-night bartender during the week. It's not much, but the pay is decent, I'll have benefits, and a pension. Graduate with a BFA, become a waitress amongst high school students. Nobody's fault but mine.

I'm terrified that I'm going to mess something up between now and the end.
I will not miss the awful pain in my back from spending hours bent over a painting. I'll be very glad to be able to take frequent breaks to prevent this from happening, instead of endlessly hunching over the work in an attempt to get as much done as quickly as possible.
I am hoping that painting becomes enjoyable again.
There is still so much to do, and so very very very little time.
I will miss access to equipment; projectors, cameras, lights, a proper studio, negative scanners, etcetera.
I will miss the tomfoolery of my peers.
I will miss certain faculty members.
I will not miss taking out loans or doing FAFSA every spring.
I'm looking forward to lots of time with Brogan. Hikes as the weather warms up.
I'm looking forward to a thorough cleaning/gutting of my room, the likes of which have never taken place before (to the degree that I will most likely have to sleep on the couch because it will be in such disarray.)
Greatly greatly greatly looking forward to quitting smoking (the day: 21 May.)
Also jogging with Brogan. It's been months.
Planning to spend an entire day watching all three lord of the rings films. After I finish the books (I'm halfway through "The Two Towers" now.)
LOTS of reading in general. There are so many books I'd like to read that I have not had the time for.
I'm dreading the monthly bills from sallie mae that will start as soon as, if not before, I get back from Inis Oirr.

When I put in front of me all of these things I have to look forward to, it lightens the load, just enough to make it tolerable and provide motivation to get through the load. But it's difficult to remember these things in the moments of misery. It's difficult to shove "I clearly don't understand my own work and it's been five years and I am going to be in huge trouble at my defense," out and replace it with "Just keep working and remember that in x-amount-of-time you'll be able to do this-thing-that-you-love." I've put quite an amount of weight on school and the quality of the things I must do for it lately, and it's far more harmful than helpful.

I'm hardly looking forward to riding tomorrow night because it's an hour less time that I will have to get things done.

And so it's back to painting now.

Inis Oirr is starting to sound really really nice again.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Thesis is due today. Today. Oh my.

I've been reading a lot about the theatre of the absurd, and Samuel Beckett's "Waiting for Godot."  Interesting that it caused such an uproar with the sort of 'intellectual' crowd (for lack of better terms there..), who couldn't agree on the meaning of it, and kept analyzing and analyzing and speculating and critiquing; religious meanings, philosophical meanings, psychological ones, homoerotic ones...
And yet when it was performed in front of the inmates at San Quentin, they just 'got' it. I guess there was a lot of anxiety over performing this in front of them; oh such a high brown thing, how could the inmates ever fully grasp or even appreciate the complex intellect that the play involves? But they loved it, and they each took from it their own meaning: "Godot is society." "Godot is 'the man.'" etcetera.

Beckett said it best himself; "Why people have to complicate a thing so simple, I can't make out."

This was striking a lot of chords for me.
The great majority of questions I get from people about my work, both formally in school and casually by people outside of that community, are questions that ask for the underlying meaning. People expect it to be a critique on something, they expect it to have a hidden metaphor or message, something deep, distinct, and solid, fixed. When I disappoint them by telling them it's empty and fluid they don't believe me, they can't believe me. If I had a dollar for every time I heard "There's something you're holding back on, there's something you're not telling us" over the past five months I'd have enough money to feed Brogan for a year.

It makes it very difficult to talk about the work though. It's a one-liner; the viewer empowers the work. We force meaning and symbolism onto things, which are ultimately empty and powerless, and we instinctively form narratives to make understandable the unintelligible, when we are faced with it. By power I don't mean the literal sense, I mean the power of the pieces to carry and convey meaning. There's a fairly decent quote from the 2nd book in the "A Game of Thrones" series that's sort of suitable:

"In a room sit three great men, a king, a priest, and a rich man. Between them stands a common sellsword. Each great man bids the sellsword to kill the other two. Who lives, who dies? Power resides where men believe it resides. It's a trick, a shadow on the wall, and a very small man can cast a very large shadow."

I suppose anyone who comes to my work and anticipates me, or even the work, to provide them with solid answers is, really, waiting for Godot.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Riding Freckles yesterday went much much better. I managed to keep him more forward, my hands were more independent, he was softer to my legs, and I generally had a better understanding of him. We weren't perfect, by any means, but we were way better. I felt there was much more of a connection between us and we worked together, as opposed to last week where we fought against each other as a result of my being-all-over-the-place. The big problem I noticed with myself this week was that I have developed a "chair seat." I've never had that problem before so I'm not sure what the issue is, as it can be a number of things. My guess is that I'm sitting too far back. The last time I rode was hunter-jumper, which is a more forward seat; your upper body is held about 20 degrees in front of 'the vertical' (the vertical being a theoretical vertical line drawn up from the middle of the saddle.) In dressage one rides at the vertical. So it's possible I'm just having a hard time finding my seat, over-compensating, and sitting too much on my pockets and thus causing my legs to fall forward. It could also be stirrup length, or the saddle. When I tried to fidget with my seat and bring my lower leg more underneath myself and identify the point of balance, I was met with a lot of resistance of some sort, like it was unnatural and my body couldn't hold it, so I also wonder if it may be partly that his saddle and I are not made for each other.

At the end of each lesson we walk around on a long rein to cool down for a while, maybe five to ten minutes. I always look forward to that part because the work is done and we get to relax, and I get to spend time with him just walking. He gets lots of pats and scratches on his withers then.

I'm not terribly sore today, which is a plus. It means the muscles are settling back into place. My lumbar is a bit stiff because we sat the trot a great deal yesterday. You wouldn't think that merely sitting up there would cause soreness-maybe on one's bottom, but not in ones core. I've only had a sore bottom from riding a few times, and it was always from sitting in a western saddle, I suppose because I've only sat in a western saddle a handful of times and am thus not used to it. But sitting the trot is a serious core workout, unless you want to bounce around like a maniac (in which case I imagine one would have a very tender bottom afterwards indeed.) The goal is to keep your butt in the seat at all times; no bouncing, contact must be maintained, you should never come up off the saddle. That's tricky and requires that you be both loose and relaxed as well as able to  move your pelvis quick enough to absorb the shock and rise and fall with the horse's movement. I'm not master of this yet; when I focus on it and am relax I do just fine, but when we're asked, say, "sitting trot and shoulder-in" I become a bit tense as my mind shifts to focusing about the aids for shouldering in, and then before I know it I'm bouncing around and as rigid as a an oak board. And then I feel bad because I know all that jarring can't feel good on the horse's back. When someone sits the trot perfectly, it looks effortless, like they're relaxed and just plodding along (and then when you talk to them afterwards you notice they're out of breath and sweating.)

I came home afterwards feeling refreshed. Again the smell of horses lingering on  me and filling me with both nostalgia and wholeness. It took me back to the days of spending weeks at my grandmother's house with my friend Rachel, waking up early every morning to walk down to the barn and do volunteer work. The days spent walking lines of ponies down trail with the little pony-campers aboard them, grooming, tacking, cleaning. Joking that Rachel and I would someday steal Killian (an old bay Morgan/TB mix), who was my favourite, and Freckles (the very same, who was no more than 3 or 4 at the time), who was her favourite, and run off with them. The wooden panels in my grandma's attic, all of the horse pictures we'd pinned up, the ancient cots we slept on, all of our grooming supplies and tack in old wooden crates. Summer evenings after volunteering spent at bluebanks digging up clay in the riverbed and making  little sculptures, then tossing them back into the water. Finding old green copper bullet shells from the 1800's on the hillside from the shooting range that was once there. Lifting logs to find salamanders. Sitting in my grandmother's smoke-filled kitchen, listening to old stories, or her and my brother singing songs from my grandmother's childhood.

I once found a totally whole and intact bullet. A big, solid copper one, patina'd green and blue from sitting on the hill buried in leaves and dirt for so long. Someone missed their mark with it, I assume, as most of the ones we found were battered fragments, or smashed, after having hit something. I lost it in our house somewhere, years and years ago, and still don't have a clue where it is.

In a short while I came back to the present-day and the storm of stress and anxiety and depression washed over me. All of the work I need to do. All of my lack of confidence, doubt, confusion, anger, frustration, fear. Overwhelmed and wholly unhappy. The thought of all the work I need to do causes a feeling that I can only describe as all of my organs falling apart. I sit to work on my thesis and the physical symptoms of fear arise; heart racing, sweating, anxious, want of a cigarette, shaking. I've had a stomach ache for 6 days now, an awful one, coming and going as it pleases, at it's own choosing. Nothing feels good. Stuck in a deep, dark hole. Miserable to stay in, but too fearful to crawl out.  I have not been this depressed in a long time.

This morning was the first morning in what seems like a long time that I'd woken up without a stomach ache plaguing me. I'm sitting here, still waking up, with my coffee and cigarettes, holding onto slivers of motivation and good-feelings. A talk with Joe last night helped, was reassuring.

I need to shut out the thoughts and just work, but it's a struggle. No longer do I even look forward to all of this being done; it feels impossible, it feels as though I am on the verge of falling short of the mark. I'm staring it in the face and yet I cannot reach it. I am afraid, terrified. Everything hurts.

But I have to keep going.

Monday, April 16, 2012

We've been graced with fair weather for the past few days.
Yesterday I spent a good while laying on the grass in front of the house, looking up at the branches of our maple tree, and playing with the green keys it's started to drop. They're soft and green and translucent, but soon they'll be brown and brittle. And everywhere.

A new painting started today. After this one, just one more to go.

This week's riding lesson was significantly less...graceful...for lack of better term...than last weeks. To put it bluntly, I was a disaster. Last week, the mare was very sensitive and hot, thus requiring subtle and sensitive aids and overall calmness and reassurance from yours truly-she was spooky and unsure. It was also a private lesson. This week's horse, Freckles, was the opposite, in fact he may have been a cow rather than a horse; it was like trying to convince a brick wall that it should bend around my leg and move forward. It was also a group lesson, six of us, on top of two other riders in the arena. I was heavy with my hands and my legs slid back and forth horrifically. I've never felt my legs slide around so much before; I was absolutely a sloppy, sloppy mess. The horse was lazy, he did not want to pick his feet up, and he was very adamant about cutting corners; rather than last weeks horse, Pie, Freckles required very very strong aids, particularly in the legs. My strength there is mostly gone, and if I had any doubt about that prior to today the confusion has been very much cleared up. It was a struggle to gather up enough strength to keep us where we needed to be; every time we'd come around the bend he would fall in and I'd flail around yanking on his mouth and trying to kick as hard as I could with my inside leg, and he basically continuing to cut saying "nah you're doing this wrong and so I'm just not going to listen." We did things I've never learned before, particularly shoulder-ins and half passes. I know these maneuvers well, as in I can recognize them when they're being done, but I myself have never done them before. So, eight horses plodding around the big arena, tack and buckles squeaking and clanking, and the instructor yelling from the opposite side, I couldn't hear her at all. For a good ten minutes of the lesson I felt thoroughly embarrassed and ashamed of myself; rather than getting anything from it, asking her to be louder, or explain something, I was merely following the group and trying to mimic the horse and rider in front of me, with Freckles resisting and the poor thing! My hands were so heavy on the bit and he was stretching downward and trying to avoid being yanked and I feel absolutely awful about it now but at the time I was just trying to maintain the pace and get myself balanced and keep him moving forward and to stop cutting corners. I don't know what it was about his trot or what was different with myself from last week to this week, but I could not get my legs to be still for the life of me, particularly the right leg when we were on the left trot diagonal.

Oh it did feel like kicking a brick wall.
After the embarrassment ended, my legs and back already feeling stiff, and having taken Freckles back to his stall and apologizing for the agony I put him through, I asked my instructor if I could ask her a few things, and it did help; I asked her what exactly I needed to be doing when we approached the corners, to keep him from falling in so bad, and what exactly the aids were for the shoulder-in and half-pass. At first she seemed a bit annoyed, but she's a very straighforward person and maybe it was just my personal overwhelming guilt for having hung onto poor Freckles' mouth that was seeking that out in her. Anyway, she explained them, and all I can do is wait until next week to try and correct my mistakes.

Despite all of this, and how ashamed I am of myself for making Freckles' suffer for my own disorganization and madness, I really hope we get to work together again next week. I hope she keeps us together. I remember taking lessons here before, and it seemed every two weeks we would be on different horses; I hope that isn't the same this time. I'd like to stick with him until I can understand, and get things to work. I at least hope that next week we will be together, so that I can have a second chance.

As I was untacking him and apologizing for everything, one of the women from the group approached me and started chatting. She reminds me of my anthropology instructor; an older woman, very short, thin, pixie-like, with big, wide, curious and kind eyes, and a small and shy smile. I was still suffering from my embarrassment so I mostly looked down at my gloves and didn't say much; which just made everything worse as I then felt like I'd been rude and regretted not talking to her more! I can't win against myself and my guilt, I don't let me.

So the adventure continues. I've another long, endless week to wait until the next round. Once a week is certainly better than not at all, but it's tough; I crave more. It's an awful drug. It's difficult to deal with, in every aspect; it's both wonderful and awful. It's complicated.
To put it into a few good words:

"Riding a horse is not a gentile hobby, to be picked up and laid down like a game of solitaire. It is a grand passion. It seizes a person whole and once it has done so, he or she will have to accept that their life is radically changed." - Ralph Waldo Emerson

Until next week, the madness and insanity of art school continues. The weather will begin to cool down again, and tomorrow will have a chill, so they say. But I'm not going to think about that tonight. Instead I'm going to curl up with "The Two Towers" and wish that I lived in the Shire with Joe and Brógan, where everybody would speak Irish, drink loads of tea, read loads of books, have wonderful gardens, tell lots of stories, and enjoy the sun and the breeze and the soft rains. And maybe have a horse or two...