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Last week, Jesse, an American soldier in Afghanistan, sent me a sketch for DrawHappy, a project I started in December 2010 where people can draw what makes them happy. (Sheesh, that sounded redundant. How about “embody their sources of joy and elation through illustration?” Better?)

bluebird

In his email, he wrote, “I know the scan doesn’t meet the requested requirements, short on resources out here.” (I usually ask for jpegs, and he sent a pdf.) I screamed to my computer, “Oh who cares about my requested requirements?! You drew a bluebird in the barracks in Afghanistan! And you sent it to me!” Hurray!

I know this is a piece among the many amazing drawings sent to me, but I will remember this (among numerous others) because of the timing. In the past two months, I’ve been neck deep in grant proposal writing, an activity that I find only slightly more agonizing than a root canal. My shotgun-like prolificness that were the two years at SVA, which seem like five years instead of five months ago, has slowed down into pockets of dreaming that have not been helped by tropical inertia. Because that is what these applications are: dreams. Intangible ones where you have to know what you want to make and how long and what it’s for and what are the things you previously did for them to even consider you and how your project is going to be amazing so please for the love of all things wonderful, pick me! These are pricey dreams, which require time, willpower, and a considerable FedEx allowance. They are infinitely less rewarding than actually going ahead and making them, but alas! you need the powers that be to say yes so you’ll have time and resources to actually execute them. And so this nail-biting process continues.

These are dreams that have yet to be realized. But still, they are the only things I have right now.

I’ve had times like these before—the downtimes and the in-between stages. I’ve learned to appreciate them because they are the spots when new ideas come and poke you and they sound crazy but you’re unstructured enough to do them anyway and realize that you do want to keep them and they become a part of you. But still, there are acute moments of suckiness and despair and isolation and un-belongingness.

I’m glad I’m on the tail end of this stage, and I’m so excited for the next step. (Eee!)

So in these last few months, few things can perk me up such as another human being reaching out to me (or at least a community I’ve built). Especially from one who is probably away from loved ones (although hey, I can only guess since we’ve never met). Whatever low points I feel, here in the city that I at least know, is nothing compared to what soldiers go through. Looking back, I’m happy that, stickler as I am for context, I asked people not just to draw, but to describe the moment of drawing. It makes me imagine the situations they are in, and realize that insightful and creative reflection can come out of any moment, be it favorable or not.

Like most creative people will tell you, the best projects they do are the ones they do for themselves. Whether they touch others or not, the first thing that happens is that the project sustains the creator herself. While this remains a side project, it’s probably the one that will throw me curve balls and surprises for years to come.

I love that the Internet can just cheer you up with a bluebird and give you perspective, just like that.

Thanks, Jesse.

P.S. And to you who are reading this, go draw what makes you happy! Visit the site here.

The first step out into the real world is a fight for your dreams.

In the past weeks, I’ve received emails and had subsequent conversations with some prospective SVA IxD students. What was it like? How has it impacted me? What am I doing now? It’s only been four months since I moved away from New York City (although it feels like a few years already) and there are things I did not have time to tell them because, oh I don’t know, we were busy discussing the classes and the teachers and the lovely donuts and the Prosecco and what was awesome and what was not.

Perhaps one of the most important questions they haven’t asked yet, or were afraid to, was one about fear. I don’t blame them. Shouldn’t an MFA make one feel invincible, as though getting through two years of grueling work and critique from the best in the industry gave you immunity for the toil and turbulence that comes next?

Eh, no. An MFA is but a tool, not an end. So here are some personal (i.e not one-size-fits-all) thoughts about what happens after you shake David Rhodes’ hand onstage at Radio City Music Hall:

The biggest fear after graduate school is that one will no longer be able to do what she loves. In the first few months after graduating from SVA, at least after the chaos of saying goodbye and moving camp (again) halfway around the world, I was filled with the choking feeling of dread. It was fun playing the nomad for a few years, but once again, one goal was fulfilled and I had to give myself another one. But which?

I was (and still am) terrified of losing momentum, that I’d be stuck doing a primarily administrative job for the thing I loved instead of doing the thing I actually loved. There is quite an ocean of a difference. I think in addition to what you want to do, it’s also important to determine how you will be doing it. It also matters for whom you will be doing it.

I am extremely grateful for unexpected kindness. I am writing this post from the wifi-equipped living room of a dear friend who has generously loaned his space to me (as well as many other artists and friends before me). It feels like a co-working studio, complete with two dogs. I just replied to an email from a curator of one of my favorite museums who has always listened to my ideas and made as much room for my work as she could since the day we met a few months ago. The other day, I said happy birthday to an editor who several weeks ago very kindly agreed to let me write for her section of the newspaper as long as she had space. Two mentors have taken time out of their extremely busy schedules and have been sending recommendation letters on my behalf to prospective opportunities. I am still producing new work and continuing old ones. I seek out potential collaborators every single day. For one who doesn’t have a full-time job yet, there is hope, you all.

I really pick who I work for. By now, I realize that when I don’t like the project (or the client), the work doesn’t end up to be something I’m proud of. While I still like doing commercial projects (you do get some cool ones!), I hope I won’t forget about asking people to draw what makes them happy, draw on clouds, smell memories, eat poems, and hug each other. And other projects that are currently in the works. Those are the ones that make me feel like the world was still magical.

There are times when I do see life as a taekwondo match. No, really. You bounce around, jump forwards and backwards, and throw a kick when you find an opening. You are not kicking every single second and getting exhausted for no good reason*. A creative life feels that way sometimes—each time I do a project, I use up energy that gets less easily replaced the older I get.  And so I try to reserve the best of my creative arsenal for work I really love. Creativity is boundless, but I am a finite being, and so with that comes a  heightened perception of time.

(*Although outside competing, it’s awesome to train just … because.)

Admittedly, my candor has been both an asset and liability each time I shamelessly cold email someone with a more formal and polite version of “Hello! May I please meet you?” I’m still invited to speak about and share my work. (Hurray!) Sometimes people don’t call me back, like, ever. (Oh, boo.) But for each interaction, I am extremely alert to subtext. Many times, when I directly ask people who have jobs with awesome-sounding titles, who have to spend most of their days in meetings and other things they might not necessarily love, I do get the sense that if life gave them another choice, they would take it.

I am still learning every day. The letters MFA are not an end to my education. Just this week, I’ve devoured books and online resources about marine conservation and aviation—topics we never discussed at SVA but are things I was curious about. By now, I suppose few things surprise me anymore. Ten years ago I thought I would end up with a PhD in cancer biology and have a stuffy career in academia parroting what textbooks had to say but instead things got happily crazy.

As I wrote before, I never went to grad school so I could get a “respectable 9-5 job” afterwards. I wanted to explore and to do things I never thought I would do, but I didn’t want that intellectual and creative freedom to end. Ever. Yes, while graduate school challenged me, it wasn’t any different than how I was already challenging myself before that. People have different feelings about school, especially about doing a thesis, but I’ll say it: I loved doing all my thesis projects and I would do a thesis every freaking year if I could.

And you know what? I will. And I am.

But I can’t for the life of me see what’s going to happen within the next year or so. Each tomorrow is cloaked in fog, and I can only see the next few steps, and afterwards, nothing.

And so for those who wanted to ask, but haven’t yet, let me correct my earlier statement:

Every step out into the real world is a fight for your dreams.

For SVA IxD’s Class of 2013, who are neck-deep in thesis (you can do it!), and for myself, when I feel like giving up.