Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Practice, Practice, Practice

I am standing at the front of the classroom, leaning on the podium as thirty-three high school students stare at me. Some eyes are alive with interest, others were glazed with boredom when they entered the classroom and have not changed. My tattered copy of Don Quixote flops in my left hand. The mad knight has fought windmills, puissant Biscayns, troublesome sheep, and now, with dreamy persistence, searches for the golden helmet of Mambrino. The eyes stare. A hand from the back rises. "Who cares?" asks the young inquisitor. "Why do we need to read this story?"

I pause, because this is the most important question of the whole school year. If I fail this question, the whole year is easily lost. "We tell stories to convince ourselves that our lives have meaning."

(excerpt from "Before He Melts Away," by James Hanmer. Shambhla Sun, January 2014.)

We tell stories to convince ourselves that our lives have meaning. This is the essence of art making. Convincing ourselves that our lives have meaning. Trying to make sense out of the ups and downs, the craziness, the complications. 

I realized some years ago that this is why I make photographs. Everything seems to fall neatly into place when I make pictures, and, for a time, it feels like my life has meaning, purpose. 

Art making is a practice, like prayer or meditation or yoga. As artists, we practice being open to what art tells us about ourselves. We seek those moments when everything falls into place. We practice finding out who we are. Be it painting, writing stories, dancing, or acting—it's really all about discovery.

Monday, December 30, 2013

Stay the Course

I don't really like to make New Year resolutions. Change should happen when change is due. When I realize I need to lose weight or exercise more or be nicer to someone, I make a resolution right then and there. Somehow, though, I find myself making these resolutions over and over, so perhaps what I really need is to resolve to persevere. Stick with it. Stay the course. Through thick and thin. 

So, as I sit here looking out at the piles of snow that have come early this winter, I resolve to carry on . . . through the ups and downs, the highs and lows, the thrills and the disappointments. Stay on the path. Keep moving forward. I'm not sure what I'll see along the way, though I know that some days will be bright and some will be dark. But, if I persevere, every moment will be a gift. I can't ask for more than that.