The Art of Vulnerability

Image credit: “Face Time Canvas 05, 2015”, by Studio Various & Gould

Last November, we talked about the art of self forgiveness, taking ownership over the life-long decisions you make as an artist. Claiming responsibility for most everything that happens to us isn’t an easy task – most notably when doing so bares the ugly truth that we aren’t as golden-gleaming as our delusional mind and memories would like us to believe.

Coming to terms with our own faults and assumptions and seemingly colossal fuck-ups isn’t easy, either. But finding room in our hearts for self forgiveness is one of the single most important lessons we as artists – and human beings – can take away from the universe.

Maybe as a student you once romanticized your chosen industry, and the stress of post-secondary education caused you to abandon your dreams and go into a field that just seemed “easier”.

Maybe as a child you had a grandiose idea that should have reached millions of fans, but now you’re a resentful middle-aged barista, brewing lattes for young purpose-driven millennials, with nothing to show for your rampant imagination but a few dusty-moldy sketch books in a box somewhere in your parents’ basement.

Or maybe a minor disagreement between you and your business partner blew totally out of proportion, and now the dread of dangling bridge ropes haunts you from the other side of a great emotional chasm.

You’ve allowed your heart to recognize the sober realization of your situation, and now it’s time to move on. You want to move on. You want to take control of your situation and try again. But you might feel lost. Afraid that the same mistakes will trip you along the way. You might have a vague idea of what you’re supposed to do, where to go – but the path looks long and winding, dark with uncertainty, and overwhelming.

But you’re not alone. In fact, there are people out there who want to help you – who want to see you succeed. These are our supports. These are our mentors.

Part Two: The Art of Vulnerability

“Learn from everyone. Follow no one. Watch for patterns. Work like hell.”

-Scott McCloud

What do Walt Disney, George Lucas, Stan Lee, J.K. Rowling, and Dr. Dre all have in common?

If you said they were some of the richest people in their industries – well, yeah, you’d be right! But what else? Sure they worked hard, yes, they never let the world beat them into the ground. But steadfast determination can only go so far. Come on, you read the title of the article! You already know the answer!

Vulnerability. Vulnerability to let go of control, to open your heart to those around you who are like-minded and wish to see you succeed.

That’s the key.

It is nigh impossible for anybody to strike success all on their own. Many amateur artists are convinced that the journey of their craft is a lonely one, but by pure nature in and of itself, human beings are social beings. Very rarely does the lone wolf make it on his own. It is through cooperative teamwork that success is born.

As artists, we need a team of people to push our limits and keep us accountable. People who will help us, be they your podunk town’s little painter’s circle, or business associates involved with your influential social media blog. By letting these people into our lives, sharing our work with them, and vice versa, brings not only strategic feedback, but also invaluable perspectives that will broaden your own.

To put it bluntly, you can’t spell “art” without “heart”. Yes, you read that correctly – it wasn’t a punch-drunken typo. Listen, we get so absorbed by our work that it’s easy to miss the obvious (and sometimes glaring) flaws. Your support group is your second pair of eyes. They are the “pre-release” consumer, if that makes sense. The beta market. The test audience. The “DaVinci’s Inquestors”.

It’s downright scary to be so wide open when it comes to sharing our art. Everything we create bears a glowing piece of our souls (like a horcrux!). However, by shutting yourself away, hoarding your art from the world convinced of a “one-man army” mentality is an honest disservice. Your art will not grow, and neither will you.

In conclusion, Dr. Brene Brown says it best: “Courage starts with showing up and letting ourselves be seen. … Vulnerability is the birthplace of love, belonging, joy, courage, empathy, and creativity. It is the source of hope, empathy, accountability, and authenticity.”

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Let your path unfold around you.

Take a deep breath.

Feel the pressure – feel it, deep in your expanding lungs.

Let it rest there awhile.

Know the pressure. Understand the pressure.

Visualize the pressure within the expanse of your lungs as the stress of 2016.

When you are ready, exhale. Let all of your stress built up from this previous year spill from your lips and your nostrils, the invisible force that it is, as your lungs rest back to their natural shape.

Take another deep breath. And this time, pay attention to the muscles in your arms, in your thighs, all of the muscles in your body.

Feel the tenseness – feel it, deep beneath your clothes, beneath your very flesh.

Know the tenseness. Understand the tenseness.

Visualize the tenseness in your muscles the stress of your artistic craft. All of your “shoulds”, all of your “wants”, all of your regrets, and all of your failures.

Exhale, and with your exhalation, feel your muscles relax.

Relax, and know that a brand new slate surrounds you. You can do anything you put your mind to. You can do anything, so long as you put in the effort, and care for yourself in the best way you are capable of.

It is a new year. It is a new now. Self pity does not serve your soul; it serves the ego.

Close your eyes, take a deep breath, and let yourself go.

Art. Art is what serves your soul. Art is what drives you. Do not close your heart this day, this month, this year, to the wonders of creativity, to the desire of your artful mind.

It is who you are. It is what you are. So stop reading this, and go make something.

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The Kids Are All Right: The Modern Family

Note: Hi! Do you enjoy badly-written, pretentious college-age analytical essays?!?!?! I KNOW I DO!  I wrote this piece a million years ago for my second-year film class when I was taking journalism at Humber. I have vague memories of publishing this essay soon after graduation, but lo and behold, there it was sitting neglected and dusty in the barrel-bottom of the drafts section. So, enjoy!

The Kids Are All Right (2010) is a drama/comedy directed by Lisa Cholodenko that comments on how contemporary Western society views the institution of same-sex marriage and child-rearing. Joni Allgood (Mia Wasikowska) is pressured by her half-brother, Laser (Josh Hutcherson) into helping him track down their sperm donor, Paul Hatfield (Mark Ruffalo), without the consent or knowledge of their married lesbian mothers, Nic and Jules (Annette Bening and Julianne Moore). When Nic and Jules discover that their children have gone behind their backs, they feel threatened that the inclusion of Paul may corrupt the balance of their family, especially when Joni confides that she would like to spend more time with him. The film comments on how marital circumstances have changed over the years, and as such, unconventional families (in this case, “the perfect lesbian family,” a quote from the film itself) sometimes feel challenged by a relatively traditional world to prove themselves, but the overall dynamic of family values (such as support, commitment, and honesty) still apply despite the change of gender roles/sexual orientation in contemporary marriage.

“Don’t mind Laser. He’s just jealous because I have a car and
he’s got daddy issues. And his name is stupid.”

A scene that reflects the idea of this comes early in the film when Jules and Nic decide to limit Paul’s involvement with the kids. Instead of flat out denying Joni’s desire to see Paul again, Nic and Jules invite Paul over for a family barbeque, with the intention of what Nic calls, “killing him with kindness”. In this scene, Lisa Cholodenko uses cinematography, proxemics, mise en scene, and light to illustrate what life for the Allgoods is like – but also to establish Nic and Jules’s secret ill feelings towards Paul, but still attempting to support Joni’s wish to see him again.

The scene is framed with contrasting medium-high-key light and medium shots, with Paul standing on the left side of the frame, and Nic and Jules standing close together, a few feet away, on the right side of the frame. This composition relates to social distance, which is typically “reserved for impersonal business and casual social gatherings” (Giannetti and Leach, “Understanding Movies”, p. 127), but Cholodenko uses these proxemic patterns to make Paul feel intimidated by the intimate space shared between Nic and Jules, suggesting “such behaviour might be interpreted as standoffish” (Giannetti and Leach, p. 127), which accurately reflects their disapproval and own intimidation of his presence.

“Who needs a man when you have wine?”

As the scene progresses, the get-together transitions to the backyard, around a picnic table where Paul and the Allgoods have a barbeque meal together. The use of high-key light and mise en scene is important in this transition, although Cholodenko uses them subtly by focusing on close-up angles of Paul and the Allgoods. Surrounding the group are various objects that suggest the ideals of a typical well-to-do family (such as an expensive barbeque, a well-maintained yard, etc) and therefore when there are quick glimpses of these objects, “the frame is likened to a window through which the audience may satisfy its impulse to pry into the intimate details of the characters’ lives” (Giannetti and Leach, p. 100). Coupled by Cholodenko’s focus on the group’s conversation about life and experience – as well as Joni’s rebelling at her moms’ embarrassing pride of her graduation speech – the scene is shot with a realist, documentary-like technique to “suggest the copiousness of life itself” (Giannetti and Leach, p. 2). The scene ends with a wide shot of the group eating and enjoying each others’ company, accompanied by a music sting. The use of high key light during the scene implies an overall sense of “security, virtue, truth, and joy” (Giannetti and Leach p.76) among the family. By using these techniques, Cholodenko creates a plausible world that exhibits the worries and triumphs of a working unconventional American family, and that the Allgoods are indeed able to survive as a family without the inclusion of a dominant male figure.

On a more personal note outside of this brief film analysis, I really enjoyed The Kids Are All Right. I’ve seen it far to many times in order to write this peice to want to subject myself to the film again any time soon, but I really do recommend it. I’m not going to spoil the movie for you, if you haven’t already seen it, but it’s genuinely well-written and really funny in a smart and sometimes dark way. The second act provides a huge twist (which I’m personally on the fence about), but that doesn’t stop The Kids Are All Right from being a quality film of 2010.

The Art of Self Forgiveness

Last week, we discussed matters of regret as an artist, and how everything would eventually be okay and work itself out. This week we’re going to delve deeper into this hopeful notion with the first in a series of companion pieces.

When I wrote that all of us artists are in this journey together, it wasn’t coming from any hokey place of optimistic naivety. The fact is, no matter the medium, no matter the level of expertise or apprenticeship, we have all faced the mental and external obstacles of insecurity.

Mental illness is a hot button topic now, and artists tend to be notorious for self sabotage and destructiveness to their own well being. Depression and anxiety are among the top noted symptoms among struggling artists. Despite what you may think, what the media and masturbatory social platforms such as tumblr and reddit have told you, these symptoms are in fact beatable, if not manageable. All it takes is a little self awareness and a push in the right direction.

So over the next little while, we’re going to work together to explore a few steps that are easier said than done, in order to achieve successful artistry. Remember: you cannot be truly successful in life unless you build from the inside, outward.

During this time, I will be compiling a resource page that has aggregated various online utilities and mentors that will help you discover your innate creative self, and build confidence to stem from that.

Let’s begin.

Step one: The Art of Self Forgiveness

This is one of the most powerful tools when it comes to achieving your true potential. For most of us, it feels impossible to even fathom such a thing as self forgiveness, because we are so used to living an existence of constant internal and external criticism,  lacking self confidence and self worth, and torrents of disappointment despite our output of effort.

One of the most important first steps in this process of self forgiveness is to recognize that everything that has happened to you in your life is a result of your own doing.

When we are faced with failure in life, it is easy to blame our parents, blame our business partners, spouses – even children. We blame mental illness, financial insufficiency, the very cultures we were born into or assimilated with. It is so easy to pass the buck onto other people when faced with the reality of our own undoing.

But the fact is, the only person who put you in those situations is you. Despite what you want to think, the gun pressed against your head is in your very hands.

And most people will refuse to believe this. They’ll scoff, and maybe write a comment down below to justify their detrimental behaviour, and close the browser tab to move onto Facebook or YouTube or something else completely vacuous and unproductive. And that’s fine. Hopefully they will come to the realization a little later on.

But for those of you who want to take responsibility for yourselves, there is nothing stopping you from personal growth; from pushing yourself out of your comfort zones – to stop, take a breath, and say aloud, “No. No. I deserve better than this, and I will not settle until that happens.”

We are our own obstacles in life, and as you sit on the edge of your bed late at night reading this, feelings of guilt and regret are sure to have set in. The inner critic comes around and shows you everything that has gone wrong in your life. But you’ve made plenty of excuses to last an eternity – it’s time to forgive yourself and push onward to greater things.

The first step is self forgiveness. And self forgiveness is responsibility for the self, to reflect on one’s own actions without anger, without remorse, without guilt or judging. See your actions for what they are, and learn from your mistakes.

The mistakes you’ve made will serve a great illumination for the path you must follow. And from that, self forgiveness.

 

 

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Everything is going to be okay.

“Knowing is not enough; we must Apply.
Willing is not enough; we must Do.”

Bruce Lee.

Do you ever, just, I don’t know – sit down on the edge of your bed late at night after a real long day and just reflect on how far off-course your life has gotten, compared to where a younger, more idealistic, version of yourself thought things would go?

When you sit there on the edge of your bed, just allowing yourself to trance out into meditative head-space, what comes to mind when you think back on your life up ‘til this point? Are there feelings of accomplishment? Memories of regret, or possibly anger? I’m sure a lot of people could say confusion often comes to mind – What happened? Where the hell am I? Who have I become in all these years since then? God, how about the future? Is this my future? Oh, my God…

Not many folks can say they look back on their lives with much praise. Oh, sure, there are absolutely events that have happened that have filled our souls with a speck of self-respect, or admiration. But the overall product, though? How many people can honestly say to themselves, as they reflect while sitting slumped over the edge of their bed, that they are truly happy, and have achieved complete fulfillment in their lives?

Almost none, I can guarantee you.

When I was ten years old, I wanted to be was the CEO of my own video game company. “Virtualplay Entertainment” would helm the coming of the upcoming [predecessor] to the Super Nintendo Entertainment System, which – naturally – would be called the “Mega Nintendo”. Virtualplay would be right in the fray, holding its own alongside other big-name third-party companies responsible for cultivating what would become the “Golden Age” of video games, with an extensive library of cutting edge role playing games that rivaled the likes of Square Soft and Enix.

When I was twenty years old, I wanted to be the CEO of my own comics and animation studio. “Sterilized Dirt Productions” would helm the peak of the booming Japanese animation craze here in North America. I would write, illustrate, and produce a visual adaption of my anime/manga-inspired novel, Monster Slayer (now called Master of Monsers) – first in comic book form, with an animated series to follow, both of which would inspire the likes of a new generation of English-speaking otaku.

I’m now thirty years old, and I sit on the edge of my bed late at night, writing this blog post with barely anything to show for those last twenty years of moon-sized dreams and aspirations. When I think back on these memories, a dull pain forms in my heart. I’m a strong enough woman able to easily deflect temptations to crumble into self pity. Self victimization and passing the buck on personal responsibility are not values written down in my playbook. I’ve done a lot. I’ve accomplished plenty. And yet, thoughts that I’ve become a disappointment to my younger selves sets in – and quite quickly so does guilt.

So if you’re reading this, and you’re still sitting on the edge of your bed like I am as I write all this out, there’s a fairly good chance that you’re open to suggestion – reassurance of some kind, maybe a magic train ticket that will some how reverse your history yet keep in-tact your wise, worldly, mind in order to finally create those memories you will be proud of in the coming years.

Whatever it is you look back on and feel pain in your heart over, I’ve some good news for you: despite what your mind wants you to believe – it’s never too late to achieve a damn thing. If you put in the work and take the idea of your personal fulfillment with utmost seriousness – you will be amazed at the things possible.

Take heart that if you put in the effort, giving up will never be an option. There will be times where you continue to “fail”, there will be times where you are impatient for results, there will be times where the temptation to give up is right on the edge of your false sense of intuition. These things are going to happen, but it’s important to not let these things consume you, like they have for however long you’ve allowed them to up ‘til now.

I am here to at least try to help you – as I strive to help myself. Consider this a contract of fiery wills. Sure, the passing of time has perhaps shifted the trajectory our particular paths in life – but you need to understand that it is never too late, though it’s true that time is not our friend. But time doesn’t matter anymore. We could die at any time. We could continue to live on into near-eternity. What does matter is this: if you put in the effort to make your life better, to go after what you desire and deserve –  action, patience, and perseverance will always pick up the tab.

In the mean time however, don’t sit and stagnate. Take initiative and dedicate your time to progress. Start to ingest inspirational content in the areas of your life you wish to improve upon. Utilize YouTube for guided meditations (these are amazing and have done a lot of good in my own life). Research local meet ups (or online communities) where you can network with like-minded people who will inspire and ignite your fire.

It’s so important to take small steps. Small steps lead to big results. Don’t believe me? Let’s take the process of writing the first draft of a novel or memoir. That’s a huge commitment, yes? A daunting task that, at full scope, seems a monolithic impossibility for most people. But what if we broke that down? Keep it simple, attainable? What if you committed yourself to 300 words a day? Hell or high water, you wrote 300 words a day – – every day – no matter the quality of those words. 365 days later, you have yourself a novel or memoir with a stunning word count of 109,500.

It’s that simple. Please trust in this.

Everything is going to be okay. Just don’t give up on yourself. Please.

 

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