Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Idle Hands

This semester, by a twist of paperwork, I am not teaching. People tell me that this is wonderful. I can focus on my own
project and not worry about freshmen who dont know how to spell A-u-s-t-r-a-l-o-p-i-t-h-e-c-u-s. Most graduate students that I have found, hate to teach. They slide their heavy feet along and lament about taking the time to teach students who just don’t care. These graduate students have much more important work to attend to. Well, I have found, that I don’t.

I am feeling astonishingly useless as I sit around at the computer day after day and read and think and write and question. Its just about the most indulgent, selfish activity a human could engage in. Can you imagine another primate spending time on such an activity, that does not procure food or sex. I know, I know, humans have loftier intellectual goals than the basic need to sustain life. But it just feels wrong, for me anyway.

Amazingly enough, its just as self-indulgent and vain as being a true fine artist would have been. But then at least my art could have made someone happy. I doubt my dissertation will bring a smile to anyone’s face in quite the same way a painting might.

My work now is not emotionally cathartic, nor is it practical. At times, like these, its hard to justify doing it at all.

Today I met my husband for lunch. We sat across the table from three women who had on shockingly immense diamond rings and fur coats that looked like they had murdered a bear. The women were in beautiful cashmere sweaters talking about how they have applied to pre-schools for their children and are waiting to hear back. One woman complained incessantly about the nanny, who was no doubt home with her children as we sat there. Another woman scolded the waitress because her now empty plate had been sitting in front of her for a full 15 *gasp* minutes! They seemed cliché and bored.

I realized that I am in the same position as these women (sans the rings, coats, nannies and sweaters of course). But with all the wretched, lonely, despicable anxious parts of having nothing to do and none of the money to actually do something.

As things stand now, I would be better off working in a coffee or pizza shop. But I am afraid my patience and skill for those tasks would fall short of the average person. I know, self pity is always unbecoming.

This video about graduate students from the Simpsons is pretty accurate this week: click to view.


  1. "...just as self-indulgent and vain as being a true fine artist..."

    But is it as rewarding? What works for you? Analyzing creative processes, or engaging in them?

    How much effort have you actually put toward painting / drawing / print-making lately?

    Your brother and I went to a walk-in exhibit in Dumbo once, years ago, and one womans work consisted of a series of small, hand-drawn and staple-bound ruminations about what it means to be an artist. One of these little book was entitled "Are You An Artist?". It consisted of simple questions (one per page) for the reader to ask him or herself. One question was "Does your art exist?", and had a drawing of a girl in an empty room, with a question mark over her head.

    Anyway, did you get that keyboard, as we discussed?

    In an earlier post here, I championed self-indulgence as the one necessary commodity for true expression. Why use the term so negatively here?

  2. “Analyzing creative processes, or engaging in them?”

    The thing is science that IS a creative process, I just have not created anything yet. I am like a painter who is trying to sell a painting that has not been painted. Its just an idea now. Does an idea exist?

    I think I am going to sign up for that watercolor class I have been meaning to now. I need balance.

    Self-indulgence is good, but its just never been my job before. I need some external discipline tightening in on me. My life is like a bad novel, with no plot tension, just pages and pages of bland rolling prose.

  3. Too much analysis.

    You know what Warhol would tell you:

    "How many paintings have you made today? Oh, JULES! Don't you know you should be making 3 - 4 paintings a day?"

  4. Science is a creative process like math is a creative process.... a means to an end.

    Art is an end in itself.

  5. I think the problem is that I haven’t made ANYTHING lately. I have nothing to show for my existence lately...except a few blog posts and a beet and goat cheese frittata that turned out decent and burned my arm when coming out of the oven.

    oh woe is me...

  6. Jules.... ya KILLIN' me!

    Stop typing and GET BUSY.

    Pen. Ink. Paper.

    That frittata sounds mad tasty.

  7. I know it doesn't help to hear that others, before you, have felt the same frustration. I know this because others before you, when told this, weren't helped. (Me.) But we still pass on this sentiment because it makes us feel better and because we know that it gets better but it somehow stays the same too.

  8. Thank you Holly and Jeff for your encouragement, I appreciate it.