artist • observer • instructor
a right brained thinker shares her observations and insights through teaching, learning and making.
Making art so far has not helped me and has not helped others. These two things, quite frankly, in this order is the basis for everything that everyone does. So why on earth have I spent close to half my life’s resources of time and money on something that so far serves neither?
Lately I am asking:
Pedal - Breathe
Pothole - Breathe
Pedal - Breathe
Thought - Breathe
Pedal - Breathe
Near Death Experience - Breathe
I am a bike commuter. For one of my jobs I bike one hour each way up Milwaukee Avenue in Chicago. This artery of bikes, cars and shops is a residue of precolonial times. I leave very early in the morning usually when it is still dark out to get to my 8 am class at Wright College. The morning is the best ride. The city is mostly quiet. The air is cold. In the morning I may see the lovers at the corner of Milwaukee and Armitage, a young woman in fatigues and her boyfriend kissing, I love the gender inversion in this scene. Further north is the Shell station where the European men wait for work, and usually stare at me. The purple shirted students of Shurtz High School build up at the bus stops as I approach the school and fade away from the sidewalks as pedal further north.
I am commuting to work, just like everyone else. And just like everyone else, I often do this without a conscious thought in the moment. Just like a car commuter, I may end up at my destination not totally sure how I got there.
This is a missed opportunity.
Last ride I tried paying attention to my breath. It is irregular when I ride, but as thoughts came up I returned to my breath. Worries, back to the breath. Asshole who shouldn’t be operating a car, back to the breath. I tried a meditation technique, count breaths until reaching 20, start again. Miss a breath, start again. I never reached 20, but when I arrived at my destination I felt more ready, more calm. This practice I will repeat.
Being under employed I struggle with my time management. Much time can be quickly lost to “researching” something on the internet that is barely important, and certainly not important in this moment. For this reason, and because I like getting things done I keep a running list of the things I want and need to do.
Making the to-do list
Break down each task into small accomplishable components. I don’t write: clean the house, instead I write: put away stuff, vacuum, clean the bathroom, clean the kitchen, etc. If a task gives me anxiety or I’m resistant to doing it I’ll break it down into even smaller components.
Using the to-do list
At the beginning of each day I sit with my list and choose a reasonable number of items to do that day. I put enough items on that I’ll feel accomplished by the end of the day, but not so many that I won’t complete my list. I try to vary my tasks so I’m not just stuck at the computer.
With THE WHOLE DAY ahead of me, I can totally just drink tea in the sun right? Well, yes I do that on some days, but if today is for the list, then I have to get started. I start with items that are easy or fun, like the laundry because that just involves at first putting clothes in the machine, nothing to it. Or sometimes I start with cleaning off my desk, creating the space I need to work.
After a period of hard work I’ll take a break. For me if I’m at the computer, the best breaks are physical, yoga, exercise or sometimes running an errand is on my list so I can do that to switch it up. I’ll also indulge in Facebook or some mindless computering, but I need to keep my eye on the clock for that.
When the list is done. I am done. Thats it. Finished early? Great, I can enjoy my afternoon off.
I’ve bounced around from lots of different list making apps, but currently the app I use is any.do. It works on iOS and Android and there is a web browser widget, so I’m never away from my list. Sometimes it syncs poorly, but mostly its great.
The viewfinder is such a powerful tool! My students rarely appreciate its power.
With the view finder they can choose what to view, choose what to draw, choose the way the drawing fits on the paper. The viewfinder is a mindfulness tool. When understood and used properly, it facilitates mindful, planned, well composed observational drawings.
It focuses their attention on a selected scene and by marking the viewfinder, as I instruct my students to do, they return again and again to focus on the chosen view.
The viewfinder is all about choosing to focus and returning to that spot again and again.
Mindfulness in action.
I started playing banjo “seriously” about five months ago. Being under-employed I wanted to get out of the house more, challenge myself and meet people. I signed up for Clawhammer 2, because I took 1 several years ago, and began again in earnest.
These past five months are also really the only time I’ve played a musical instrument. I’ve never been drawn to playing music. The piano we had in the house growing up was a short lived torture devise that my parents quickly let me give up on. My approach then as it is now is imitation. If I make all the same moves, if I follow the map of the tablature, music happens. I call this “operating the banjo,” not playing it.
I’ve never been wired up for music. I don’t even listen to it that often, and when I do, I consume a pretty basic form of it usually verging on pop. People seem uncomfortable with talking about talent because accepting that people have talent means that some people are not equal in some arenas. To me this is hilarious, we all know we are not equal in all areas of learning and life, its just the luck of the draw. But all people have talent in at least a few if not several arenas.
I am very talented in the visual arena, so I’ve been clinging to this technique of imitation and reading tablature to “operate the banjo,” because it is within my comfort zone. I’ve also been using the trusty fill in for lack of talent - hard work and practice (equally available to everyone, including the talented).
But in this session at The Old Town School, I’ve decided I can “operate” the banjo well enough to give this learning by ear thing my teacher, Steve Rosen, has been using for the past five months, a college try. During last week’s lesson, he really picked up the pace, and I knew I’d have no other choice. When I got home to practice, I played nearly the whole song from the recording, just cheating from the tabs at few spots. I couldn’t believe it!
Lucky for me I am a drawing instructor at Wright College. I’ve been using right brain learning as the foundation for this course for six years. Understanding the how slippery, wordless and abstract right brain learning is, has kept me faithful to the path I was following in my lessons. I can recognize each tiny milestone in the dizzy feeling, like I will fall off. And each time I realize I am doing it, actually playing the banjo, I do fall off. Remember learning to ride your bike, looking down, knowing it was happening, then crashing? Learning is painful and exhausting and totally awesome.