What Art Isn’t.

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A few years ago, a critic in my hometown was reviewing a local art festival, which has become a huge community event for our city. He was complaining about how he felt the nature of the event had become somewhat plebeian, where art was subjected to the votes of regular people, and those regular people tended to gravitate toward the “fun” pieces instead of the “thought-provoking” ones. For example, one artist placed a loch-ness monster-esque creature in the river that runs thought the city. People were delighted by it, finding it quirky, creative, and eye-catching, and it of course made it into the top ten final pieces of the festival. The critic was lamenting how other pieces were overlooked, such as striking portraits or daring pieces of art that were on display in our museums. Why subject tasteful pieces of art to the insatiable desire of common people, who only want to see what’s big, loud, and colorful?

In a sense, what the critic was saying was, “That’s not art.”

I visited ArtPrize, now entering its eighth year of exhibition in Grand Rapids, this past weekend, taking in all the details not only of the art, but of the culture of my city that I never saw before. After eight years, ArtPrize has grown from a simple exhibition of different pieces of art to a celebration of the Grand Rapids community – food trucks from local businesses lining the streets, people from all over the community spreading their crafts out on the sidewalk with handmade signs boasting cheap prices, buskers galore –

But all I saw was art.

I saw art in people walking down the street, their clothes, their faces telling their stories. The air smelled like art – elephant ears, artisan coffee, pizza by the slice. And the main event, the actual art, was all around me too. The art museum was full to the brim of the quintessential and the quirky – a spaceship made completely out of household materials right alongside modern renderings of Mary Magdelene.

I didn’t walk past one person, one food truck, one painting, and say, nose in the air, “That’s not art.”

We were created by a Creative Being. When He separated the light from the darkness, he saw two huge murals, one illuminated, one in shadow. He then began to paint on those murals. Everything you see was meticulously crafted together by skilled hands.

“There is not one square inch in the whole domain of our human existence,” said Abraham Kuyper, “over which Christ, who is Sovereign over all, does not cry, ‘Mine!'”

So to say something isn’t art is heresy. It’s to say that God doesn’t exist. There is no such thing as the absence of art. Leave your definition of art at the door. “Art is a painting.” “Art has to be sophisticated.” “Art is cultural.” “Art is a luxury.” Throw these away. Because everything you see is art. The people you see, the food you eat, the paintings you admire. Art.

I want you to know that my definition of art is one that you might not have heard before. Everything can become a work of art. Everything can be redeemed.

The next time someone tells you that something isn’t art, ask them, “Then what is it?”

Every square inch.

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Dreams vs. Goals.

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Hello, internet. It’s been awhile since I’ve checked in on you guys. (It hasn’t been, actually. I check the internet every day to find out more about Kim Kardashian’s baby, obviously. But it’s been awhile since I’ve written.) Life has been busy for me. I recently moved, made adulty decisions like what internet service to use, found a boyfriend (!), and started my last semester of college. I set a goal for myself to post at least once a week, but…life. And also writing is stressful (will write a post about it. Stay tuned.)

Speaking of goals, you probably noticed that word is in the title, so that’s obviously what I’m going to be talking about, right? Well, that’s my goal. (Wink.) After reading through all my childhood journals, I started thinking about how much I have changed. When I was nine, I wanted to be a writer, or a spy, or a cartoonist, or a writer-cartoonist-spy. At thirteen I wanted to write novels and make money off it (ha.) In high school, I wanted to be a teacher one year and an actor the next, until I took a career assessment test and found out I’d make a great funeral planner (no thanks. I’d rather die.) I started college as a music major, then I moved to broadcasting, and I still have a broadcasting major but don’t think I’ll actually use it for broadcasting, but instead go on to get my masters in marketing (big question mark there.)

So here I am as a senior in college, and it’s safe to say my dreams have changed every year of my life. My career dreams, my relationship dreams, my life dreams. They’ve all changed pretty fluidly. In second grade, my biggest dream was to own a gold Honda van and be an ice cream lady. Big. Dreams. At 21, my biggest dream is to be able to take a nap this weekend. That’s only a little bit of an exaggeration.

My “dream,” in general, is to write and create in whatever job I end up in. But I’m not sure if I’d call that a “dream” anymore. The more I’ve thought about what dreams and what they are, the more I’m turned off by the idea of having “hopes and dreams.” I’d rather not live my life in abstracts. Dreams are fickle, and I’d rather not live a life of dreams.

For a long time, I had a dream of becoming an actress. I wanted it really badly. I’d sing through entire Broadway albums when my parents weren’t home, I’d stage musical numbers in the shower – I wanted it so bad. Wanted. But I didn’t set up a goal. I just imagined things would eventually fall into place and I’d magically find myself in New York City with a paying acting job.

But take into account how much work it takes to be a full-time professional actress. You have little to no down time. Your entire life revolves around perfecting your craft, keeping your body in immaculate shape, and do everything you can not to get sick – or worse, vocal nodes.

I totally understand that some people have big dreams like these and actively chase them. They work their tails off working, training, and auditioning to finally make it. A lot of times that hard work pays off. But it didn’t take me too long to realize that for me, that dream was just that – a dream, and nothing more.

It was the same with being a full-time writer – little more than lip service. I didn’t have anything to show for that dream. No plan lined up to make that dream a reality. Is it good to dream? Of course it is. I still hope that somehow by some turn of fate I could end up a Hollywood actress or Broadway singer. But those aren’t my goals. 

My goal is to work for something I believe in, in every aspect of my life – at work, at home, with or without a ring on my finger, with or without a child or children, with or without multiple degrees. That goal is definitely reachable, and it’s something I’m willing to work for. The saddest stories are the ones where people’s dreams remain unfulfilled. Attainable goals are easier to fulfill

All of that to say, I think we can do away with “dream” language. Dream job, dream house, dream this and that. Because your dreams are usually fixated on one particular thing: that one partner, that one amazing car, that one specific job. Goals can encompasss every aspect of your life. You can see them play out in real time. Maybe you have a goal to graduate. What can you do to expound on that goal? Start searching for jobs before you get a diploma? Make a plan to travel the world after you graduate? And what about after that? Goals are growable and adaptable. As a freshman, my goal was to graduate in four years. I’m graduating in three and a half. My next goal is to find a career by summer 2018. Who knows where that will go.

Kick the dreaming to the curb. What’s your goal?

“For those who build their life on dreams

it’s prudent to recall

A man with moonlight in his hand

holds nothing there at all.”

“To Each His Dulcinea,” Man of La Mancha

– a. w.

Things that Mean Things

13308640_1175953279118227_6365910480183376487_oI’ve been cleaning house lately,

getting rid of things I don’t need.

The usual stuff:

Blankets,

Old clothes,

Stuffed animals from years gone by,

Books that have gone untouched for years.

It didn’t take long for me to whittle down

All the things I didn’t need,

Put away in brown bags to be sent to Goodwill.

Then I found myself amongst

A different pile

Of old things.

A picture frame

that holds four smiling people

And says

“Friends forever.”

A few years ago,

I would’ve held that picture to my chest

and maybe cried.

But I looked at it

and for the first time

I didn’t feel

Anything.

An old pillowcase from fourth grade

that I used to cry into

when I had anxiety

but before I realized

anxiety

would become part of my life’s narrative.

I looked at it, felt it, smelled it

and it didn’t mean

Anything.

A plethora of other pictures

Notes passed in class

Candles from birthdays gone by

I looked at them

sitting in various boxes

and realized –

That’s not the way it is anymore.

I used to need those things,

the people in those pictures,

that blanket for comfort,

that note from that person.

But now

I

don’t.

What happened?

Nothing, really.

Just time.

Time happened.

Time caused a gap

Caused silence

Caused apathy.

And that’s okay.

If we were meant to say in a harbor,

we would be a buoy, not a ship.

We sail. We don’t stay.

And by sailing,

We move away from the things

that used to keep us safe

to search for things

that grow us.

We sail away from old memories

that used to make us cry,

but now only bring a tickle to our throat

before disappearing forever.

We part from friends and leave them on the shore,

so they can build their ship

and sail too.

We leave the things

that once used to be

so so important to us 

on the sand

to be lapped by the waves.

What used to be treasure is now merely driftwood.

And that’s ok.

We weren’t meant to crave driftwood,

to hang it in our houses or cling to it at night.

We weren’t meant to be tied to the dock.

If we hold onto the things that used to be us,

we’ll stop becoming who we’re meant to be.

We’ll be a ship, but we won’t be any use.

We’d hold onto

everything

that ever made us

anything

and

slowly

we’d

sink.

So let go.

a. w.

What if We’re Not Actually Busy?

There are five other things I could be doing right now, but instead I’m writing this.

That’s a predicament we find ourselves in often, isn’t it? We have a laundry list of things to do, but we don’t do them. We find something else to do that is much more trivial. Netflix, for example. (Or blogging…)

But we still manage to let people know more than once a day that we are “soooo busy.” Sometimes it becomes a competition. “I have three papers and a text this week!” “Oh yeah? Well I have FOUR papers and THREE tests this week, plus I have to walk to Canada and back WHILE studying for my THREE tests! Beat that!”

Hang on a second.

What if we’re not actually busy?

What if we just like telling people we’re busy?

There’s a kind of badge of honor that comes with being “busy.” It means we’re important. People need us. We have deadlines because we hold important positions. We whisk ourselves away from one thing to another, wearing our “Hello, my name is busy” name tag with pride.

I took a class my sophomore year called creativity, innovations, and problem-solving. It’s a requirement for everyone at my school. And you guessed it – creativity was the key talking point. Many people think they’re not creative, but really they’re just not giving themselves enough time to be creative. Some people use the excuse that they “just don’t have time.”

You know what my professor said to that? “When students say they don’t have enough time, I offer to go through their schedules and find time for them. They never take me up on that offer…because they know I’ll find time somewhere.”

It’s our best excuse. “I just don’t have time.”

But what if we actually do?

Take a minute to take inventory of your time. You don’t need to be excessive. Just think through an average day for you. I’ll give you my example. I wake up at 7:15am. I hit a button on my coffee maker so it can do its job, and I sit down with breakfast until 8, when I get ready. During this time, I’m usually on my phone. I have classes in the morning, then a lunch break at 12. Sometimes I’ll do homework, other times I’ll be on my phone…again. Then I have class and work until 4, then about an hour til my evening activities, which will go til either 6 or 9 depending on the day. Then I’m in bed my 11.

It might look busy, but I can pinpoint places where I actually have time – my hour-and-a-half lunch break, the half hour I have between class and work, the hour I have before dinner and evening activities. You might have less time than this, but I can still guarantee you that somewhere, you have time.

I’m not going to be the grumpy “get off your dang phone!” mom-ish person, but – sometimes you gotta get off your dang phone. I think sometimes we feel like we’re busier because when we’re not busy, we’re keeping up with everyone else’s busyness. Then all of the sudden – gasp! Off to the next thing!

That’s not the point of this post, though. I’m not saying we all *think* we’re busy because of our phones.

I think it’s because we’re supposed to be busy.

This is America. (Probably, unless you’re reading this somewhere else.) Everything is time-based, schedule-based. Our phones ding when we have an appointment. We have color-coded planners. We have to-go food. Because we’re always going. We’re looking ahead on our planners to see what’s coming next. When we’re not actually doing things, we’re looking at what’s coming next. 

What if you just stopped for a second? Record-scratch, freeze-frame style?

e.e. cummings wrote a fantastic little poem called “little man in a hurry.” Take a look:

“little man
(in a hurry
full of an
important worry)
halt stop forget relax

wait

(little child
who have tried
who have failed
who have cried)
lie bravely down

sleep

big rain
big snow
big sun
big moon
(enter

us)”

(Source)

Since it’s cummings, it’s a little bit hard to interpret and remains somewhat ambiguous. But I think you can get the gist of it. Halt. Stop. Relax. But even his “little man” is stopping and halting breathlessly, as indicated by no punctuation – “halt stop forget relax” like it’s a to-do-list in and of itself.

Relaxing isn’t just another thing to check off your to-do list. It’s necessary to your mental and physical survival. 

And if you do decide to relax, you’re not being lazy. 

What “important worry” are you carrying around? Is it really that important? Can you “halt – stop – relax” for just a moment? I think you can. Because sometimes we wear our busyness like a badge of honor.

I’ll make the moral of this post short and sweet. To quote Elizabeth Schuyler from the immortal musical Hamilton:

“Take a break!”

When You Go to College in Your Hometown.

“You’re living far away from home; and you’ve traded everything for a stone.”

– “Everything for a Stone,” The Belle Brigade

Before I get into the actual topic of this post, I’ll begin by saying I wasn’t planning on going to college near my hometown. I’ve talked in previous posts about how my college plans changed rapidly (see post Growing in Struggle.) I ended up at a small university in a decent-sized metropolitan area near where I grew up. I was born and raised in a very small town with a lot of cows and cornfields. Drive twenty minutes one direction and you’re in the city. Drive twenty minutes the other direction and you’re in the middle of nowhere. The area is a very odd, somewhat jarring hybrid of country, suburban, and metropolitan settings. It’s equal parts quaint and cultural, rural juxtaposed with urban.

My hometown is about a half hour from downtown Grand Rapids, Michigan – if you’ve never been there, GR is like a very small Chicago. A very, very (very very) small Chicago. My friend described it as a “Holiday Inn Express” for hipsters – it’s neither East Coast nor West Coast, but there are definitely strong hipster vibes in the city (everywhere you turn there’s a farmer’s market – one of the benefits of a metro area surrounded by fields.) My college is located on the “north end” of town, and I was raised on the “south end.” If you’ve lived in a metropolitan area, you’ll understand when I say that “north-enders” and “south-enders” are very different. Same overarching culture, but different subculture.

Like I said before, I didn’t plan on going to school in my hometown. I only applied to two colleges because I basically had my mind made up – but then, in true teenage fashion, my mind was changed, and very quickly. As a result, I ended up at this small, private, liberal arts university on the north end of Grand Rapids.

It was fairly convenient – I know not everyone grows up in a college town or even a town that has any college at all, which means they have to move away if they want to pursue higher ed. The other college I was considering was two hours away and a true college town (the college was literally the town. Other than that, there were Amish people and a Burger King.)

“So Audrey,” you might (or might not) ask, “What has your experience been like, going to school in your hometown?”

Well, Nameless Imaginary Inquisitor, it has been wonderful. I have loved going to a university that is so close to a large metropolitan area where there’s lots to see and do. And it’s been great being close to home (I mean, free laundry and food, am I right?!)

“But Audrey,” you continue, “don’t you feel like you’ve missed out by staying close to home? Aren’t you sheltered now? Isn’t it just the same as it was when you were growing up? Are you ever going to have the courage to move away?”

Whoa, now, don’t get ahead of yourself, Imaginary Inquisitor. I’m not saying that going to school locally is the best idea for everyone, or that it’s perfect, but I am saying that it’s certainly not a bad thing. And here’s why:

You’re staying close to your roots. College is going to hit all of your ideals, beliefs, and opinions right between the eyes, no matter where you go. Whether it’s your professor or your roommate, someone is going to disagree with you and possibly shake up some of your predispositions. Sometimes, these things are hard to grapple with. When you’re far from home and where you grew up, you may feel lost, maybe somewhat marooned, like you’re on a ship without a captain. When my beliefs were somewhat shaken in college, my roots helped me shape my own opinion of what was being taught to me in college – I wasn’t allowing myself to be directly spoon-fed information without first approaching it with opinions of other people whom I trusted. Having roots close to you can help with that.

You know the area. It’s easy to feel isolated in college because you don’t know anything about the city it’s in. In the case of that college-town school I was talking about, there literally wasn’t anything in the area except farmland. And at a remote college like that, most students are also from out of town so they know as much as you do. Going to a local school I had the benefit of knowing some things about not only Grand Rapids but the surrounding communities. I also found myself learning more about the area than I’d ever known before (like the dearth of coffee shops GR has to offer.) I got more connected with my church, explored new areas, and made connections in the city that I had been totally unaware of up to that point. It’s kind of nice to go into college with some background knowledge of not only the school, but its city.

You’ll have a new perspective. Although you’re in the same place, you’ll see it through different eyes. With college comes freedom to be independent and think for yourself in more ways than you ever have. I learned more about my city in college than I ever did growing up near it. I explored more towns in the outlying area than I ever had before as well. In the fall, I explored uptown with my roommates, which was a place I wasn’t too familiar with. I auditioned for shows at the community theatre. I volunteered at an inner city school. Sometimes the best opportunities are right under your nose for eighteen years and you never realize it because you’re too busy grinding through the American school system (not bitter.)

All of this to say – if you’re searching for colleges right now, don’t rule out the ones that are twenty minutes down the road. It doesn’t mean you have to live with your parents (unless you want to – I mean, free food. And your pets.) People might hardcore judge you, but that’s okay. They just don’t understand, because they were taught their whole lives that they have to go far away for college. Or they didn’t have the amazing privilege of growing up in an awesome spot like you did.

So don’t take your hometown for granted. You might just realize that it’s where you really belong.

Don’t Feel Bad for Being Booksmart.

Don’t Feel Bad for Being Booksmart.

It is the cry of all products of the American school system, after sitting through seven hours worth of coursework followed by the after-dinner ritual of checking off assignments until who-knows-what hour of the night (or morning.) High schoolers, liberal arts college students, human beings who have ever had to sit in a biology class – all of them collectively throw down their Bic or their Ticonderoga and wail:

“When will I ever use this????”

We’ve all been there. I’ve been there. After getting an algebra question wrong for the umpteenth time in seventh grade, I threw my calculator across the room, breaking my bedroom lamp in the process (though she be but little, she is fierce.) Watching the clock strike midnight as I was barely halfway through AP government homework. Dissecting a very sad-looking fetal pig in human biology my sophomore year of college, wondering, why does a communications major have to learn about the inner workings of a farm animal? 

The answer is simple and not so simple at the same time. The American school system is flawed. We all know that by now. Some kids learn faster than others, some love every single class and graudate with a 4.0 while others scrape by because they don’t see the point. Everyone is tested based on the same things. Every year, high school juniors sit down in a big room and melt their brains over a Scantron sheet to see if they can regurgitate enough information to get into a good college with good scholarship. (And they say daytime television is mind-numbing?!)

So yeah, there’s problems. In school you learn that mitochondria is the powerhouse of the cell, but you don’t learn how to change the oil in your car. You learn long division (?!) but not how to file your taxes. You figure out what equals but you never really figure out why you need to know that (see what I did there?)

But don’t worry. It’s not useless. You didn’t waste your childhood sitting in a desk, I promise you.

The pursuit of knowledge is a noble thing, even if you don’t know exactly why or how you will use it. You may think your schooling has been impractical or mundane, but there was something else at work in the midst of that. School wasn’t designed to teach you how to do taxes or how to fix a car. That’s not the point.

You learned about cells so you can understand that your body is freaking awesome and you should take care of it by drinking water, eating reasonably healthy, and going easy on yourself when you’re sick.

You learned English and read novels so you could write a solid, descriptive resume or cover letter, free of grammatical errors. You read those novels to understand other worldviews, other places in time, the way the language you’re writing has changed an evolved.

You learned history because – well, it’s history and it’s important. I don’t need to explain myself on that one.

You learned adding, subtracting, long division, and algebra so you can calculate your tax deductions, your gross income, and your adjusted gross income on your taxes.

My point is this: the purpose of school is to teach you how to learn and understand. Take grades and all that out of it. And if it’s not teaching you how to learn and understand, it should. 

So don’t feel bad if you like school. That means you like learning. You like understanding things, even if it’s outside of what your main interests are. I’m not a huge fan of math. However, I do like the simple pleasure of seeing an algebra problem methodically solved by eliminating bits and pieces until you get the answer. Chemistry was never my strong suit, but it taught me how to get permanent marker out of various materials because of the chemical compounds at work.

You might be more booksmart instead of street smart. And that’s okay. Don’t let people make you feel bad for not knowing about car insurance or taxes. If you’ve got anything between your ears, you know that there’s more to life than taxes, interest rates, oil changes, and dividends. There’s mitochondria and Charles Dickens and algebra and Thoreau and JFK.

Albert Einstein (a shining example of a genius who rose above adversity) once said, “Any fool can know. The point is to understand.” The end-all and be-all of our lives isn’t to know how to cook a full-course meal or file taxes correctly or change a tire. Our end-all, be-all is to be humans who thirst to learn more, to discover. Discoveries build bridges. They help us understand why some people are booksmart and other people are street smart. They help us understand that mitochondria are the powerhouse of the cell, that it’s possible to solve for y, that we need history or else we’ll repeat the mistakes of the past, that we need each other in order to understand. If we don’t seek to understand these things, we’ll be no better than an unfiled tax form.

 

Missing Someone.

 

Sometimes people leave you halfway through the woods.

– Cinderella, Into the Woods

There have been many times in my life when I’ve missed someone. I’m sure that’s happened to you too – missing a person is not a peculiar thing. Maybe they’ve left your city, or just left your life. Or they’ve left this life, which is its own kind of missing someone.

Whatever it may be, they’re not with you anymore. But they’ve left something behind, and that something is usually (ironically) Emptiness. Because there’s a hole in your life now, a gap that used to be filled by moments, moments with that person. But now that the person’s gone, you gotta work on filling that gap.

I’m in a period of life right now where I’m missing someone. I forgot how much it hurts. The last time someone I loved moved away from me, I was in third grade. I remember laying in my mom’s bed crying after I found out my best friend was moving away. I didn’t think it was fair. Why would my best friend leave? How do people leave people they love?

I did the same thing a few months ago, except I was with a different loved one and we cried together. We sat there and hugged each other and cried for a long time. Because parting is hard. Missing someone is hard. I replay the last time I saw them again and again in my mind, wishing I could have held on to that moment just a little bit longer.

I didn’t think it was fair. How do people leave people they love?

And then those memories come, the whispers of the time you spent with that person. You associate things and places with them. I think of my friend every time I see a Pontiac Grand Prix – no joke. Sometimes those memories hit you like a truck. Other times, you wake up with those quiet remembrances in your head.

There’s a certain stretch of busy road that I associate with that loved one. It’s weird how those associations start, isn’t it? We drove through that corridor so many times, after going out to restaurants or watching scary movies, usually accompanied by blaring music. All of those times we drove it, I never thought it would end. I think about it every time I drive down that particular stretch of road. On a bad day, it’ll bring tears to my eyes. On a good day, it’ll make me smile.

That’s the thing with missing someone. You never know how it’s going to hit you. You never know how a memory is going to make you feel. I smile when I think about the time the friendly stray cat followed us around my neighborhood. Until I wish we could do it again. Then I start crying. (I cry easily.)

After I got off a FaceTime conversation with them the other night, I started crying. I started crying because I saw them, but I wasn’t with them. I have it much easier than some people – if you’ve lost a loved one, you can’t see them or be with them. Thank goodness for modern technology.

There’s a little bit of selfishness with missing someone…maybe more than just a little. You want them to be back with you, for them to stay as they were, locked in your memory. But people change and grow and move. To keep them in one place forever would be selfish.

One thing I’ve learned from missing people is that people are perpetual, never static. You, as a human being, have the right to change – and move. And leave, if you think it’s necessary.

I tried moving away once. But I’m a homebody. I still live close to my childhood home. I got so devastatingly homesick that I couldn’t function. My loved one just moved back to his original home. I couldn’t imagine doing what he did – moving so far away for such a long time. It takes a brave person to do that. It takes a brave person to leave. And to go back.

Just like it takes a brave person to change.

Change, like a person, is perpetual. There won’t ever be a facet in your life that isn’t changing. And usually, change hurts. In this case, it can cause you to miss someone. Badly. But keep in mind the oft-quoted words of C.S. Lewis:

“There are far, far better things ahead than any we leave behind.”

Sidney Carton also said something similar to this at the end of Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities – right before he was about to die. That’s what we call Perspective.

Back to that Person. That person who is not with you anymore. Remember that there are far, far better things ahead than what they left behind. Leaving is a hard decision. But just wait. Watch that Person grow and become something incredible, something they could’ve never been if they’d stayed. Continue to cheer for them, to love them, and miss them. It’s okay to miss them. Because eventually the “missing” part becomes less painful, because you look up from your tears and see not only the person they’ve become, but the person you’ve become.

And trust me, it’ll be amazing.