I Need to Carry a Voice Recorder / by Erin King

Forgive the confusing, vague title. I’m still trying to figure out where I’m going with this entry.

It’s not that I don’t know what I want to write; it’s just that while I was weeding and harvesting in my garden earlier today, my internal monologue started drafting 5 different entries. Now, to me, they’re all interconnected and woven together — because that is how I perceive EVERYTHING. Unfortunately, not everyone can see the connections between things if there isn’t a clear “thesis”, call to action, or linear narrative present. Which makes my feeling motivated to sharing my writing non-existent.

There are many, many, MANY times that I have come to the conclusion that I need to start recording my conversations when I’m trying to explain my research or my artwork to my mom over the phone, or when I’m getting on a soapbox rant while I’m running with my running partner. Or when I’m venting my frustration with my friends in the grad cohort and they assure me that there is a researchable and valid argument to which I’m just scratching the surface. I can explain to any number of people what my thoughts are on almost anything these days, except for when I’m asked specifics in relation to my artwork, specifically by art department faculty or in critique.

There are becoming more and more instances where I need to be recording my internal monologue, which means I would have to be that person walking around talking to their self out loud. (I’m already known for doing that at work or when I’m in a store shopping, almost always when I need to remember something.) Stubbornly, I push back that I would never listen to the recordings (because I hate the sound of my speaking voice). Also, I can’t get the visual of Dr. Zimsky from “The Core” constantly recording himself out of my head.

But you and I both know that I would probably make this whole “writing my thesis” thing and “navigating conversations about my work with faculty and peers” thing less painful if I would record myself.

Which brings me to…

Self-Destructive Tendencies

Throughout the duration of my second year in my graduate school experiment, I’ve found ways to say yes to myself more often, and have gotten the closest I ever have to making sense in my MFA project. But that was the result of a lot of push and pull, and some backsliding. Picture a potter trying to center a lump of clay on a pottery wheel before building a vessel. I’m a very wobbly, stubborn lump of clay.

A Recap

As I had briefly written about in my Medium entry, Let’s Felt Hands in a Mirror Maze in the Mountains…, I had felt more confident in my work than I had in a long time upon my return from Arrowmont School of Art and Craft. I had recently started a job at a church as a Finance Assistant for the summer, and it was keeping me from being able to put in regular hours at the art studio during the summer. But with my new-found love for experimental frame-loom weaving, I made a goal to make a weaving a week, and I lost myself in it.

It was the third frame weaving that really got me excited. There was something about it that communicated something to me that for lack of a better word, I called “musical".

Around the same time, my second reader for my thesis committee, Chris, was trying to coordinate meetings with all of the students whose committees he served on before he left town for the summer. During this meeting, I was so excited and filled with energy — a sight that was rare near the end of my first year of grad school — and he fed off of this.

I talked about my experience at Arrowmont, and how excited I was about the weavings I was creating, and had mentioned that this weaving made me think of music. He confirmed that he also saw that too, and we started trying to unpack what I could do with that. He mentioned that I should try to develop a system for interpreting the elements I was using into a musical arrangement. I grew a little silent.

When I spoke again, I mentioned that I had almost majored in undergrad in music, but was so worried about the music theory and my not-so-great reading skills of rhythm, and so I majored in art instead. I also mentioned that I’d thought about bringing music into my work, but was afraid I couldn’t defend it or do it well enough. I felt afraid that if I changed my direction again that my committee would give up on me because of all of the many ideas I had flitted from in my first year. (My counselor would later tell me that this wasn’t so much inability to focus, but hyper-vigilance and my need to please everyone.)

That was when my second committee member gave me the best set of advice: If something is worth-while and you love it enough, it should make you want to work harder at the thing you’re not good at — not run away from it. Better yet, he gave me permission to follow that instinct that I originally had buried out of fear. As a people-pleaser, the best thing someone can do for me is give me permission to follow my instincts.

Following that studio visit, I traveled to St. Louis and met up with the now-retired music composition professor from my alma mater, Webster University. Bob and I go way back. He used to play organ and accompany the choir at my church. He let me borrow his typewriter for one of my art projects freshman year, and he used to tell me stories about participating in some Happenings in St. Louis. During our visit, we discussed ways one might go about translating each of my weavings into different songs. He also told me about World Make Music Day, and Pianos for People. This led me to emailing someone at Pianos for People and coordinating the possibility for me to acquire two dead pianos. (That’s a story for another day.)

I didn’t get permission from anyone, or tell my committee members — I just went for it. I was on a track that would take my art all over the place again, but this time, I was sort of refreshing myself on the basics of music theory and rhythm. I was reading up on the development of modern-day music notation and mass production, and I was finding similar issues in translation that the early music printers faced. But I had a box to work from, so to speak.

Obstacles

I was being more true to who I was, and was more confident than I’ve been in a long time. I had a goal of where I was going, and just needed to figure out how to get there. I was starting to be okay being me. And that’s when I found new ways to undermine my success.

What I mean is the first year, I was so fixated on “winning” critiques (sounding smart), coming up with something clever, or preaching through my artwork to address social justice issues that I just couldn’t sustain a large, overarching project. Now, I think about that version of me, and I think it was “Advertising Major Erin”. Advertising Major Erin was always focused on making something funny or clever, but they were one-off ideas that didn’t tie into any overarching campaign. Which is frustrating, because Advertising Major Erin also hated brands by how hard they tried to be funny or clever (cough cough Geico), and couldn’t keep one consistent campaign going. Hi Kettle, you’re black.

Anyway, most of those “failures” I had was a combination of my insecurities and self-fulfilling prophecy. For example, I was afraid I couldn’t keep up with the amount of reading, but set myself for continual failure because I didn’t go through with meeting with the Disability Services office. Or, I was afraid I wasn’t intelligent enough to be in the graduate program, so my anxiety and incessant need for people to like me caused me to continually shift my focus. I was making a lot of stuff, but not finishing anything.

So, for the beginning of year two in graduate school, I went against my better judgment and entered a relationship at the worst possible time. Without going to far into any of that, there were millions of red flags, and I always found ways to justify or explain them away. But the guy made jokes about my pursuing an MFA in Art, I let my passion for my studio practice and research slide, and my confidence in myself imploded. Having the energy to always give him allowance for his point of view or his glaringly different (or downright troubling) opinions on things going on in the world wore me down. I was trying to carry him in the midst of his grief, since he couldn’t recognize he needed to see a counselor or therapist, but I was also filling my time so I couldn’t be alone with the questions about my artwork. I was so afraid of failing in this new direction of my artwork that I entered into a relationship where I could retreat from my fear of failure, thus allowing me to underperform in my studio work that semester.

By the time I realized that I needed to end that relationship, I had exactly one and a half weeks until my second-year review, and while I didn’t twiddle my thumbs making nothing the whole semester, I hadn’t made nearly the progress neither my committee nor I had hoped for. But in those one and a half weeks, (with some direction from my committee), I buckled down and cranked out my strongest pieces, (one being my mentor Pazia’s favorite).

Wrap It Up

I can tell I’m meandering, and jumping through lots of changing timelines, so I’ll wrap it up.

I’ve been reading Brene Brown’s “Braving the Wilderness” and it echoes so much I already know from my own experience about wanting to belong, and about the political divide in society right now. I can tell her writing is going to somehow work into my thesis.

In my recent reading, she’s been talking a lot about in order to really belong, you must first belong to yourself. Belonging to yourself means staying true to who you are, to your core values, and not compromising yourself or those values to avoid conflict or for people to like you better.

As I look back, I realize I probably owe my career to not belonging. First as a child, then as a teenager, I found my primary coping mechanism for not belonging in studying people. I was a seeker of pattern and connection. I knew if I could recognize patterns in people’s behaviors and connect those patterns to what people were feeling and doing, I could find my way. I used my pattern recognition skills to anticipate what people wanted, what they thought, or what they were doing. I learned how to say the right thing or show up in the right way. I became an expert fitter-in, a chameleon. And a very lonely stranger to myself.

I nodded so much when I read this. I’m pretty sure I took a picture of that page and captioned it on Facebook, “Stop writing about me, Brene Brown…”

I’ve also recently started rewatching “The Office (US)” on Netflix. One of my favorite characters when I first watched it was Andy. I only vaguely remembered he had some anger issues. But after he moved to Scranton following the merger, I got very tired of him, very fast. Andy has gone most of his life as a “yes man”; a chameleon. It’s a good way for people to first like you, but people can see through the inauthenticity really fast.

I used to be like Andy — not completely, but enough. As I’ve gotten older, moved farther away from family, and lived very different experiences than the rest of my family, I’ve developed very defined opinions and points of view. Being more liberal when most of your family tends to be conservative is just one more way of feeling isolated and alone. But, I also feel more loved and like I belong more because I’m becoming more true to myself.

Will I start recording my thoughts and conversations? Well, yes and no. I don’t know that I’ll ever record them via voice recorder, but I am going to try to develop a habit of writing blog entries so that my thoughts are already written, and searchable for when I have to get my thesis written. Stay tuned.