Yesterday, my department put on its quarterly festival. It began as a tie dye event that had a tie-in to a writing class, but it's expanded into something larger, with beading, free lunch (hot dogs, hamburgers, chips), and sales of various things, like shirts to dye and books and other art. After doing some research on student retention, we moved the festival to week 3 of the quarter, in hopes that an event like ours would give new students an opportunity to feel connected to the school.
You might say that administrators should be doing something else, like working on curriculum, rather than coordinating a festival. You might be right. Yet it's one of my favorite events. I love serving the food, even though it's not the healthiest food; the students are SO delighted to have a free lunch. It's one of the few times I'm not being barraged by complaints or demands or yearnings (made by students, by faculty, by administrators). It's so nice to hand out food and face nothing but gratitude.
The other day, on NPR, I heard about a restaurant, The Nickel Diner, that's in the Skid Row section of L.A. (go here to read or hear the story). The owner asks the homeless men who are just hanging around what they'd like for dessert that evening, and she makes it and invites the men in for dinner. I heard the story and thought, yeah, that would be a cool job--dessert maker for homeless people. I envisioned a similar gratitude from those homeless customers. Then I wondered how long it would be before people criticized my peach cobbler because it wasn't like their grandma's or I was berated by someone who really had a hankering for red velvet cake. I wrote a poem that ends:
I imagine the joy of a daily deadline
determined by the time of dinner.
I yearn for the sweetness
of a career soaked in sugar.
I indulge in the fantasy
that no one would complain.
I also love doing tie dye, even though I end up with hands of an inhuman color (last night I went home with teal hands--exquisitely beautiful, if odd). I love the whole process, but what I love most is that I'm never sure what the shirt will look like. I'm not sure how the colors will interact with each other and how the rubber bands and twisting that I do will affect the dyes. I don't do tie dying often enough to be sure.
I love the moment when I undo everything and see the shirt that I've created. It seems like a fitting metaphor for artistic processes of all sorts. We may begin with a vision, and we may end up with a product that's exactly what we expected. But so much more often for me, I start out with a glimmer, and just follow that glimmer to see where it leads. I often end up with something that's utterly different from what I thought I was creating--yet I don't feel disappointed. I feel delighted to be creating--the process is what's essential, not the product.
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