Saturday, April 14, 2012

Skill vs. Will: The Balance of Art and Running

Today has been a good day. So far, anyway. Not only did I finally talk to the really attractive guy who works at IT (he is helping me with my computer! yay! I'm debating asking him out as an excuse for my appreciation, but I'll probably chicken out of that one... Whatever, as long as my baby works again) but also I went for a very successful run this morning.

A clean 5 miles in 54 minutes, and that isn't even counting out the time I had to wait at stop lights. There were plenty of my worst enemies on this run: hills. But I conquered them. Even the biggest hill, up Aliso Creek Road--a road that even my car struggles with-- did I manage to run more than I ever had before. Usually I stop to walk about 2/3 up the half mile climb, but there was a biker fixing his bike right where I usually stop, so I pushed myself just a little farther to avoid the awkward moment that no doubt would have resulted in me slowing down next to him. I even ran through a lot of neighborhoods, places I usually dare not go, for the staring people and dogs barking are so intimidating as you sludge past. But it was just fine, kind of nice actually with the views that those people probably overpay for. And my work was rewarded. It was my fastest pace for a run over 3 miles since I've started training. Can I get a "boo" and a "ya?"

So what made this possible? I did buy fancy new spandex pants this week. My good ol' trusty pair of cotton capris finally bust a hole in the thigh and grew too large to ignore. My exposed thigh has been rubbing all up against the other thigh and causing an awkwardly placed and sized rash to appear. (On a side note, I didn't even realize that there are women who have thighs that don't rub together until a few years ago. I just thought these crotch biscuits of mine were a natural part of all women. I once saw a Barbie at Target while working who had thighs that were set very far apart and thought "That is just outlandish! No one has legs that do that!" I mean, that Barbie was still probably an anatomical disaster, but there are really women who get to know the joy of not getting a rash on your the insides of your thighs when you walk to much in skirts or loose pants. It blows my mind) So now I have a new pair of ultra-tight polyester pants that give me that much needed support in the "thigh and hips" area (really mostly the butt area).

But I don't think it was the pants, although they might have helped. No, I think this is just me. Improving. For real.

I have been told a couple of times since I started this blog and publicly talking about my exercise that I have inspired individuals to go running and work out. I always thought this was kind of odd, as there are plenty of exercise blogs out there, but my friend pointed out that it is likely because I am not a very athletic person, and my ability to push myself gives others inspiration.

I'd like to think this is true. I hope that people can see me doing things and feel the ability to do them for themselves. That is a really great thing. And I don't even mind if it is because that don't expect it from me, because I really am not so athletic. In high school the only sport I ever went out for was tennis, because they didn't do any cuts. Everyone got to be on the team. And you know how high school sports have different sections of teams? You have varsity, varsity 2, junior varsity....and then you have junior varsity 2....developmental....developmental 2....Guess where I was? Yep! The developmental 2 team, with 2 other girls, both who stopped showing up after awhile. I played 2 matches the entire season. The first I won in the very very end of a tiebreaker round with literally the entire team watching, since the worst teams always play last. And the second I lost to a varsity 2 girl who played while on her cell phone making plans to go see a movie after the match. One can imagine why I tried to avoid all other matches as best as I could after that.
...So, yea...not exactly the biggest athlete on the block.

Running for me has always been different however. And I'd like to talk about how, as an artist, exactly what it is that had made running so important to me. Now, just warning you, I may get a little serious here. I apologize that I actually have something real I want to say on a blog where I am supposed to be funny, but I need to say it, so here it is.  

Most artists I have met are the kind of people who sit inside working themselves to the bone and never see the light of day. Seriously, some of them truly forget what daylight is. Even if they do go outside, they are in such a daze that they aren't even aware of it. But if you think I am going to sit here and talk about how "going outside and getting physical exercise is good for your mental health," you are wrong. This is true, of course, but there is so much more to it than that.

I think it goes without saying that any successful artist will work diligently throughout their life to produce better and better work, ultimately improving their skills and making themselves a better artist overall. I feel this is what makes art so challenging. There is no end to it. You don't solve the problem and get to say "case closed." You can't just go home at 5 o'clock to make dinner and watch American Idol and forget about your job. What you do is who you are. And if you never stop, neither does your art. Your work plagues your mind like a disease. You can't stop working, even when you are laying in bed or making a sandwich or clipping your toenails. Such fluid and constant brainstorming and creation can be overwhelming. It's like driving a car with no brakes. You are frantically trying to get somewhere, but directing yourself there can be an incredibly difficult task.

Lately in my own artistic journey, I have been having the feeling that everything I create comes up short. It is like trying to make a Prada bag and coming up with a cheap, Mexican knock-off purse instead. Everything I do just isn't quite right. There is something off about it. I am always reaching for something I feel I am never going to be able to grasp. Because even if I begin to understand one concept, another more difficult one stands in the way.

This feeling is incredibly disheartening sometimes, especially when you compare your work to others. It is really tough to look beyond just one work and see the gradual improvement of your art. I mean, I can see the improvement between what I do now and what I did, say, two years ago, but it is the little, tiny baby steps you make that are so microscopic, they might as well not exist. Art is cruelly subjective and complex in this way. It is a long, rocky, jagged path to finding any satisfaction, if you even get to that point.

Now compare this to running.

Running, where literally all you do is put one foot in front of the other. You don't have to learn anything, it is an action anyone can do. Except for some really obese people. And babies. But besides that. Anyone. I've always been able to run. There are no two ways about it. You run or you don't. The only thing you have to learn is will. If you can will yourself to keep putting one foot in front of the other, you can run.

And with something like running, improvement is easily seen. Time and distance improves almost automatically with practice. These results are obvious and evident if you just keep track of things, unlike art, where improvement is seemingly invisible. Just take today for example. Last January, when I started training, I decided that my goal was to be able to run 5 miles in under an hour. And now I can. No one can tell me that I can't. Whereas with art, I can say I want to draw something that looks good, and so I draw something, and maybe I think it looks good or others think it looks good, but someone can always oppose this. There can always be someone out there who can tell me I haven't drawn something good. But no one can tell me I haven't run 5 miles in under an hour.

In short, I have found my running to be a perfect balance for my art-making, which is why I am happy to spread the exercise love, especially to other artists. I feel that if it helps balance my life, it can help others.  Even though sometimes I feel down about my art, I know I am improving in my running, which helps assure me that if I can improve in a field I am so obviously bad at, then I can improve with art as well. It is just a matter of putting one foot in front of the other. And that is all.

I promise next time I'll write something funnier.

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