Thursday, May 26, 2011

What Would Oprah Do?

I haven’t been drawing or baking much over the past few weeks, preferring instead to work on some felt gingerbread houses in my free time. The gingerbread house is my first ornament from Fa La La La Felt, a book full of felt Christmas decoration patterns. I’m in love with felt—it’s so easy to work with. I’m going to do a bunch of different patterns from the book and put the ornaments together in packages to give as Christmas gifts.

The thing about making things like Christmas ornaments by hand is that they’re so time consuming with lots of fiddly little details, which is why I’m starting these in May. I also want to make some more pinecone elves, but the thought of cutting out and sewing all those little felt shoes and mittens by hand makes me groan. And you can’t glue them together because then they don’t look like proper shoes and mittens, and proper elves would wear proper shoes and mittens. Or maybe they wouldn’t mind at all, but I don’t know any elves who I can ask these sorts of things.

What is it that makes me put so much effort into seemingly small things?  Most people wouldn’t bother. And why is it that most of my life and energy seem to be directed toward the Christmas season? Not the gift-getting part of it, but the giving, making, baking, eating and planning part of Christmas--that's what makes me really light up.  If there was one thing that I could see myself doing forever, it would be making Christmas decorations, toys, and baked goods, kind of like what Santa Claus and his elves do. Plus, write and illustrate books, which I’m not putting any energy into at all. Perhaps I am in the wrong line of work.

It’s funny that when I was little, I wanted to be a nurse, like Mom, a topic which I seemed to focus on in my art and writing of the time. I just happen to have some drawings from my early years to show that I was seriously thinking--at the tender age of 6--of going into nursing or another health-related field, which oddly enough, is where I work now.

In this first piece above from Grade 1, which I like to call "Ambulance," there is a Circle of Life theme. A person gets medical treatment, thus saving a life, and a cat is about to get squished by the tires of the ambulance. The ambulance is, then, a life saver and a killer. It's a comment on the double-edged sword of modern medical technology. I think. So, yeah! Circle of Life. Think about it. Oh, and notice the arms coming out of the back of the ambulance. That's an interesting little detail.

In this next drawing, which I like to call "Private Room," you can see the health care system working  because both the nurse and the patient are happy and smiling! Although, that might be because they've been dipping into those unidentified bottles of pills on the tray. I even drew a glass of water with a straw in it on the tray to wash the pills down. Notice the patient's arms over the blanket on the bed. It's like, she's in bed, but her arms are on top of the covers. Genius.

The final picture is called "When I grow up I'm going to be! A nurse." The clever use of an exclamation point after "be" is the expression of my early existentialist philosophy. When I grew up, I just wanted to be. But if existing didn't pan out, I would go into nursing. Yeah, something like that. I'm not sure what I was thinking when I drew the tall nurse with the long, long legs in a little miniskirt and high heels. It's not an outfit conducive to providing health care, that's for sure. And notice the short little doctor with his stethoscope and black doctor's bag standing next to her--that's clearly a subversive artistic statement about gender, power and authority in health care. And check out those sound lines coming from the TV! The patient was most likely watching Days of Our Lives or whatever mind-numbing daytime program I figured patients watched from their hospital beds.

And here's an early essay about my future:

When I was little and I went to the hospital with my mom, I would often go to the front nurses' station at the big desk where my mom's friends and colleagues would ooh and ahh over me. Behind the nurses' desk was the room where the "medicens" were kept. So, from this, I concluded that nurses either sat at front desks and took medicine off of shelves, or they took care of sick people. But not both. Mom must have told me at some point that she took care of sick people, but for all I knew, she was making it up because all I saw was the front desk and the pills.

Despite the essay and all the drawings about health care and becoming a nurse, I never did become a nurse even though I did entertain the idea seriously a couple of times while I was working on my B.A. Yet I still sometimes wonder what my calling is and what I'm really meant to be. I suppose I have all these questions because I watched the Oprah show finale yesterday during which she shared her words of wisdom with her audience. It was the following part of her goodbye that resonated with me most:

“What I knew for sure from this experience with you is that we are all called. Everybody has a calling, and your real job in life is to figure out what that is and get about the business of doing it…[Your calling] lights you up and it lets you know that you are exactly where you're supposed to be, doing exactly what you're supposed to be doing. And that is what I want for all of you and hope that you will take from this show. To live from the heart of yourself. You have to make a living; I understand that. But you also have to know what sparks the light in you so that you, in your own way, can illuminate the world…My great wish for all of you who have allowed me to honor my calling through this show is that you carry whatever you're supposed to be doing, carry that forward and don't waste any more time. Start embracing the life that is calling you and use your life to serve the world."

What lights me up is making and baking things, which is why I started this blog in the first place, just so that I would have a reason and a platform to do what I love and share it with others. So, I am already embracing that part of my calling in my relatively limited free time. I’m just not making a living at it. In the interest of not wasting any more time, then, as Oprah recommends, here’s the question that I need to ask myself: how on earth can I make a living at this? Or do I even need to in order to reap the benefits of following my makey-bakey calling?

I keep joking (but I’m really half-serious) that I want to open a toy, book, and Christmas decoration store and a bakery so that I can sell my various creations. I'm talking about two separate free-standing buildings here: one's a store that's shaped and painted like an actual toadstool and called “The Toadstool,” and the other's a baked goods store that's shaped and painted like a gingerbread house called “The Gingerbread House.” Don’t ask me where these ideas came from because they’re not the result of conscious, rational thought processes. It's like they just appeared in my mind one day and haven't left. I suppose I could conclude that my 6-year-old self was vaguely prophetic when I wrote that I might like to be a storekeeper of sorts, even though I have never, ever, ever considered becoming a waitress or a teacher.

I just don’t know how realistic it would be at 33 years old to leave my current job, which I really like, to pursue a Santa/Dr. Seuss/writer-illustrator/toyshop and bakery owner-type job. Calling that “ambitious” would be an understatement, but despite what I’m doing, that’s the vision I have. I was right when I wrote "There are many things that you can be" as a child, but the hard part is that now as an adult I want to be everything! If you asked me what I would do if I didn’t have to worry about money ever again, I basically just outlined it all in this post. For whatever reason, all of these things are part of my vision, despite it being nowhere near the work I do now, and perhaps not even sensible to be musing about in the first place. Don't get me wrong--I love my current job. But nothing makes me happier than when I'm being creative and making things that make other people smile, like little felt gingerbread houses and pretty cakes.

Anyway, I’m looking forward to making my next cake. It’s going to be for Father’s Day and it’s my most ambitious cake yet! I just hope I haven’t forgotten all my icing skills by the time that June rolls around.

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