On fallow time.

Being busy and not writing in this blog are not mutually inclusive. That is to say: although my life’s been a whirlwind, I’ve still scheduled time to write here – and yet, nothing has come to pass. What I usually do when this happens academically is that I allow myself to freewrite, to meander through things I actually want to say in the most blunt way possible and either get the stink out or take that fruit and make something a little sweeter from it. So today’s missive shall be that.

There are important things I need to tell you, of course. I have a show coming up. You’ll hear about it more, invariably as I attempt to pull something from myself and show it amongst my very accomplished peers. But that will come later. My writing is a-shambles now, and I’m going to work on it.

It is -4º presently. To our infinite luck, it actually feels like -4º; yesterday, it felt like -27º and I was forced to drive to campus. Walks, I find, are fertile fruit; they help me sift through whatever’s in my head, even if I’m not actively panning for gold. Steps are important. I try to focus on how I place my foot down, especially during these icy times. When I am lucky, I’m able to soak up some sun. When I’m not, it’s usually snow, which is hardly something to weep over.

Point being, Minnesota is showing herself to me finally. She is cold and prickling, sharp needles made of glass, and likes to make a bit of a point out of not being easy to love. Isn’t that the whole point? Surviving here seems to be a medal of pride, and the only way you can get the gold is if you were midwived in the middle of a blizzard, a wolf holding your blood-slicked body above that placenta you were in and joining you in howling at the moon. I’m hoping for a silver, given that I’m young now and would like to grow old here, given the luck. I like Minnesota a great deal. I like bundling up. I like making a game out of how many layers of pants I can make at any given time. But mostly, it just feels like a better-maintained Indiana that is better concerned with how its citizens live and prosper. It’s very each-man-for-himself down south. Here, at least there’s legislation that pretends that it gives a shit about you.

Which is funny, given that the weather does not.


 

Funny story: I haven’t really enjoyed the process of making for the past two months, and I definitely haven’t enjoyed anything I’ve made since I’ve entered the program. This isn’t a bad thing necessarily, but it makes for difficulty when walking into the studio. It’s difficult to figure out what you should be planting your forest with when every little tree looks like a piece of shit.

This is the point of graduate school, and probably why most of my professors had that “remember that you’ll go into grad school and you’ll rip yourself apart” talk with me during undergraduate. What they don’t tell you is that it’s your idea. It’s all my fault, believe me. I was the person who said “let’s try this, put in a smidge of that,” and now I’m sitting in a room that is a memoriam for paintings that are half-assed and a bunch of performative experiences that I would rather not put on my resumé, but I kind of have to because fuck, there’s this program review that I have to pass through and much like a maths test, you have to show all your work. My mentor has presently given me the task of revising and refining an idea, but given that I thought of the project idea as a joke, it’s not going well.

(They’re “micro”-paintings about microaggressions. I didn’t say that my sense of humor was good.)

It would be nice to say “well, at least my words are coming along well,” but ha ha ha ha. Did you know there was once a time when I wrote recreationally? This is the rumor that I’ve heard through the grapevine, although it seems like a long and fabled point a while ago. This has been the most flippant I’ve been with the English language in some time, my friends, and I’m starting to realize even as I sludge through this that all work and no play make Jill a dull girl.

This is not a flattering section about the life of an artist. I’m mostly disclosing it so that you know that you too can be frustrated when you make things for a living. I’m also disclosing it so that disgusting rumor that artists are magical creatures that shit and piss miraculous gems from heaven can fucking die already, Christ.


 

My therapist once told me about the concept of fallow time.

It’s a very agrarian thing, really, so go figure I learned about it in the Heartland: when you’re a farmer, it’s imperative that you rotate your crops. Say one field has corn one year. The following season, you plant soybeans in that field. The one after that, you allow it to lie fallow – usually by planting something that is seen as useless on the market. This is because each crop takes something different out of the earth, nutrients-wise; one might leech out nitrogen, the other potassium, and so on. Therefore, by the time you get to the third year, it’s absolutely necessary for the field to have the grass, as it places all the nutrients back in the earth. If the fallow year is disregarded, the dirt becomes barren. Nothing but weeds will profit from it. Now here’s the nugget of wisdom that therapist told me: your mind works like the earth. In order to stay fertile, it needs moments of fallow time.

I will be the first to admit that not only graduate school, but the contemporary zeitgeist at large doesn’t allow for fallow time in long stretches. We have deadlines, production quotas, and sheer work to meet. When you’ve netted a show, saying “ha ha, just kidding, wasn’t able to make the goods!” doesn’t cut it. But I know I’m someone who needs it. Maybe it’s because my brain is fundamentally built to malfunction. Maybe it’s because I’m a miserable, lazy little cuss. Maybe it’s both. But if there’s something I’m starting to learn from myself, it’s that I need to trick my schedule into allowing fallow time. Maybe it’ll be the evenings after my mind is totally zapped from my theory and critique classes. Maybe it’ll be sleeping in an hour later on the weekends, or allowing my first hour in the studio to read, to doodle, to meander until I’m ready to start making marks. I’m not sure how it’ll happen, but if the last segment is any indication, something’s broken. I need to fix it.

The winter, for the earth, is meant to rest. I haven’t the luxury, but perhaps I can hustle up the next best thing.


 

Next time you hear from me, it’ll be all business. It’ll be new works (even if I hate them), more about that show I just linked to, all that jazz. But, for the moment, I needed to meander. Consider it some working rest.

2 thoughts on “On fallow time.”

  1. My friend.

    I have never thought about “fallow time” in that way, but I do like it. It supports the growing need I’ve had in the last year to carve out hours during which I can sit quietly without needing to care for anyone or answer questions, or feel pressed for time. Time without deadlines, without conversation, without obligation. All too often, the only time I’ve found for myself has been in the early mornings before the days officially start and, one or two evenings a week in that empty time between engagements.

    It’s not been enough.

    Jade went through the same struggles you describe here, hating his work, feeling uninspired. He undertook a painterly version of freewriting, assigning himself a tiny canvas that had to be filled by the end of the day. His workflow took on varying themes, portraits for a few weeks, still lifes after that, landscapes when the weather was nice. It helped, if even to shake loose the stumbling blocks in his head.

    I think about you a lot, and I have no doubt that you will push through this awkward time and thrive in your practice. Just remember to take care of you, too. I love you, my friend.

    You’ve got this.

    1. Aw thank you, sweetpea!! I think this happens to every artist whenever they’re put through the crucible of higher education and/or a tougher practice. A colleague of mine sent me this lovely animation of a short Ira Glass clip about this very subject and how basically our good taste (which put us into the creativity biz) often suffers from a lag time with the skills unto which we have, so we end up getting REAL FRUSTRATED. Anyway, surprise – it really resonated, as it’s about where I am. (The seasonal depression has hit too, which is another story for another time.)

      Anyway, thank you for the super-thoughtful comments and the thoughts, lady!! Cue a quickly-padding fish upstream, etc.

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