Last night I had my last class critique at LBCC. It’s hard to say if this is my last critique ever, because I will probably find ways to teach in some capacity in the future, but when you teach full-time in a program, you build longer relationships and that’s what I had with this group. Right afterwards it felt monumental - I was glad to be able to text my son (it was after 11pm - a 5 hour crit - yikes!) because I needed to share the moment with someone. I felt like somehow, things have happened in a blessed way because while it wasn’t the “last crit” that I dreamed of, it was with a good group of students whom I had known for years and it made it possible to feel companionship right to the end. What a wonderful thing, plus there was the added bonus that they really did beautiful work. Someday I will enjoy having a party here at home with them and get to relax and spend time together in person.
I feel like I need some type of ritual to mark this experience/moment. Right now, with the protests and riots, it doesn’t feel appropriate to share this on Social Media since what’s happening on the streets seems so much more real and important. But, my friend and colleague Neil had a different opinion - he felt that now, more than ever, it is important to mark and acknowledge these milestones - that our own personal moments remind us of who we are. It makes me think about all the people, throughout history, whose celebrations, milestones, birthdays were swept away in the wave of human events. That must be why my adopted grandmother Suzie always loved a celebration. She had lived through so much and felt that when you have the chance to celebrate, you should grab it.
So I want to acknowledge the moment and the journey. This job changed my life in ways I never expected. I got the chance to build something - to create a community, to have daily relationships - a family of sorts. At the time, everything seemed so difficult and intense, but looking back, I can see it all more clearly. We had free festivals, events, speakers, contests - I got to watch so many students grow into artists and adults. How fortunate to have had this experience.
You often hear the phrase that “I’ve learned as much from my students as they’ve learned from me.” The problem is, the experience is much more nuanced than that. While teaching others has lead me to push my own work in directions I might not have explored - one of the biggest things I’ve learned from my students is the impact that even casual actions can have on others. My behavior, the environment I created, how I treated others, what I included in my lectures - all of those things had a big impact on students that I often wasn’t aware of at the time.
In class critiques, I always referred to my students as artists - because they are, but I was also inspired by an anecdote from writer and actor Spalding Gray about how thrilled he was when an English film director called the “artists” to the set. Recently a student told me how shocked she was, in our first class together, when I asked for an “artist’s response” from her in a critique. It made her reconsider her long-held belief that she wasn’t a creative person.
Everyday behavior made a big impact throughout the years. Treating awkward students with respect and patience taught the rest of the class that I’d treat them that way also. Of course, I wasn’t always sunshine and light, on the negative side, a very sweet young gal avoided my classes for a year because she’d walked by a hallway conversation I was having with a student who was acting out in my class.
Over the years, my teaching style has changed from macho to (somewhat) mellow. I learned to apologize when I’d been too harsh and use a lighter hand when balancing all the energies in a room. I am always truthful, but I’m now (hopefully) much more thoughtful in my approach.
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Today I woke up thinking about the power of ritual and beauty. One of the significant experiences of my life was being able to have a conversation with one of my mom’s best friends on the day she (the friend) died. She was in bed, drinking water from a very simple glass, when she started talking about how beautiful the glass was. How she loved even the seam on the side and how the light sparkled coming through it. We all knew exactly what she meant and I have often thought about how blessed, and fitting, it was that she ended her life still entranced by the beauty of small details.
This morning, I decided to have my morning coffee in one of my favorite cups. I bought this for a food shoot decades ago and have always loved it - but rarely use it (yup, for fear of breaking it, or waiting for a perfect moment). So, this morning I combined ritual (warming the cup) with beauty because they both honor the moment.