Last Friday I was invited to speak at a conference for artists, educators, and workers in the social services. It was a two day conference focused on balancing life, work, and art, and how to stay vital in fields which will bleed you dry if you are not properly prepared. There were two morning sessions this day, and two more in the afternoon. I was scheduled as the final afternoon speaker. The morning sessions were really pleasant; a plein air painter and a yoga instructor. During the yoga talk were were to be led through some basic asanas while we meditated on famous artworks. Following instructions I took off my shoes- and discovered I had a hole in my sock. "Hello toe, what brings you out today?" But so it goes. Lunch was really pleasant, if a bit too long. I had a peaceful conversation with a few colleagues. We talked shop talk and gossiped about mutual friends. The speaker scheduled before me was a colleague and friend. She is a paper artist, an installation artist, a book binder. A visionary. She simply blew me away with her talk. Most public speakers, if they are anything like me, have a habit of telling you what they know that you don't and what they've done that you haven't. But this talk was different. It began with a brief and humorous biography, followed by some introductions to her approach to art making. And then she said it. She said the most profound thing I've heard in a long time. She said, "In my classes I tell my students that all materials have inherent properties which have to be respected." What she meant was that you have to understand how paper reacts to pencil or paint or pen. You have to realize that pencils make dust, and ink smears. What she meant was "Acknowledge the strengths and weaknesses of the things and people you encounter in life." Intuitively I think I've always known that, but I never heard it put quite that way. We all have inherent properties. I'm quiet, he's not, she sings really well, he can fish... These qualities make us who we are, they make us the individuals that we are. And we have to respect these qualities in ourselves and in others.
We have a tendency to want to make things conform to our standards. Van? Ick. Sport Utility Vehicle? Sweetness. It's not wrong, but makes everything unnecessicarily complicated. The military calls it mission creep, the software industry calls it feature creep. What makes something work for a specific situation limits its usability in others. So we tack something else on or accept a bit less utility overall. Occasionally it's nice to just back off a bit and relish in the simplicity of simple things. Savor in that one great thing that small business do, or that people offer. Focus on your strengths. That one thing you do better than anyone else. Find a way to apply it, find others who share your passions.
P has found twitter to be great for that- for sharing that one thing. Twitter conversations tend to be long in nature, because the tweets are short in nature. There is a sort of conversational semaphore that takes place. Short, punch, punch, punch conversations. I makes the conversation open to anyone. Focus on one idea at a time. Move on. Not everyone likes it, or is good at navigating through it. P is the best I know. A pro. She has met the most fascinating people and learned the most fascinating things through twitter. But it, like everything else, requires an understanding of what it can, and can't do. It's not a public square like Facebook. It's a roundtable discussion. Everyone gets to say their piece, and everyone is given equal weight. And it works because of brevity and the clarity that brevity offers. But their are some who want the tweet length expanded, or have photos inline. But the purists balk- it would change the nature, begin a feature creep that most don't want. So it's stays short. One hundred forrty-four characters. Period. In its own way it's perfect.
My talk that day was not profound. I'm not sure it even rated 'good'. It was characteristiclly random and all over the place. It was about me, and what I know. It was forgettable. I'm trying to learn, to acknowledge the inherent qualities of the people I know, the things I encounter. I've found blogging to help, if only because it makes me write things down. And I'm learning to listen, because when I do I hear the most amazing things...