Lofty Goals

Since finishing the second to last painting for the show, I’ve thrown myself into writing applications for various artist residencies around the country. I’d decided to do this last week after a week of Noom lessons about goals.

I hate to keep bringing up Noom, (well, not really), but even in yesterday’s therapy session, my therapist pointed out how much it’s been changing my life for the better since I started. The whole thing is pretty DBT-based. And because I’d taken a 22-week DBT group class within the year prior to this, I think the little reminders on Noom have sharpened all the life skills I learned from those classes, surprisingly, because I didn’t know how well it all sunk in.

In any case, the theme for the other week was about achieving goals and fear of success, which hit a huge nerve. I seemed to have developed the basic fear of success by the time I was thirty-ish sometime after I left my band. As I grow older, it’s become worse. And I know it comes from various traumas—things I’ve failed at miserably, probably triggering early, deeper traumas. It manifests as highly paralyzing, which makes it all the easier not to try.

So Noom asked me what my most lofty goals were, even if they seemed above and beyond the stars. And you’re sorta forced to ask yourself what’s stopping you from pursuing these dreams. Apparently, for many people, it’s fear. Most people have this fear of success, so I’m not special there.

Dealing with fear can be tricky, as it’s jam-packed with all kinds of thought distortions. I can’t do this, I’m not good enough, I will fail, etc. Obviously, these are all self-worth issues and stories we tell ourselves. It’s important to take the role of an objective examiner and find the true evidence that can back up these ideas because, usually, there isn’t any.

Recognizing thought distortions is a good first step. That’s what I’ve been working on. I mean, I’ve been working on a lot of things! I’m also a problem solver at the core. Sure, I’d love to be in the Whitney one day. But is that even possible for me? Even if I tried to pursue it, it can’t exactly be persued. My inner detective and researcher knows: that’s not a thought distortion.

However, there is a slim-chance work-around. So here I am, the problem solver and dreamer at work—trying to get into one of the few prestigious artist residencies that are affiliated with the important “club” members connected to or on the selection committee of the Whitney. And it is a club, quite practically literally. Not a club I’d like to belong to necessarily. It’s really not my thing. It rubs my fur the wrong way, as they are deeply rooted in academia.

The club is a network of people to know. It’s who you know, right? Well, that’s very true. You can’t make art in a vacuum, and these people must become aware of who you are and what your art looks like before such-and-such opportunities arise for you. Are these people actively on the lookout for me? I mean, they have plenty of cutting-edge artists to choose from within their own network? So, no, probably not. I’d have to become fairly active in making myself relevant somehow. But how?

These people are affiliated with universities, artist residencies, and/or graduate programs like the Whitney Independent Study Program, Yale’s Summer Program, Yaddo Artist’s Residency, Skowhegan, Recess, MacDowell, Chinati Foundation, Ox-Bow School of Art, and also loosely to some others, like the Millay Colony, Eyebeam, Bemis Center, Art Omi, and a probably a few more that I can’t remember off-hand.

Headlands in Northern California may not be in the “club” proper, but it’s still a career-boosting experience, to be sure. And YOU’RE WELCOME for all the links! Not an easy compilation.

I’ve been applying to many of these residencies for years and years. I once got into the Vermont Studio Center in 2004 and that was an amazing, fruitful experience. It was truly life-changing. I met someone there that did honestly help my career move many steps forward. And it was a total surprise because I didn’t even know who she was at the time. We just became fast friends. Then later she wrote one of my recommendations for the Pollock-Krasner and I believe that aided me in receiving that grant. So, this kind of networking thing is real.

I’ve been actively trying to get into Yaddo forever, but you can only apply every other year. The closest I ever got to getting in was when I was accepted as an alternate on their waiting list, which is an “acceptance” in a way, but I think I was number six or seven on the list of ten. Seven people would have to drop out of their residency in order for me to realize one myself. I didn’t hold my breath.

I applied to the Headlands Center a couple of times, and the last time I did, I was a finalist. My hopes were high, even though I tried desperately to squelch them. The interview process was so unnerving and I felt like I blew my chances right then and there because I was so tongue-tied. I feel like if I had been more confident and spoken more eloquently about my work, I could have been awarded a residency. Maybe.

But I can’t speak the way I write, not in person and especially under duress. I have DID and it can be intense at times. Even when I’m having the least bit of stress, I’m not present at all. I’m watching the whole scene through a blurry camera lens, not just from above, but from another room entirely.

I once did a kind of residency at AJU’s Brandeis-Bardin Campus called Reciprocity through Asylum Arts. It was technically an artist’s retreat, and the days were packed with various participatory programs, one of which where I had to do a five-minute presentation. We all even had ample time to prepare for this and I still did a stinky-ass job. I’m not just saying that to be self-deprecating either. I was painfully shy and introverted and found it very hard to speak about my work and my process. The other artists I gave the presentation to had pity on me and helped me through it.

It was stupid fear getting the best of me.

Well, all this blabbering to come back, full circle to make the point about how fear, or at least mine, is totally trauma-based. Looking back on that incident now, I know I was like that because of that time, as it was a whirlwind year. In 2015, I had the best solo show of my career and then I was dropped from the gallery, not a month after the show came down. Then I had a lot of dissension with the gallery as we worked out the logistics of getting my work back. I was truly devastated then and lost all confidence. Honestly, I was thoroughly traumatized and fearful of even hoping to build my life again.

Not that I didn’t try. I kept on going and landed a new gallery, but I have felt a little bit defeated ever since then. The residual of that trauma and depression sticks to my innards and has lingered on. Believe it or not, all these years later, I am just now conquering it and navigating that fear by reframing the negative voices with optimism and hopefulness. I’ve already applied to four residencies and have plans to write three more before the end of the fall. Good for me.

I’m hopeful, but I’m not delusional. These are highly competitive places and I can only control my best efforts. And that was what I put forward. Now the waiting game.

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