On Being Patient

I am NOT a patient person. Those of you who know me will be shocked by this admission.

Never have been, and it’s probably the personality flaw that I hate the most. When I was little, I got frustrated if things didn’t come easily and threw tantrums. I was lucky in school that I could read quickly and had a decent memory, since it meant I never really had to work that hard; but this isn’t really a good thing, since I never had to work hard. I didn’t learn the skill set of being patient and diligent and taking time to do something right. And THOSE skills are seriously way more important than getting good grades, since, to me, having a good life and accomplishing things is dependant, to my thinking, on one’s ability to not get frustrated, to stay patient, to overcome hurdles, and to quietly work really hard (KEY: without letting everyone around you necessarily know that you are working really hard). It’s a combination of humbleness and diligence and it is NOT glamorous and it does NOT get you attention, but it’s the only way to accomplish anything really meaningful. And it’s a lesson I struggle with, still.

One of the things that I treasure the most about learning to blow glass: it was the first time I FULLY realized that I was going to have to be patient and stay disciplined and that there would be no instant results. I struggled with this idea a lot, and I am ashamed when I look back and see how much of my ego I had invested in this…and how psychologically broken-down I became when my ego didn’t match up to my reality. Instead of enjoying the process of learning, I became frustrated very early at my total lack of results and flailed around a lot, wasting tile and failing to immerse myself in the quietness of practice and repetition…and ENJOYING the process of practice and repetition.

It wasn’t until I left art school and worked for other people that I finally began to get it…but it wasn’t a flash realization. It opened up over a period of time, as I put my ego aside in service to trying to do a really good job for OTHER people. I did the repetition and the practice, not to look good, but to become better and more skilled at my job, and gradually over time, my hands began to develop a memory for the movement of blowing glass. I could turn and balance the pipe without needing to think about it; I could move the hot glass across the steel shaping table without hesitating, and my hands became smooth and fluid. This is NOT something you can do just by concentrating really hard. You have to let go of the tightness of concentration and let it flow through you. The feeling in your hands is very light and open.

The glass is a liquid…so you have to be fluid too. And I believe for me, that glassblowing was more about learning how to be disciplined, calm in the face of chaos, patient, and balanced than it ever was about the glass objects I made. I used to call it Art Yoga when I worked for the Museum on the ships, and I believe it: after a lifetime of impatience, of being easily frustrated, of never learning how to take the time to do things RIGHT, glassblowing began to teach me how to fully occupy my body, how to be conscious, how to move slowly and deliberately, with no wasted movements, how to develop an economy and an elegance of motion.

I am thinking a lot about patience today because of an article I read about “immersive attention”: The Power of Patience

The author, Jennifer L Roberts, also speaks about “temporal intelligence”, but I think what she’s talking about is the difference between Looking and Seeing. She talks about her work developing curriculums for her art history class and writes that:

“During the past few years, I have begun to feel that I need to take a more active role in shaping the temporal experiences of the students in my courses; that in the process of designing a syllabus I need not only to select readings, choose topics, and organize the sequence of material, but also to engineer, in a conscientious and explicit way, the pace and tempo of the learning experiences. When will students work quickly? When slowly? When will they be expected to offer spontaneous responses, and when will they be expected to spend time in deeper contemplation?”

She feels that it has become more important to create these immersive experiences, the understanding of the importance of deceleration IN PARTICULAR because the emphasis in the world we live in places priority on rapidity, speed, multitasking and spontaneity. The article is really profound, as she talks about an assignment she gives her students as part of a semester long paper – to choose a work of art, go to the museum, and sit with that work of art for THREE HOURS. Most people might think that you aren’t really going to see more of the painting in three hours than you might in the first five minutes. But wait:

“It is commonly assumed that vision is immediate. It seems direct, uncomplicated, and instantaneous—which is why it has arguably become the master sense for the delivery of information in the contemporary technological world. But what students learn in a visceral way in this assignment is that in any work of art there are details and orders and relationships that take time to perceive. I did this three-hour exercise myself on this painting in preparation for my own research on Copley. And it took me a long time to see some of the key details that eventually became central to my interpretation and my published work on the painting.

Just a few examples from the first hour of my own experiment: It took me nine minutes to notice that the shape of the boy’s ear precisely echoes that of the ruff along the squirrel’s belly—and that Copley was making some kind of connection between the animal and the human body and the sensory capacities of each. It was 21 minutes before I registered the fact that the fingers holding the chain exactly span the diameter of the water glass beneath them. It took a good 45 minutes before I realized that the seemingly random folds and wrinkles in the background curtain are actually perfect copies of the shapes of the boy’s ear and eye, as if Copley had imagined those sensory organs distributing or imprinting themselves on the surface behind him. And so on.

What this exercise shows students is that just because you have looked at something doesn’t mean that you have seen it. Just because something is available instantly to vision does not mean that it is available instantly to consciousness. Or, in slightly more general terms: access is not synonymous with learning. What turns access into learning is time and strategic patience.”

She uses the word “time battery”, which I LOVE, to describe the stockpile of information and sensory experience that a painting can hold, a stockpile that can only unfold slowly, over time, as your relationship to the imagery deepens. It’s like getting to know a person or a place, the layering of information. Kind of magical, and hinting at a profundity and depth of experience that is only possible over time.

Malcolm Gladwell famoulsy wrote about “thin-slicing” in his book “Blink”, which has become such a cultural phenomenon that you should read it immediately, if you haven’t already. It argues that spontaneous decisions are often as good as, or better, than carefully planned ones, since our minds tend to “overload” a decision with too much information that can interfere with the accuracy of a judgement; that by making “snap decisions”, we can subvert the effect of living in an age of information overload. I loved this book and think there are a lot of important points to consider from this.

Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking by Malcolm Gladwell

But I guess right now, I’m more interested in patience: not because it’s necessarily more important than intuition, just right now more interesting – in large part because, as I said, patience does not come easily to me. And my life right now requires a lot of patience.

The language process, of course. I’ve talked about that a lot since it dominates my daily life. The pregnancy has a certain joy that is imbedded in the quietness of waiting, imbedded in the slow, beautiful process of Becoming that is happening inside me, the feeling (the first time in my life) of touching something immortal and ancient.

I guess too, that there is another side to both the pregnancy and the process of moving to France that I think about a lot: that my life, in some ways is no longer entirely about me and my desires, but about building something larger with someone else; that this process necessarily must unfold over time and will be richer for having done so. In my immediate day-to-day life, it’s meant taking something that I love so deeply, so intensely, which is the process of glassblowing…and having to put it to the side for now. (Not only for fear of interacting with the toxic materials inherent to the glass process which could harm the baby – super important to me – but also the fact that running off around the globe, being apart from my husband and my life for months at a time is damaging to the people I love the most…it was and is a hard realization.)

I miss blowing glass every day. I miss the feeling in my hands, the feeling of collaboration, the feeling of flow. I miss working with other people. I miss being really good at something, and the joy you get from that Flow. I miss it so much. I’ve felt a loss of ego (which as I said above from my art school experience, is probably a good thing.) But it hurts and I grieve for it a lot. But: the way my job on the ship was going, I was afraid that I would pursue glassblowing and forget to pursue a life; I was afraid that I would spend years living on a ship and fail to develop relationships on land. I was afraid of losing my chance to have a family of my own (so, to my shock, the thing about women and the Biological Clock is not just a cultural myth: you don’t know how badly you wanted something until you’re facing the possibility of missing the boat, so to speak.)

I was afraid, that when I no longer blew glass on a ship, I would not have anything real to hold on to, that after spending years at sea, I would be forty with nothing on land to show for it: no family, no home, no skill set (beyond blowing glass and navigating the complex management system of the ship, which is actually pretty valuable from a management point of view) and no life on land to build off of. My former relationship of ten years collapsed in large part because of my choice to pursue glass and work on the ship; my independent work as an artist waned as well. IT was hard to build anything lasting when I was always getting ready to leave again. Don’t get me wrong: I LOVED the travel! But: Meeting my husband (and having another set of possibilities open up) crystallized those fears; the realization that sometimes, you only get one chance in life to get it right, and you need to seize those chances when they present themselves.

God. I still miss it though. Glassblowing and being part of that communithy was so important to me for so long.

Is this growing up? 🙂

Next year, after the baby comes, will be a process of rebuilding, of trying to articulate a life where I can fulfill my responsibilities to Mathieu and our child and also to myself, to continuing to pursue glass. Long term, I want to build my studio. I want teaching to be a huge part of what I do, since I love interacting with people and sharing my passion. I want to make our wine business and my glassblowing flow together into an organic whole. (Wine glasses, Oh-hell-yes.) I want to continue to challenge myself, and I want this baby to grow up around parents who are passionate, engaged, and doing what they love – so that she knows that it is possible to take what’s in your heart and give it back to the world.

Short term: well, that’s harder. I’m looking into buying a lampworking torch to work on detail in a more cost effective way, and possibly travelling to rent time in another studio to make larger work until it makes financial sense to construct my own studio – if it ever makes sense to do that. (Energy prices are very high in Europe and I think that will continue to accelerate, with the times we live in.) I get scared sometimes, and I wonder if I have it in me to do all these things. When I’m sad, when the weather is grey and I’m struggling with French and missing the museum and wishing I could see my friends – sometimes it all feels insurmountable.

PATIENCE. It’s my lesson. It’s the dominant theme in my life – patience…and trust.

I read once: Never be afraid to give up who you are for who you might become. And I guess this process of becoming takes a lot of patience too.

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4 thoughts on “On Being Patient

  1. patience…. something we could all foster more of! Patience isn’t really a virtue by itself, it’s an attitude. It’s the lack of frustration, the calmness that accompanies a difficult or challenging experience, knowing it will come right in the end. A nice reminder to me anyway.

  2. You have seen inside and understood. Most of us never do or learn how. You are amazing. And, you will! We miss you even more now!

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