Last night, I sat through the presentation of my school's new mission statement and strategic plan. I've been involved with writing mission statements several times in my past, individually and as part of a group, and you know how that tends to go, don't you? You end up with lots of words. Paragraphs with lots and lots of words that talk about 'this is what we do'. You start waving your hands in the air, as if to abbreviate words with gestured circles in space. There comes a point where the words smother the energy of purpose and intent, and all that's left is a wispy strand of smoke – – you could try to capture that, but in grasping at it, you completely break up its form and energy. Eyes glaze over.
Luckily, what we have, from a flashing spark of inspiration and a flurry of energized email messages, is a message that seems to resonate with the school.
Learn to Create. Influence Change.
I like it. I don't have to refer back to my employee handbook to recite it. Would anyone actually make me recite it? Is that what it would come to? I don't think so. But I can rely on it to guide me. I can push and pull at it to meet changing demands and situations I run into with my students; it can be a steady compass pointing to our True North. And beyond the words themselves, I am even more appreciative of the collaborative, passionately creative spirit in which this phrase was crafted.
For the record, its subtitle, one that I really liked, sadly did not make the cut: Nothing rhymes with Orange.
So, I was sitting there, listening to the ideas and pillars, the plans, the challenges, the call to challenge ourselves as an institution, as we challenge our students, to be doggedly rigorous in tackling the task at hand.
And there's the mission statement, that is plain and strong, yet, as our President commented, leaves plenty of room to breathe.
Room. To. Breathe.
And then I sat there, listening to the words, thankful for our president's background in theater, the passion and conviction, the pauses, the tempo and cadence. In a community where we are all so very keenly sensitive to visual expression, what an experience it is to have someone who will speak with as much expression, for us to be delighted in a different way, another path way to our souls.
So, if you come back and find me pondering about how people learn to create and how we can teach to influence change, or musing about how nothing rhymes with Orange, that's where that comes from.
And, for the record, nothing really rhymes with Purple, either.
At Art Center, we have 14–week terms (three per year), and graduate at the end of each term. The beginning of each term is brimming with newness, new students wandering the halls, looking more than a little dazed, learning skills in the machine shop and lugging around oversized drawing boards. The middle of the term is weary: midterm presentations. The last two weeks are a mad frantic sprint: final projects needing to be both physically created and orally presented, the wild, chaotic explosion that ultimately cleans itself up as Graduation Show. The end of the term is anxious with interviews and bittersweet in seeing another group of young artists and designers leave. The 14 weeks seem to go quicker and quicker each term, and while there is a rhythm to the peaks and lulls, let me tell you, it's not like the rolling of the ocean (imagine my hands waving, hula-like, gesturing: 'The ocean") –- it's a rollercoaster. It all starts to blur together, and boy, has the time gone by quickly.
So, for your reference, we're well into Spring term, in the post-midterm lull of week 8.
I've been reading and editing resumes, introductory letters and personal statements, because, well, that's what I do about week 8 of each term. I spend a lot of time asking people to think: What do you really enjoy doing? What do you want to pursue? What can you show as examples of the skills you say you have? How can we help create a compass for you, so you can go out and earn a living and, well, influence change?
I probe and ask 'Why?' a lot. I press and have students dig, to tell the stories —their stories — so that others will remember them. I build trust and comfort, so that secrets can bubble up: 'What I really want to say is this…'. We work so that poignant stories and unexpressed yearnings can find a strong and certain voice.
Right. That's what I do.
Driving home, I smirked to realize that I was wishing for a little bit of that myself: time to sit and think and talk through the ideas – – to someone else. You see the last three paragraphs before this one? I haven't quite figured out how to put those ideas neatly onto my resume. What do
you I really enjoy doing? What do you I want to pursue? What examples can you I show? What's the unexpressed yearning?
You can only get so far talking to yourself, driving in the darkness, headed east on the 210.
I know, because, well, that's what I do.