The art of living

I’ve ended up taking a lot of classes over the years because I needed something to round out my semester or to fill a vague requirement like a certain number of subject hours. As an undergrad, those were things like Cognitive Science, Folklore, or Young Adult Literature. I usually viewed them as necessary evils that had a lot of potential at the beginning of the semester, and they often became some of my favorite classes by the time Finals rolled around. I made friends and found passions, and the classes were usually pretty fun. Folk Art was another one of those classes. I didn’t end the semester much more interested in folk art than I had been in the first place, but I found a great definition that I’ve started to internalize into a major part of my personal philosophy. The actual definition is something about how “folk art is any functional item made to express aesthetic values of a community,” but drawn out over half a paragraph and with a half-dozen qualifiers. Somehow in my mind, that turned into this:

“Whatever you do, do it well and with intent.”

I know, it’s basic and common sense, but there’s a lot of basic common sense information out there, and a lot of it’s contradictory. This is just the bit that I know I need to work on in my own life. Most of the obstacles I’ve encountered over the last few years were because I ignored one of those two principles. Fighting with the thesis is because I just want to get the damn thing done. My committee convinced me to make some significant changes early on that I should have fought against harder. I didn’t fight with them because I just wanted to get the degree the easiest way possible. I wanted the degree because I need it as a minimum requirement to teach. I went to work as a cashier because I needed a paycheck. I started them all without any real intent other than finishing and doing the next thing. It’s an exhausting and shitty way to live, and I don’t recommend anyone go through motions for their own sake for very long.

Luckily, nothing can last forever. I found my intent and started trying about halfway through each issue. I started to see the value in some of the changes to the project. I started learning what I could in each class and supplementing it with research that I could bring into the classroom. I realized I could legitimately make a difference in people’s lives at the service desk (once I stopped listening to corporate directives to push store cards on people).

What I’m trying to say is this: I don’t expect my life to be analyzed with any sort of depth after I die, like scholars analyze quilts and weather vanes. But I want to live a folk art kind of life, the sort that brings functional and aesthetic benefits to the people in it. And if someone does analyze me in twenty, fifty, or a thousand years, maybe this post will be the key to understanding it.

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