Breaking Streaks

You may have noticed that this blog has been silent for over a month. 

I could claim there were plenty of good reasons for this. I’ve been working on my writing non-stop, both fiction and non-.  I’ve written well over 100,000 words and have even gotten some submissions out to publishers. I may not have been blogging but I have been getting a lot of writing done. I’m totally not using this as an excuse.

Really though, what happened is I had a blog queued up and ready to go one week, and I just forgot to hit “post” on the appointed day. And nobody noticed. Nobody called me on it. I got no concerned emails or comments or Facebook messages. I realized what I’d done the next day, and immediately posted it a day late. Life went on, despite the minor hiccough. 

But it got me thinking: if my readers weren’t concerned that I was a day late, why was I guilt-ridden and terrified? What was the worst thing that could happen? That I miss a post completely? That I stop writing the blog? Because the idea of it scared me so much, I felt I should take it head on, and decided to take a break. 

What happened? A handful of people asked me about it, a few in person and a few in my inbox. But generally, nothing terrible. The sky didn’t fall. I wasn’t struck by lightning. I wasn’t exposed as an impostor.  To be fair, I doubt that most of my readers realize I post on a fixed schedule. I keep it mostly for my own benefit, and simply announce whenever I write something. 

I figured the worse repercussions would be internal, and I was right. I felt relief at my little blog-cation, which made me feel guilty. But more, I was worried about breaking my streak. 

To explain that, I need to go back in time a bit. When I was in college as an English major, I had a 4.00 of which I was very protective. I was so concerned about my grades that I would study for hours for possible pop quizzes. I was terrified of ever getting a B, because I was afraid it would break my forward momentum and I would be a failure. 

I pulled it off, but this came back to bite me. After I started working as a pianist, I decided to go back to school for music. I was already a working musician; I knew that I couldn’t keep up with the time commitment of maintaining a 4.00. This would be strictly a learning experience to advance my own education. 

I’m sure you can imagine how that turned out—surprise surprise, I never got a degree in music. I ended up quitting the program. There were many reasons for it, both good and bad. One of the bad ones was that I was spending too much time on schoolwork—because I simply had to get straight A’s. 

To this day, I still have a 4.00. But it’s no longer something I’m proud of. It’s become a symbol of risks that I wasn’t willing to take for the opportunity to learn more. I quit something whose sole purpose was my improvement rather than get a B. 

Now, there’s not much that will challenge perfectionism and a fear of failure more than the realities of working as an artist. As a model, I have to pose despite all the flaws that I see in myself. As a pianist, I have to give a performance knowing I’ll probably hit a wrong note. As a writer, I have to post essays sometimes before I feel that they’re ready. Battling perfectionism and a fear of failure in my career is something that I’ve been doing now for a very long time, with every piece of art that I make and share. 

I’ve been fighting this for years, so imagine my surprise when I ran smack-dab into this same perfectionism with my late blog post. If I didn’t post a blog when I was supposed to, wouldn’t I break my streak? Wouldn’t I be a failure?

There’s something I’ve learned since my 4.00, by making all that art. Failure is going to happen. Bad poses. Bad performances. Bad essays. 

Failure is never permanent.

But failure is never permanent. It is not about identity. You can fail, and not be a failure. To be really cliché about it, the only way you can really fail is to not try in the first place—like dropping out of a music program to preserve your 4.00. All those bad poses and songs and essays didn’t make me a failure. Making them and sharing them made me an artist in the first place. 

I have been posting this blog on a schedule for three years. That’s a hell of a streak to break. But I think it was more than worth it to reinforce a very valuable lesson: just because I failed to post for a month doesn’t make me or this blog a failure. It might make the streak itself a failure, but that’s just one part of the project. None of these posts have gone away; none of the things that people liked over the last three years has changed. And I can start posting again, starting with this. I think perhaps that streaks are ultimately meant to be broken. It’s part of how we learn and grow.

 

The Magic of Modeling

Long before I ever started modeling, I was drawn to images of models. Not surprising, right? Together, photography and posing can create some truly beautiful images. It was more than that, though. It was the stories that these images spun. It was the idea that the model in the image was a “model” human being—ideal somehow. You can see it easily in fashion magazines, were the models are all society’s picture-perfect idea of an exemplary person: young, rich, and beautiful. But I loved the artistic images too, ones that had narratives to them and showed me someone who was strong or clever or brave.

Recently, one of my photographers received an award in a juried show for one of our underwater images—the one which features for this essay, in fact. It was so popular that they even made it the banner image for the entire show and hung it on the outside of the museum. It was such an incredible feeling to see my own image gazing serenely down at me from the side of a building, lamp in hand.  

When I visited the show, I also got to see a child run up to my image on the wall and stare at it. I watched from across the room—pretending to look at the picture in front of me—as he dragged his parents over to look, too. He was obviously fascinated.

I knew that look. That was the same look I had when I was drawn to a model’s image. Suddenly, *I* was the one in the story. In this kid’s eyes, I was the model human.  

*          *          *

I’ve helped host a lot of gallery openings in my time. Oftentimes, people want to talk to the person in the photo more than the photographer. They want to hear the story of how the image was made or what it means from the model, even though the photographer was on the shoot or in the pool with us. Sometimes I think about it like the difference between a director and an actor. Both contribute their art to the film, but something about the figurehead position of the movie star really captures the public’s imagination.

This obsession with the person in the picture seems to contradict another common response I get at gallery openings. I’m told that I just stand there and look pretty. That what I do is easy. That the photographer is the real artist.  

I always try to dispel these beliefs when I come across them by describing the process of modeling. But I still get incredulous looks when I say that I believe that I’m an equal artist and collaborator when compared to the photographer.

*          *          *

It took me seeing that kid react to my underwater image to realize that these two responses to my modeling aren’t in opposition at all. 

They’re responding to the image because the feel the image is real—or at least, that the person in the image is real. That’s why they want to talk to me: when they have an emotional connection to the image, they assume it’s to the person in it. And that’s why they think my job is so easy. They think I just have to stand around and be myself.  

I thought that if I was the person in the image, I’d be what the image depicted.

We all know that this isn’t true, but I fell prey to the same trap when I started thinking of models as ideal human beings. I thought that if I was the person in the image, I’d be what the image depicted.  

But I’m not that serene woman with her lamp. When that picture was taken, I was freezing because the pool hadn’t been properly heated. I was struggling with the many layers and yards of the dress, which felt like it was personally trying to drown me. I was miserable, grumpy, and flawed.  

To believe that models—or any other type of artist for that matter—are images of perfection is to miss all the process. We see the magic of the finished product, assume it’s reality, and ignore all the hard work that goes on behind the curtain.  

I’ll never be that magical woman with her lantern. And yet, I’ve become more of a “model” person because of all the hard work that modeling has taught me. All that stuff behind the curtain caused me to change, to improve, to grow. And maybe that’s the real magic after all.