By the end of summer, the pool was cold. The kind of cold where you’re reluctant to get in, and it only gets worse as you walk deeper and the water level rises. First your calves are cold, then your thighs, then your stomach, until you finally give up and dunk your head. Then, you’re hesitant to take a break from posing, because it’s even worse outside than in the water and you’re already wet anyway. The entire shoot becomes an intricate dance of keeping your body functioning in the temperature while concentrating on the other physical aspects of modeling—breath control, posing, facial expression—and still making art.
I was particularly worried this summer. Not just because of the cold, but because I was also coaching a new model. I was worried about inflicting the cold on her, on top of everything else.
During that shoot, I watched like a mother hen. I was ready to swoop in at the first sign of cold or fatigue with blankets and a thermos of hot tea. But instead, it was like watching a fish—she just kept posing. When she finally got out of the pool, her hair was straggling, her eyes bloodshot from the chlorine. She was shivering and tinged just a little bit blue. But she wrapped herself up almost absent-mindedly in her jacket. She was absolutely giddy. “That was so much fun!” she exclaimed, bouncing with excitement.
Well yeah, I thought. Of course it is. But then I realized that I had been focusing on all the hard work—the cold, the posing—and I was taking all that fun for granted. It was just a part of modeling.
* * *
When I worked regularly as a life drawing model, one of the groups I posed for had a director who was also a retired high school art teacher. During her day job, she got a lot of teenagers complaining to her about how hard the class was, how bad they were at art, and how in general they were miserable.
She came up with a phrase that she would tell her students every time they complained. She also started using it on us in the drawing group. Maybe I would assume a particularly complex pose that looked like a pretzel or had a lot of foreshortening. Or maybe someone was having a bad day and just couldn’t get a drawing they were happy with. Whenever she heard a sigh or grumble, she would turn to us and say:
“Fun is doing difficult things well."
The phrase always stuck with me. I’m still reminded of the room the group met in when I think about it. The rustle of paper, the chemical smells of various art supplies, the directional warmth of the space heater, the scratchy feel of the old overstuffed chair I was posing on.
I used to repeat the phrase to myself as my own personal mantra. Fun is doing difficult things well. Fun is doing difficult things well. Sometimes it was gleeful, like when I had just nailed a really beautiful pose, and I knew the photo was going to be amazing. Sometimes it was sardonic, like when I was fifteen minutes into a twenty minute pose and everything hurt.
But like most things that I repeat a lot, it got overused. It lost its magic and profundity over time. Honestly, I’d almost forgotten about it until I saw it lived out in front of me by that new model on her very first shoot.
It’s easy to take fun for granted, to not notice it when it’s happening. I know that I do. I just normalize all the amazing things I’m experiencing, and I’m left wondering how the heck to have any fun.
Now I have two strong reminders on exactly how to have fun. I’ll keep reminding myself that fun is doing difficult things well. I’ll keep picturing that room I modeled in with the overstuffed chair and the art supplies.
And when I need a dose of perspective, I’ll think about it through a new model’s chlorine-addled eyes.