The month of July, now coming to an end, heaped a load of emotional turmoil upon me. I suppose, in a cruel joke sort of way, it’s fitting that it occurred in the month of my birthday. A week ago, I turned 48 years old, and though I would have much preferred to celebrate it downing margaritas and dancing til dawn, I spent most of it sloshing around in the morass. I wish it was possible to drown the monsters, to forcefully hold their heads underwater and bring an end, once for all, to the ogres of loneliness, regret, and self-doubt. But they are, I fear, undrownable.
As I glumly took a walk in the park on my birthday – that hot, sticky day, July 22nd, having been day one of the New York City heat wave – a turn of phrase that had impacted me once before poked its way again into my consciousness when I strolled past the softball fields: “You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backward”. That is Steve Jobs, from his 2005 commencement address at Stanford University. As someone who tends to beat herself up about past decisions and questionable choices, I am astonished at Jobs’ remarkable ability to spin all the events of his life, including the failures, the ugly battles, and humiliations, into mere spokes on the wheel of a larger, fulfilling destiny. I’m astonished because it is an art I have not mastered. Not even close. I mean, this is a man who declares that, in hindsight, dropping out of college was one of his best decisions … to a class of recent college graduates! Who else but Steve Jobs could get away with that? This was also a man who, in 2005 when he delivered this address, was much closer to death than he knew.
My art modeling work is done for the rest of the summer, except for a weekly portrait class on Long Island through August. But in the weeks leading up now, New York’s art community graciously sent me off into my hiatus with much needed expressions of appreciation for what I do. It was wonderful. After every July gig came an enthusiastic verbal validation of my modeling. Where did this come from? From the ladies at the 92nd St Y to the diverse group of sketchers at Battery Park and even to the high schoolers in the pre-college summer art program at FIT, I was treated to the most generous words; “You are so fun to draw!”, “Your poses are beautiful!”, “You’re the best model I’ve ever seen!”, “It’s been a pleasure working with you”. Now, I’m not entirely convinced that I’m deserving of such praise, especially given my dejected mood of late, but gosh am I ever grateful. And it offset the emotional turmoil I alluded to at the start of this post. I could not have needed those complimentary words more than I did this past month. Like a gallon of water for a thirsty soul.
I’ve blogged more than a few times about the profound value art modeling holds for me, most recently in this post from May. So I think I may have actualized at least one of Steve Jobs’ commencement speech themes; allowing your inner voice to lead you to your passion and “find what you love”. Passions are, truly, what propel us through our lives, push us through adversity, and imbue us with a sense of purpose. The purpose for most of us, unlike Steve Jobs, may not be grand or revolutionary or trailblazing, but it’s purpose all the same. Obviously we can’t all possess the creative vision and business acumen of Apple’s co-founder, but we can all answer inspiration’s call.
I still have to work on the “connecting the dots” bit however. When I reflect backwards, as Steve Jobs proclaimed, I can’t see it in the collected experiences of my own life. The dots just aren’t connecting. Yes I made ONE good decision ten years ago which introduced me to a passion that had been dwelling inside me. But all the rest? I can’t piece it together like a triumphant puzzle the way Jobs did, no matter how hard I try. Maybe, someday, it will all make sense to me. But not now.
Sketch of me .. still reaching, still actively standing, still stepping forward … by Giovanni Lipari: