Monday, February 04, 2008

the egg baby

i've been reading anne lamott's bird by bird: some instructions on writing and life. though specifically geared towards writers, if you're imaginative, swapping out writing (and all derivatives) with artmaking would make this book exceptionally helpful to artists. (well, only the first third of the book really. once she gets into plot and so forth, it ceases to be as accessible).

i spent most of my time thinking about her chapter on shitty first drafts (aptly titled "shitty first drafts"). it made me consider the time when someone is first getting into a project. it's a time when you're hesitant to have anyone critique it, you're still trying to get your bearings, trying to force yourself not to overthink what it might potentially be or talk yourself out of doing it before you've even gotten anything done. this part of the process of art making is what i like to call the egg baby portion of production.

in junior high school home economics class, we had to keep an egg baby (this analogy only applies to egg babies. flour sacks or fake babies aren't apt). despite my protestations to the contrary, my teacher attempted to assure me that keeping track of an egg baby for a week was exactly like caring for an actual human baby. i believe this woman may have had children. i feared for their safety and hoped that in a short while child protection services might be paying a visit to her house, if she really meant what she said.

we were to keep our egg babies with us at all times, name it, "feed" it, and keep a log of all it's activities. not one student registered any activity on the part of the egg baby after 10 p.m. or before 7 a.m. i was in junior high, but i was not naive enough to believe that a baby wouldn't wake up when i didn't want it to, or cry in the middle of the night, or need changing or feeding. i was still incredulous about the absurdity of this whole endeavor.

i cared for that egg baby with as much detached interest as i could muster. i never left it in my locker, but carried it around with me everywhere, in a nicely lined basket covered with an egg baby blanket i had made for it in class (this was done for extra credit, as i was at the time, and have always kind of been one of those overachieving types). the egg baby is very rarely in danger of being injured by a stranger. it would have been more common to see the egg broken or damaged due to misuse or neglect. my egg was neither cracked nor completely broken, and in the end i had the realization that i had been truly concerned for the well-being of this completely ridiculous egg baby.

this fragile object was only unmarred by my devotion to its existence, which now seems so futile (excepting the random occasions for telling this story). this is how i feel about the first part of art making. you have something that needs to be protected from external (and for most of us, internal) forces. in lamott's book she refers to voices in your head, which is a problem i have (do not read too much into that).

sometimes, i tell this story (a shorter version of it) to students who are struggling. this analogy does not work for all students, but sometimes with the right person it hits home. being a student doesn't always allow one to dwell on this period of personal protection. (i do not promote the idea of isolation, just that initially it might be good to spend some time with the work, let it get a little farther than being just an idea that hasn't been fleshed out). whenever possible, it's good to think of the egg baby analogy and not smash it to bits all on your own.

i could not find an image of an actual egg baby, but i found this. is it possible they don't make students do this anymore?

1 comment:

Diamond Dave said...

my egg babies grow up to fast.