in this case, the old dog in our scenario would be me.
last month matt and i went away for a couple of nights with two other families from our girls' preschool, and after some very delicious and kind of rich meals, my friend kaite announced, "i think we should do a cleanse when we get home", to which i smiled and didn't say anything because of course, i knew there was no way i was doing a cleanse! first, i kind of feel like our bodies are built to filter and digest so i don't know how much i buy the cleansing the body's toxicity thing (but feel free to refute me in the comments section.) second, i didn't really feel like giving up many of my favorite foods for three weeks. third, and most honestly, i didn't really think i could do it.
kaite kept talking about "the cleanse", and somehow it became like the amazing power of advertising- you swear something is the ugliest thing you've ever seen until you keep seeing it everywhere and in magazines, billboards, and tv shows, and suddenly you find yourself declaring how you really want to purchase that item. (case in point - my evolution from vowing never to wear horizontal stripes to somehow getting sucked into stripey mania the last couple of years, even if it makes me look even wider. but hey, stripes are cute.)
the cleanse slowly became my striped shirt,
because lo and behold,
even though i just outlined my very logical reasons for not doing a cleanse,
i suddenly decided, "well? why not? i am going to do a cleanse"
so for three weeks i decided to say no to the following things:
gluten & all its friends, dairy, refined sugar, coffee/caffeine, chocolate, alcohol, eggs, red meat, some nuts including peanuts (& then for the last week, i also cut out fruit)
it seemed crazy. it seemed impossible.
people, i do not like green tea. or fish. or tofu.
i mean, wasn't that all i'd be able to eat?
and then i remembered my friend nicole, who did an elimination diet (whole 30) last year,
and has stuck with it ever since, to amazing health results.
and then i also remembered how stubborn i am. (very.)
and i thought about how much i like sugar and butter and flour and how delicious anything is when it is a combination of those ingredients, and how irresistible said sugarybutteryflouryanything is to me.
so i decided to reboot my body by decreasing my craving for those items by taking them out of my diet for a few weeks.
and to force myself to avoid my default meal choices
(you know, the ones that are fine, but you just do because that's what you eat for breakfast.
i'm not talking about donuty levels of unhealthiness,
but something like my regular english muffin with cream cheese.
well, no gluten, no dairy, so had to figure out something else!)
so even though i woke every morning dying for my cup of coffee with cream and sugar in it?
i drank green tea. and i complained and had a splitting headache for a few days, but i survived.
even though i took my regular snack breaks in the middle of the night when working on freelance?
i found something else to eat. like a boring old carrot. but it mostly hit the spot, even though i did miss sugarybutteryflouryanything at 2 am when i was needing a sugar rush.
despite my reticence to make the plunge,
i ended up kind of loving the cleanse.
i ate more intentionally.
i felt strong and healthy and whole.
i recognized that no one else really cared or noticed if i ate a modified diet
(ahem, kind of big for people-pleasing-tendency-me).
and the biggie for me:
i was really self-controlled. i didn't cheat once. (actually i take that back- one time, but it was a choice and not a "slip-up") i think i've had this misguided self-perception that because i have spent much of my life struggling with my body type and related weight issues, that i must not be very self-disciplined. overweight = i'm obviously a flaky glutton (or something along those lines). these three weeks of changing how i ate reminded me that when i make decisions i am actually very much in control, and don't have an issue with healthy boundaries. oh, and that i make a lot of really healthy choices already with food and exercise. (insert the self-talk that says, "don't be so hard on yourself susannah, especially since you are believing untrue things.") that might not seem like much of a revelation, but it was pretty powerful to me.
so a couple of weeks out i've gone back to eating like "normal" but with some ongoing modifications.
i eat less a lot less dairy, gluten, and sugar. i haven't had any artificial sweeteners (i do miss you a little, diet coke.) i drink less of my husband's delicious cocktails. and i think a lot more about what food i am putting into my mouth and why.
(p.s. don't get the wrong idea here-for the record yesterday i did eat multiple peanut butter chocolate chip cookies that my friend nancy made. because they were AMAZING. but then i also stopped and did not eat the entire plate. even though i almost should have. they were really that good.)
we've all had teachers who transformed our perspective and challenged us to go further, think harder, attempt new ways of navigating the world. when i was in graduate school for painting, i was able to not only learn from some amazing makers and teachers, but to work with some of them in the classroom. i was the graduate teacher assistant in multiple classes and with some of my favorite professors, all of whom are fixtures in the bay area art world and have been around for a long time, making art and teaching art.
i found out yesterday that carlos villa, who i worked with in three classes, passed away early that morning.
tears that keep coming and a sad, sad heart.
he was a man of many awards and recognitions, but most of all, he was a good man.
i can't stop thinking about this man that exemplified the kind of artist i aspire to be: kind, patient, generous, big-hearted, unselfish, funny, teacher and maker, a listener and story-teller, committed to his practice for a lifetime, known for character as much as for artmaking, and making art rooted in justice and community.
at the beginning of a critique carlos would pass out a stack of index cards to all of the students and before anyone could speak, they would have to scrawl a few thoughts down on their cards. and then he'd open up the conversation. a good practice in life in general - to pause and think before speaking, especially in criticism.
he would spend time between classes hanging out at the school cafe, talking art and life with peers and students. he always had a roll of cash in his pocket, and if you were in line with him, or happened to be low on cash he would pull that wad out and cover your coffee or lunch. every day. he bankrolled so many students without pause, and with a kind smile and twinkling eyes. he was an unofficial father-figure to who knows how many students over 43 years, including me.
at first when i was working with him i thought he was mellow to a fault- it kind of felt as if i was running the class. i was the one teaching, making announcements, sending out emails, grading, running critiques, planning logistics. and then i realized it was because he was teaching me how to teach the art of making in a setting where i couldn't fail. why? because he was standing right next to me, guiding me. before class we would take the tiny staff elevator down to his closet of an office and chat through how the students were doing, what needed to happen that day, who could use some extra critique or encouragement. and he would listen to my thoughts and then say, "ok, sounds good susannah."
the last time i saw carlos was less than a year ago; i ran into him at an opening, which was so like him- always showing up when a student (myself included) had work up in a space, no matter how humble the location. we chatted about how some of "our" old students were doing, many of whom have eclipsed me in career since i finished school and took time off after having my girls. he invited me to give him a call and come by for a visit; it was of no urgency, just to swing by and hang out, and i didn't take him up on it. carlos has always been there; he taught at sfai for 43 years, so even though he was getting older i just assumed he would keep showing up at openings and in classrooms.
carlos taught me about
making and teaching and living.
how to take myself seriously and not-so-seriously all at once.
how to listen to and respect students.
how to celebrate (his 70th birthday was a massive party that took over the campus with friends new and old).
how to appear low-key while still tracking everything that was going on.
the art of delegating to your teaching assistant.
being in it for the long haul.
i'll leave you with some words from his teaching philosophy, because he says it better than i do:
"My Class Strategy is always the same: I listen hard. I am aware that whatever I say
can change a student’s life. Also, if I have 20 students in a class, it means that I have
20 ‘directed study’ students.
As an artist/teacher I need to be constantly active in my studio and immersed in my
work to be able to return to encourage and challenge artist/students at the institution
as a teacher. I am inspired. For me, “Artist/teacher” is one word.
My role as a teacher is to identify the doors and windows of engagement, and to
discuss the ways to go through those openings...to go further, and to further personal
knowledge and career.
The basic premise for me is to engage students on a level that they can understand, as well as to establish and foster goals that students (as individuals) can aspire to as artists. Continuing the conversation is what makes them go further.
Art is sometimes ephemeral; sometimes it is an object. Sometimes art becomes