I want to be the kind of person that a little sparrow on the sidewalk sees and thinks to itself “I’m gonna jump into her hand right now and nestle my little feathery head into her fingers. I want her to hold my whole little fragile body there and be so sweet to me.” But I never get the vibe that this is what they are thinking. House sparrows are everywhere in New York. There are about 14 sparrows for every one human in New York. Does that mean I have to hunt for the 14 that want me to hold them ?
Once I was asked to do an outdoor performance for a street festival in New York. Outdoor performances require a lot of planning. You have to compete with the sky and the architecture and all the people who didn’t mean to be in the audience and actually don’t care that you are doing a performance. I don’t mind these constraints, but they are the kinds of constraints that I usually don’t work with. I can’t just slap on a costume and rattle off a tried-and-true favorite that works on a normal stage or club or gallery. For this, I had to make something new, specifically conceptualized for the feel of being outside on the street in the east village of New York City on a Saturday afternoon in 2009.
This is what I came up with: I would buy a box of saltines and a jar of peanut butter. I would spread peanut butter all over me, head-to-toe, and stick the saltines to the peanut butter. I would have a tiled, crispy saltine skin. I would climb the stairs to the stage, put the empty Saltines box at my feet, fill the last peanut butter spot on my body with the last cracker, and extend my arms. Cue the music. A karaoke track. I would start to sing “Feed The Birds (Tuppence A Bag)” from Mary Poppins as stylistically close to Julie Andrews as I could. After a while, hopefully some pigeons would try to eat the saltines off of my body while I sang. Maybe by the end, I would be a human covered in Pigeons. Another part of me felt hopeful that some pigeons would NOT try to eat the saltines off of my body while I sang. I had never had wild animals eat anything off of my body and didn’t feel that confident or at-ease about it. I also had some fear around pigeons not really noticing or caring. Even though I knew this would potentially be the most hilarious and dangerous and glorious piece ever, a couple hours before the performance I called the festival and told them I was sick.
I know there are people who can charm birds. But they have worked at it. You can’t just “have a knack” because you want a knack. You have to develop a knack. No matter what people think a knack is. I want to have a knack for everything. And then when I realize what kind of time and effort it takes to develop the knacks, I get mad. Because I truly do want to put in the time and the effort, but NOT if there are only 24 hours in a day and if i’m not immortal.
When I got back from France a couple weeks ago, I became really determined to be a French speaker. Not really being in a position to spend money on tuition, I arranged a barter. With a French school. I will clean their office every Sunday at 11 am and they will teach me French.
It is a toughie. Knowing that the most efficient way for me to be an elegant French speaker is to become a janitor.
I started the cleaning a couple weeks ago. My classes don’t start til mid-november so I’m not a janitor who speaks French yet –AKA a French Maid. I am simply a janitor. There are several pieces of me who feel embarrassed about this. But I think the embarrassment comes from the fact that I like it so much. There are very clear goals. Wipe the toilets down. Wipe the marker boards down. Vacuum leaves. It is easy for me to understand how to achieve the goals and I achieve them. It takes me two hours. I don’t strategize before or evaluate after. It feels perfect. It is not a job where I have to get people to want to hire me back and respect my work and believe that my ideas are credible in the world of art, that I’m young and hungry and pretty. That i have the kind of potential anybody could tap AND OIL WOULD FLOOD OUT OF ME AND WE’RE ALL GONNA BE MILLIONAIRES. It is a job where I move my arm really fast to the Die Antwoord Pandora station.
But what if liking being a janitor means that being a janitor is my destiny? From the day of my birth, I’m pretty sure my parents made it a priority to get me into college so that I would never have this destiny. (But if they knew that letting birds eat peanut butter saltines off of you while you did your best Julie Andrews was a job they would have hoped for janitor. Or lawyer.)
I am being told by multiple people in my life right now that you don’t just decide you want something and get it immediately. Or that it’s wrong to believe that you are something when you haven’t really proved it. The value of practice versus the value of imagination/entitlement. I lean towards valuing the imagination parts of me. But now i guess it’s time to believe that there are more than 24 hours in a day and that I am immortal so that I can put in the time to develop the real knack for all of these things that I want to be and do.