I have the fantastic honor to return to my little college campus this week as a “Distinguished Alumni” (grateful that there were no cellphones or internet in the 70s & 80s to record potential undistinguished behavior – lest the invitation be revoked) whereby I will be visiting several creative writing & art classrooms, presenting a lunchbox talk to fellow young creatives, being feted at a welcome dinner hosted by college boys, and wrapping up the entire visit with a public lecture in the same room where I saw History Rock Star Doris Kearns Goodwin speak last autumn.
First of all, I am flattered as all get-out. I have cobbled together a creative career based on luck, ingenuity, hunger, opportunity, word-of-mouth, connections, enthusiastic support from family, friends and strangers, and skills with pens & paper. It doesn’t seem like such a big deal to me from where I sit (which, truthfully, is in my cool self-designed lodge-country-loft house, the biggest perk of the job of being self-employed). But, I’m ready and willing to sparkle college youngsters with whatever bon mots, kernels of wisdom, grains of experience, and seedlings of encouragement I can muster. Did I mention that my college is in Iowa? ;)
My pickle was this: how do I figure out what to say?
My work has stretched into so many fields, professions, industries, and formats: a sort of gypsy-career, what ties everything together and what will be worthwhile to share with a bunch of earnest, creative, young and curious kids?
After several months of intentional procrastination, I had my light bulb moment which made the answer plain as day. And add this to the list of wise words: Inspiration comes from the weirdest places.
Sitting, again, well, maybe I was standing, making soup or feeding the dogs, or tidying my drafting table, I looked over at my kitchen island. It’s massive. It’s nearly nine feet long. It’s built to welcome. A sort of stage whereby someone (typically me) would cook on one side, and had the fabulous view of bed-hair, sleepy-eyed, t-shirt & sweat-panted children seated on the other side, elbows splayed, voices just waking up.
The years of raising my three wonderful tots in this house, which stretched to welcome hoards of funny, cute, shy, loud, interesting, friendly, loving young friends is the jewel of my own crown. The mornings where my just-caffeinated-enough short order cook-self was greeted by this pilgrimage from several bedrooms to the kitchen island stools are some of my all-time favorite moments.
Flip french toast, sauté a pan of mushrooms, fold a goat-cheese melting omelette, all the while chatting and regailing these sleepy kids with story after story, while stacking plates, pouring orange & apple juice, and watching, while I cup my 3rd mug of java, (which I first drank in college) these delicious, eager souls being nourished.
So, back to the point of this post: Young minds are so cool! They’re hungry & thirsty & open & curious & ready & passionate & curious. My college talks are no different than my years raising, hosting, entertaining, mentoring, and encouraging the revolving door of dozens of wonderful, hungry, curious, passionate, smart kids who’ve passed through this house, this kitchen, this studio, this life.
It’s that, just. Life.
And, in an ode to the irreplaceable academic “Block Plan” which Cornell College has embraced since I arrived on that glorious campus in the fall of 1978, whereby “One Course At A Time” is taught for an amazing, intense, fruitful 3 and a half weeks, here’s a little block infographic that, to me, informs to fellow creatives, artists, illustrators, entrepreneurs, freelancers, idea-makers & writers, some very basic, old-world, tried-and-true bit of advice.