Are you one of those people who throw your suitcase together in 20 minutes, no matter the trip?
If so, congratulations. Please see my previous post, because I heartily envy you, and feel most inferior to boot.
I’m not part of your tribe, much as I long to be. I’ve learned how to pack light (managed to happily spend two weeks in Italy a couple of years ago with just one carry-on, a la Rick Steves), and I now have the accoutrement that help make this easier (mesh bags, a pre-stocked and ready-to-go toiletry kit, etc.) But it still takes me ages to figure out what to pack.
My allowable liquids fill my quart-sized zip-lock bag to bursting. And then there are all the vitamins I have to count out into a snack baggy.
It’s a pain.
But it’s nothing compared to packing to teach a calligraphy workshop.
About a dozen years ago I was a fairly regular fixture on the national “circuit” of itinerant calligraphy teachers who are flown about to teach workshops for various calligraphy guilds and conferences. “Have pen, will travel.” It was an honor, and a treat to be invited to teach all over the country. I LOVE teaching, love turning on light bulbs for people, love seeing their eyes sparkle when they “get” something or create something they didn’t know they could.
Teaching is an incredibly creative act. And face it, I can’t help myself from trying to be helpful so I might as well do it officially!
Plus I got treated a bit like a rock star (albeit without the 5-star budget).
Calligraphers don’t get no respect from the world at large – the only people who pay much attention to us are other calligraphers, some typographers (who are frequently calligraphers themselves) and a few graphic designers.
We’re sort of the poor stepchild of the art world.
So getting flown around the country and told how wonderful I am really didn’t suck. That part was nice.
(Though I also have to admit the addictive-personality part of me is really relieved I’ve always ended up in professions that aren’t fawned over by the world at large [to wit: modern dance, calligraphy, jazz… can you say “I do not want international fame”?], because I can see how being, say, an international star – a Madonna or a George Clooney or a Tiger Woods – could really turn your head around and make you lose touch with Benign Reality [in this case being the fact that you are no more valuable or special than anyone else, you dang fool, despite the fawning treatment!] I had no fear of losing touch, however, because whenever I flew home from a teaching tour [coach, not first class like a true rock star], it was straight back to my normal state of obscure anonymity, where nobody but a handful of close friends and family really gave a damn about what I did.)
Teaching was tremendously spiritually nourishing, and getting flown to distant locales and being treated like the calligrapher’s version of a rock star was kind of cool.
I’ll admit, the actual travel part of the traveling (waiting in airports, sitting in cramped airplane seats, etc.) was wearing, but the truth is this:
It was the packing that ultimately put me off.
So now I’m going to New York on Friday to teach a workshop. It’s my first itinerant workshop in a couple of years – I received the invitation out of the blue, from the largest calligraphy guild in the US, which was a delightful surprise – and I didn’t hesitate in responding with an enthusiastic yes.
But I will confess I dreaded the packing.
And here it is, Sunday, and I’ve got four days to complete my lesson plan, print any artwork out that I think may have a chance of selling, and pack the goddamn suitcase! (All while completing my outstanding work deadlines in advance for the week that I’ll be gone.)
If you’ve never taught or taken a calligraphy workshop I’m not sure if I can possibly communicate why this packing thing is so challenging, but let me try.
Here’s the list of items that students have been asked to bring with them:
Optional pre-class Assignment stuff:
_ text block photocopies (optional) from pre-class assignment
_ ideas/sketches/reference images for a piece you’d like to make (if applicable – this is optional)
Stuff to write/draw/cut with:
_ pencils and sharpener OR technical pencils (both hard and soft leads – H or 2H, and B or standard No. 2 are good, but any pencils will work)
_ soft white vinyl eraser
_ pens of all sizes (small broad-edge nibs/pointed pens for body text; larger pens for headers decoration)
_ decorative media you already have (a few tubes of watercolor/gouache and or jars of acrylic inks, rubber stamps, colored pencils, etc. DO NOT FEEL LIKE YOU HAVE TO BRING YOUR ENTIRE STUDIO! Of course you may if you like, but part of the fun of workshops is making do with what you’ve got, and we’ll all share.)
_ whatever paintbrushes you have on hand; a variety of sizes and shapes is great, if you’ve got them
_ water containers
_ cutting blade (X-acto knife with extra #11 blades, Snap-off knife or equivalent – for cutting paper)
_ cutting mat
_ any straight edges/rulers/T-squares/triangles that you already own (it may be useful to bring a selection of sizes if you have them, but we can all share)
_ other drawing/writing tools you like or have been wanting to try
Stuff to write/draw/cut on:
_ layout paper (for thumbnail and concept sketches, and may also be used for full-size sketches if you have a large enough pad)
_ tracing paper (we’ll use smaller sizes of tracing paper for papercutting, collage, paper sculpture and if you have several larger sheets, or a large pad (18×24 is a good size), you may find them useful for full-size design sketches. Pads of this size are expensive, so you might see if a friend already had a pad, or go in with several other people to buy one. If you don’t want to buy a pad, don’t worry about it! We’ll share, or make do with whatever you have.)
_ 11×17 grid paper (for copyfitting text blocks by hand
_ a sheet or two of watercolor paper (We’ll probably use smaller pieces for trying out different decorative techniques, but if you bring a full sheet and you’re highly motivated and extremely ambitious you may always choose to start working on a finished piece. I prefer Arches 140lb. Hot Press, because I can letter on it, AND paint/collage/whatever on it, AND it corrects well, but any smooth surface watercolor paper is probably fine, so if you’ve got something in a drawer just bring that.)
_ whatever colored/textured/decorative papers you happen to have around (Small sheets are fine – we’ll be cutting these up for collage/paper cutting/paper sculpture experiments – though you can always choose to work larger if you like.)
_ Scotch repositionable tape (with the blue core) and/or white artist’s tape or drafting tape (ie, low-tack, removable tape. I use the Scotch tape ALL THE TIME, but white artist’s tape is a little stickier and can sometimes be useful. I’m not personally crazy about drafting tape, as it tends to tear paper, but if that’s what you’ve got, bring it along!)
_ other adhesives you might have around: StudioTac, glue stick, etc.
_ circle drawers-cutters/hole punches that you already own
_ other calligraphy/art tools/supplies you like or have been wanting to try
_ tacking iron (if anybody has one! I’ll be showing you a collage technique that requires a tacking iron, and I’ll bring mine for everyone to share, but if you have one, please bring it!)
Most of these people are driving. In other words, they can throw stuff into boxes and throw the boxes into their cars.
As the teacher, I not only have to bring all of this stuff myself, in a suitcase, but I also have to bring every single handout, sample, example, tool, book or anything else that I might possibly want to use for a demo or discussion.
And because I don’t do the itinerant teaching regularly (and even when I did), all of this stuff is scattered all over the four corners of my studio and must now be assembled, accounted for, and jigsaw-puzzled into my suitcase.
It’s an exercise that requires more projective thinking than my brain feels capable of.
Perhaps it all goes back to some childhood trauma (note to self: must remember to have a co-counseling session on this…)
In any case, it’s taking up virtually all of my time and energy right now, so I’m feeling stressed out and am not getting time to make the new art that’s waiting to be made, and that’s making me cranky.
Little reality check reminder: of course, the very fact that I’m going to New York for the purpose of (essentially) teaching people how to live a creative life is me following my evolving Bliss and living the life I want.
And in fact, if I have any dreams of doing more itinerant teaching (or itinerant performing, for that matter), I’d better get used to packing (and ideally figure out some systems for streamlining it).
It would be good, in fact, for me to see this as a gift, something to be grateful for. The Universe has provided me with an opportunity to turn my packing into art (or something).
I’ll work on shifting to that paradigm. Talk to me next week, when I’ll probably be on a high from teaching.
In the meantime, just call me Ms. Cranky-packer-pants.