Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Team Player

So, for the past six months, I have been learning the sport of mixed martial arts. It started while I was on a break from derby, but continued well past my planned end date. I'm not entirely sure why I chose to try it. Though I had enjoyed watching fights on TV, never once had I thought to myself, "I could do this." Because even though I'm no stranger to contact sports, I'm actually kind of a wimp. I was super nervous on my first day at the gym, and I threw my back out in the warm up. After a month of painkillers and chiropractor visits, it took a lot to get over my embarrassment and come back. But I did, and now, even though I'm the worst student on any given day and continually get schooled and beat up, I keep coming back. MMA is hard. Really hard. Derby, also, is hard. No one reaches their goal immediately. Some folks have a quicker learning curve than others, but generally it's accepted that before you can be considered "good", you have to get better a little bit each day over a long period of time.

What makes this easier is community. People who are engaged in group fitness activities have an easier time of reaching their goals than people who go it alone. At the MMA gym and in derby, one is surrounded by people who can support, encourage, and teach. In turn and in time, a fighter or derby player will be in a position to do the same, both for newbies and more seasoned teammates.

I pour a lot of my time and energy into sports. It's my social network, and it satisfies my need for achievement in ways that are quantifiable. I delight in looking up my stats after each game- My progress as a skater is encapsulated in a series of spreadsheets over the course of several years. For now, I still hold the record for the most laps completed in five minutes. MMA affords a whole new set of skills to master. Each class finds me making a conscious decision and effort to control the little things: Hands up, chin down, change levels, keep a good base, posture... It's a long list. I don't always succeed, but I'm getting a little bit deadlier every day. Though I may be confident of that, it's nice to have people around to confirm it, and to remind me of the things I still need to fix.

I have no such community for art. It's all my own doing, honestly. Perhaps still having a preconceived notion of what my career was supposed to look like by now has made me slowly withdraw from the illustration world. Lord knows it's nothing like what I had hoped. I worry that my friends will think my work is backsliding, or stale, or at worst, stupid. Sometimes it's hard to stay motivated to keep working on my projects because the only people who ever see them are the submissions editors, art directors and artist reps whose response has mainly been, "Thanks, but no thanks." (This of course excludes my soon-to-be wife, who is supportive beyond measure!)

Some days I go to the gym and get submitted in every round of grappling.

Some nights I go to derby practice and don't score a single point.

These things are hard, but I accept them as part of the journey. Mistakes and missteps have immediate consequences, but I don't tend to internalize. Instead, I try to learn. Why, then, is it so hard to see rejection in the art world as anything but a giant wall of "NO, GIVE UP"? Is it because rather than having teammates to bolster my sense of purpose, I've chosen to make art in a vacuum? I see you all out there. Your work is fantastic! You are all doing wonderful things, and bless you for sharing them. If art was a sport, I'd want you all on my team. And so I suppose that's what I'm missing right now; I'm a team player without a team.

If any of you out there want to do art exchanges, get together for figure drawing, give each other feedback and critiques, hit me up! I want to cheer you on, and I want to make stuff with you.


Laura Hughes said...

Hey! My comment was eaten, so I'll try again. I think you're onto something. I'm so impressed by how athletic you are, when to me it seems impossible: I do nothing active. I should join a team of some sort! And, I think the supportive, insta-feedback community and collaborative feeling of fanfic has done a lot to keep the joy alive for me with writing. Would you take me on the team even though I'm more into writing than art these days? We've had good collaborations before, and I would love to figure out some way to work together on something, or just beta/cheerlead/hold each other accountable for various creative projects.

Ali Blackwell said...

Yes! All the time yes!

Rev Al Mighty said...

I am so proud to call you friend. The goals you accomplish in life are never as important as the effort you place. You go so far from your comfort zone. The world could learn a lot from you.I know I do.

Ali Blackwell said...

Aww, thanks!