Lessons for the 20-Something Woman

I cannot tell you what comfort it was to walk into a museum last week and find poetry on the walls.

This little beauty inspired a paper unlike any I’ve written before. It’s not often I pour my heart out and leave it to dry, totally at the mercy of my professors, but this poem woke me up to a lot of truths I forget to believe. Fortunately, my professor didn’t seem to mind.

So here are words from Edward Lucie Smith and William Scott – an anthem for twenty-something women everywhere – followed by my very un-scholarly, line-by-line commentary (art history version available upon request if you’re a nerd like me).

Who maps this better than you?

Turning, bending, you are calm;

A mistress of curves, floated

On a page of air. You know

What the shape of your life is.

You are self-creating; your

Own body is your subject,

And also the line you draw.

Lesson #1: Who maps this better than you? Us millennial girls have become co-dependent on co-pilots, namely Siri and well-meaning friends.

We don’t need borrowed wisdom. We need confidence in our ability to navigate the unknown. Once, when globes were relevant, we closed our eyes and spun them, pointer fingers outstretched. Wherever our fingers landed on that globe was where we’d go. We’d show up with suitcases full of hope – hope in all the possibility of new people, places, and ideas.

Then we started measuring others’ words with greater weight, crushing the validity of our own voices. William Scott said of his still-life work: “I chose…objects without any glamour…a few eggs, a toasting fork…behind the façade of pots and pans there is sometimes another image…a private one…sensed rather than seen.”

Do not miss the gravity of this: behind your carefully constructed façade is the real glamour. Your joie de vivre and sense of wanderlust will help you map this life thing out because the real you generally knows better than anyone else where it is that you need to go and be and shine.

Lesson #2: Turning, bending, you are calm; do you hear those whispered words? Flexibility. Master it. You are fiercer than Hilary Clinton in a well-tailored pantsuit, but you also hold the keys to your own serenity. Nothing is more intimidating than a woman who can coolly present Points B through Z when Point A becomes obliterated. Of course, people won’t always like what you have to offer. Offer it anyway – someone, somewhere needs it. Turning, bending you are calm. When the world rejects you or tries to snuff out your spirit, you can recover composure.

Lesson #3. A mistress of curves, floated – Own things. Own projects and apartments, mistakes and memories. Most importantly, own the skin you’re in. With a culture that prioritizes Beyonce’s thigh gap over actual news, this is exceptionally difficult. But true artists applaud the imperfection of the body. Be the kind of girl who is confident enough to look upon another and say yes, you are a masterpiece in the making too.

Lesson #4. On a page of air. You know a lot more than you realize, but that does not mean you are invincible. Change will happen, knock you down, shake you up, and that’s okay. Curveballs nudge us to reevaluate and recalibrate, essentially saying that familiarity is overrated. We only take so many breaths in this lifetime, why waste them on fearing the new?

Lesson #5. What the shape of your life is.  On some days you may feel boxed into life, and on others, life may seem to move in unnecessary circles. Remember that all shapes have minimal definition for a reason. They are outlines whose middles you fill with meaning and you’re good at that. You learned shapes as a child because you had the imagination and the faith to see them as limitless, moldable.

You built whole universes with blocks because you trusted in their versatility. When you are back at square one, go back to the drawing board too, armed with Crayola’s sharpest crayons and a whole lot of gumption. If you can look at the world through the eyes of your childlike self, your dreams will no longer feel so unattainable.

Lesson #6. You are self-creating; your – What an exhilarating truth: you, with your unique eye, are always creating. However, try not be self-serving in the process. Give something back to all the cheerleaders who flung you into high places because selflessness is the epitome of modesty and it matters. Perhaps the loveliest sentence William Scott spoke is also the simplest: “I find beauty in plainness.”

Plainness is wholesome. It is humility and believing that you are good but not the best. If you can accept that your story is nestled, Russian doll style, within hundreds of thousands of other stories, the pressure to succeed will diminish.

You are absolutely capable of being a star, but one star alone cannot light the entire night. You need the cheerleaders.

Lesson #7. Own body is your subject, – have you realized that your body is a temple? It houses your soul and glues all your fragments together. Be grateful for it and treat it well. Step out of complacency and into motion, exercising your mind and your limbs with equal intensity. You can re-draw, start over. But do not allow anyone to re-draw you without your permission. Here lies the nitty gritty of twenty-something life in 2014.

For years we have listened to other women telling us what to do with our bodies. We must shrink them, stretch them, cleanse them, reveal them, hide them, prick them, slice them. Marry them to someone else’s body, make them safe havens for children, flaunt them, fix them. In an era when anything goes, please oh please be sure you really understand the body given to you. And should you choose to get hitched, your man better love the whole package – it is his subject to study forevermore.

Lesson #8. And also the line you draw. – You were not placed on this earth to be quiet.

Gorgeous, you have many lines to draw, be they crooked, smooth, or dashed.

Art will be perpetuated with or without you, so you might as well leave your mark . You are better than neutrals, so live life in colour, thanking God for men like these poets who actually understand everything you were created for.

Go forth and carpe the diems, my fellow ladies.

All blog content © Amy Bareham 2014

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