Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Potential is Not A Number

My friends, there are different kinds of potential, and you must not confine yourself to one alone.

Most people are driven by parents, teachers, and society in general to the potential that looks wonderful on paper.

"I'm ranked #3 in my class right now."
"I have a 4.26 GPA."
"If I keep this up, I can hopefully get into Stanford!"

This kind of potential is great, right?  Usually associated with "genius, top student and 'going places'", this is the potential that you're either proud of (if you are that person), or spend a lot of time wishing for.

We are constantly pushed to reach this potential.

"If you can do it, why don't you?"
"Look at all she's done.  She's gonna accomplish so much."

This kind of potential is basing everything on this society-determined formula for an American Dream-type success.  Stats, performance, exceeding the 'average person'.  The goals, whether or not professed?  Usually something along the lines of:

In highschool:
Good grades, so good college

In college:
Good grades, successful major, so good job

Good job, so money and security, family

From an early age, people with this kind of potential are identified.  Along each step of their life, they are pushed to keep reaching high levels of success.  They are told to constantly challenge themselves.

"You had straight A's all through kindergarten!  You're gonna do great in 1st grade."
"You've qualified for the Gifted Program, we want to prepare you for a higher level of achieving."
"Don't take that class, it's too easy for you.  Drop the fluff classes and take all honors, challenge yourself. You can always do art as a hobby at home."
"You can totally handle all honors classes - you're wasting your potential if you don't take them!"

It's awesome if you have these qualities.  Good grades, challenging classes and financial security in the future are all awesome, amazing things.  Don't stop trying hard, doing your best.

But if all we do is constantly challenge ourselves for a future that is always two steps ahead of ourselves, what are we really doing?  Often the education system seems to be a petri dish of competition. Competition against ourselves, each other, and society.

Friends, there are multiple kinds of potential.

What we started telling children that they have the potential to change the world with their smiles?
What if we told them that their kindness is the most precious asset they have, not that 32 on the ACT?
What if society recognized that a good grade card isn't always a good reflection of individual growth?

Because isn't that what a challenge is for?  To grow someone in some way?

And it should be clear that there are far more ways to do that than taking the hardest classes possible from kindergarten through college.  Imagine.  Someone could be challenged by talking to someone from a vastly different background than them.  They could be changed by seeing a work of art that finally acknowledges something they always felt alone in feeling.  You can find a challenge in a blade of grass.

And yet here we are, too often attributing the highest worth to a series of letters on a paper denoting that a student has successfully completed the requirements for a course deemed 'challenging'.  

I have a personal story to complement my point.  I have been told many of the things quoted above throughout my life - either by friends, teachers, parents, or even my own brain.  (My own brain has actually adopted this 'academic potential' motto and constantly reminds me).  But as I've had to start trying to decide on a college to attend, I've had to redefine potential in my mind, and realize the infinite possibilities for different kinds of challenges.

I went to a very challenging high school.  I took the hardest classes available, and pushed myself to get A's in all of them, 4 years straight.  Senior year, and I'm finishing of the International Baccalaureate (IB) program.  My GPA is 4.26 and my class rank is #3.  32 ACT.  These are great things, and I'm proud of them.  However.

However.  I believe I lost sight of some more important things along the way.  One of my main justifications for choosing the classes I did was because I knew I could succeed in them.  My mindset was, "I can feasibly do well in college calculus.  I'd be lazy if I didn't enroll in it."  And so I went through high school this way.

This year, as I've made the choice to focus on my passion (writing, art, theatre) in college rather than a more financially-secure career path, I've questioned some of my past decisions.  Those challenging classes, while certainly beneficial, forced me to stop almost all writing and art.  I have rarely had time to do any of the things I love and wish to pursue the rest of my life.  I have been so stressed and tired that I've neglected my family and God.  So while I have perfect grades, I've sacrificed a lot.

When I choose a college, I don't think I want to do the same thing all over again.  The hard thing is that I know I could continue with this path and go on to the next level.  Every time I consider a more casual, less-prestigious college, my brain kicks in and says, "Caroline, no.  You'd be wasting all that potential!"  I feel bad choosing something less "prestigious", when I've already reached that level.  Lazy, my brain says.

But honestly, I'd only be choosing a different potential to pursue. And also, it's not wasted!  I still have everything I've learned from that path in my life. Now, I want to cater to my potential as an artist and writer, rather than an Ivy-League top student, because the latter has never been my passion or goal in life.

I've come to the realization that there are multiple kinds of potential.

Challenging yourself by going deep into art and growing as an artist is no less worthy a challenge than all honors classes.  There's so much potential there.

Dedicating 20 hours a week to working on your novel is a huge challenge with so much potential to grow in thought and creativity and technique.

You, my friend, have the potential to be a dreamer.

You have the potential to be someone who changes someone's life with a few words.  Or many words.

You have the potential to be so happy and peaceful.

You have the potential to make amazing friendships.

Potential is not about reaching the highest number on a scale.  No.  The most important things cannot be measured in numbers.  

Perhaps, potential is about fulfilling who you were meant to be.  For some people, that is the academically-driven person whose dream is to go to Harvard and be the top in their class.  But some, they are artists whose dream is to sit for hours alone in a tree dreaming up their next magnificent work.

These people should not have to be judged by the same standard for success.  These potentials, these purposes, are beautiful in their own way.  We should be allowed to pursue them with the same passion, without shame.  Without feeling we are slacking for not holding class rank on a pedestal above our heads and hearts.

These people should not be told find a 'real job, or you won't succeed in your life'.  Artists shouldn't feel guilty for spending time on and prioritizing their art.  Success, my friends, depends entirely on what you're chasing after.

I am not saying we should totally ignore one form of success, because academics are important.  Stay in school, kids.

But Albert Einstein once said, "Everyone is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid."

The fulfillment of your potential is not determined by a universal standard set by society.  You are much more than a number.  

~ CM

Sunday, October 16, 2016

The 12 Stages of Writing a Poem

The 11 Stages of Writing A Poem
(best done after midnight)

1. I'm never going to write a poem again, I've exhausted all sources of inspiration.  *cries*  #thereisnohope  #preparethefuneralpyre

2. *takes a shower*  *seven seconds later* OH MY GOSH IS THAT INSPIRATION CALLING?  Wat wat wat is this I haven't had an idea in years HELLO DARKNESS MY OLD FRIEND oh no quick gotta write this down before it leaves BUT WAIT WHY PINEAPPLES?  Are they even relevant ACK NEVERMIND DON'T QUESTION THE INSPIRATION oh my gosh why did I choose to shower at this ungodly hour where's a towel *writes 7 complete stanzas and spends next 5 minutes frantically repeating them to not forget *RUNS TO COMPUTER*  *yells at wifi for not immediately working*  *opens a doc* it's 2am? who cares?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?  FOLKS WE'RE BACK IN BUSINESS #theinspirationalqualitiesofrunningwater  #dontcomplainitsinspiration  #sacrficeeverythingforinspiration

3. Ummm - wat is "Title"?  #confused #nevermindinspiration

Also speaking of titles I just really kinda want to find this book and read it???

should have subtitle: "A Writer's Search History".

4.  forget the title ON TO THE FUN STUFF oh my oh my it's coming so quickly MUST GET IT ALL DOWN  *forgets brilliant line from shower musings and cries*  *still remembers like four stanzas*  #racinginspiration  #brainisweird

(I'm the cow, chasing inspiration)  #beinspiredlittlecow

5.  At this point we're stopping after every two words written and reading, starting from the top, everything we've written so far in a dramatic voice with emotional gestures  #soundsgoodsoundsgood  #spokenword

6.  THIS IS. THE MOST BRILLIANT. THING. ever.  *reads it all again* *gives self chills*  hmmmm I should make those business cards after, this is gonna be BIG.  THIS IS MY BEST WORK EVER.  #icanseetheheadlines  #amazing

7. just past the half way point MAY DAY MAY DAY this is sounding forced oh no the inspiration is fading away WAIT WHAT IS THIS POEM ABOUT - PINEAPPLES??!?  you call yourself a writer?  what ever are words?  *goes to facebook to complain and tell the world how she's going to have to use pinterest to get inspiration again*  *goes to pinterest to get inspiration* each word takes an hour and a century  #justkeepswimming  #distractions

8.  rhythm is back, reality still present though, can't tell if genius or "totally lacking theme/style/rhyme/meter/meaning/emotion/words/purpose".

9.  oH MY GOODNESS HOW DO YOU END A POEM  #howdoyoulandaplane  #famouslastwords

10.  #untitledisavalidtitle  #itstrue

11.  DONE.  *sighs in contentment/relief/pride/nervousness*  *READS FROM THE TOP AGAIN*  very proud, quite realistic now, but hopeful.  *must find someone to show but scared  #whatifitstoobad  #whatifitstoogood

12.  INSPIRATION STILL REIGNS.  An hour or two later:  *uses leftover inspiration steam to write  a great blog post about the experience/writing/something random like squirrels*  #musefinallysatisfied  #iwillneverbesatisfied


..............This is basically how writing poems goes for me every time.  I don't usually ask for them, they just come.  Usually late at night, and usually when I'm in the middle of something.  It's a wild ride.

What about you?  How does inspiration sweep your off your feet, and what does your process look like?

Monday, October 3, 2016

Announcement: Writing Workshop!

Exciting writing-related news...

I'm super excited to announce that I will be teaching a writing workshop, starting this Wednesday!  This will take place at the Main Branch of the KCK Library, at 2pm, and is open to all teens.  While excited and totally honored, I'm also nervous!  I've had experience leading a group from the high school writing club I started a few years ago, but this feels like a new step up.

My goal is to bring teen writers in our community together, share our work and help each other improve.  Many people think of writing as a solitary mission, but in all honesty, community is so good for writing.  It's inspiring and encouraging to be around people who share the same passions as you, and to be hearing new material - you learn so much from other writers.

At the workshop, we will do a variety of things, including reading and workshopping our work, talking about specific writing techniques, and spending time actually writing ('cause you know, most of the time we spend "writing" is probably actually something closer to Pinterest and Netflix).

*my brain brainstorming for this thing*
First topic: writing with emotion.

If you live in the Kansas City area, I hope you'll join us!  I'm super excited to meet new writer friends. :)

- Caroline Meek

Do you go to a writing group?  If so, what kind of things do you do? (Help me, I need inspiration-food for this big new thing)  What's the biggest step/risk you've taken in your writing journey?

Saturday, October 1, 2016

Guest Post: Cait Potter, on Her Journey as An Artist

Hey! I’m Cait and I’m guest posting on Caroline’s blog! I’m gonna talk about art and writing and what those things mean to me.  I think it would be important to start with why I became an artist and what art means to me because my experiences have definitely shaped me into the artist I am today.

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(CW: self harm)

At the start of last year, about a week before my birthday, I tried to kill myself and I did nearly die. I had a lot of other awful things going on in my life at the time and spending five days in the hospital connected to an IV and heart monitor, being watched 24/7 while I vomited my stomach lining made me feel helpless. It took away any agency I had over my body. One of the AINs assigned to watch me would give me magazines and I would spend hours tracing and drawing the faces of the models in them.  It was then it really clicked for me. I was already a writer and I was also playing around with music but at that moment art really did it for me.  It gave me back some power.  

Since then, art has become my coping method, it’s been my way of dealing with my mental health. Whether I’m hallucinating or if i’m manic or having flashbacks, drawing (and more recently painting) has been something that I can fall back on, in the very least it was a good distraction.

I think this is really important to me, just that experience of drawing and the process of creating a piece of art as a way of coping has helped me get over any comparisons I might make between my art work and others or working through an art block. If I have a pen, if i can use my hands, i know things will be alright.

I think that’s why I could never say that art is just my hobby, it’s more than that, it’s my life, it kept me alive. I’m incredibly serious about it and it’s why I practice as much as I can.

(A painting I’ve recently created for class)

The past year I’ve been studying a diploma of visual art. It’s stressful, having to create for a deadline and a set criteria but I feel more capable in my field than I did last year. I’ve even noticed a huge improvement in my writing. I’ve learned a lot of stuff that I didn’t have the motivation or energy to teach myself last year, I’ve had the opportunity to explore different mediums and to meet other creative people.

People say you don’t have to go to art school and you don’t! It’s not a requirement but for me it’s sped up that process of learning and it’s opened so many opportunities I wouldn’t of had before. I’ve had access to more expensive equipment and mediums, I’ve had professional critique, I’ve had a lot of encouragement from my teachers, hell! It got me out of my house!

I feel as if I’ve become a lot more focused in my art and writing because of it, instead of focusing on 200 odd different ideas, I can connect, expand and create for a few. Producing more concise series of work.  Something which I carried over into my writing, I’ve been focusing on only one of my novels this year instead of three or four.  

Art and writing go hand in hand for me. One is always influenced by the other, whether I’m illustrating a poem or excerpt I’ve written or I’m writing to something I’ve created visually.  I’ve been wanting to write a book like that actually, to add illustrations wherever I please because it would suit the feel of my stories.  

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Medium wise I love drawing. I will draw and experiment with anything I can get my hands on.  Painting has become an extension of that this year. I never used to like painting before uni, I think I can definitely pin that down as being because I have an amazing, encouraging teacher for that subject. I’ve become really concerned about my process (not in a bad way!) I’ve been focusing on using the energy and passion I bring to my art to improve and to produce as much as I can while concentrating on the way I use colour and the marks that I use in my drawing and painting.
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I’ve been asked about my journals and honestly I think the reason I do it is the same as above, to cope. It helps me organise my thoughts, give them somewhere to go that isn’t just another corner of my brain. I’ve also been asked how I fill mine so quickly and I think, as with everything creativity related, it just took practice. It’s a habit I’ve picked up over the years. I never had that fear of a blank page, all I see is a space that I can fill and make mine. It’s just another space that I can create in and that’s great, even if what I create should be mopped up and thrown out the window.  

I have a lot to say and if I don’t get the chance to say it somewhere it just gets bottled up. And that’s not cool for my mental health.  Better to express everything last thing. And I don’t have to share it with anyone! (except that one guy who stole my notebook -_-)  

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Outside of school, I am working on a zine called Trigger warning! It’s a combination of my art and writing that describes the messiness of mental health and trauma in a very non-linear, sometimes intense way! That’s just been printed and I’m going to be releasing it at the exhibit I will be featuring in at the end of the year!

I am also working on my novel Cassowary, something I will hope to complete during Nanowrimo!


I’m rambling on but the advice I’d give to other artists (I’m still young and new at this myself!) use reference! It’s not cheating, in fact a lot of great artists use it and it will help you improve in your practice!

Share your art and support other artists! Your work is important at every stage, the work you have created is just as important as the work you’re creating now and the work you will create. Remember that even if your work doesn’t get many views it’s still important! The worth of your art and your writing isn’t determined by how many people see and like it.

Experiment and have fun,  try new mediums, learn from everything, art shouldn’t be a chore, it should be something good you can come back to after a long day.  

Thanks for stickin' round this long ha! You can catch me and my art endeavours on my instagram!