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En Route #19


Getting Off the Ground

Flying is not for the faint of heart. The whole process, from start to finish, seems engineered to make you question if your destination is even worth it in the first place. After a winter break of almost entirely travel I can endure long lines, questionable food, and border control with the best of them, but I still don’t think I’ll ever get completely used to flying. From the passenger’s perspective, taking off is the hardest part. The moment a multi-ton tin-can battles gravity and wins is also when most of us stuff our hearts back down our throats and begin to wonder when we’ll be rewarded with some peanuts for our bravery. Like flying, the creative process can feel like an act of faith as there are often moments when you are simply not in control.

Simply getting an idea started is half the battle, but getting it off the ground is a different kind of internal warfare. This week I faced the latter. On Tuesday the strike ensured that all my classes were either canceled or online, a mixed blessing in my perspective (but don’t tell my classmates). I met with my Thesis professor for our weekly powwow where we get together and discuss life, love, and the pursuit of thesis projects. That’s how the saying goes right? For those who might be wondering, after you complete the herculean task of actually writing your Thesis paper, in the Spring you’re now tasked with completing a self-defined project based on your paper’s themes.

Before class I’d spent a good bit of time prepping a rough draft for my project, but had this nagging feeling in the back of my head that there was just something missing. In the time I had with my professor, the search for this missing element only seemed to reveal the fact that my project idea didn’t quite suit my Thesis topic. Once the needle was pulled from the haystack, everything around it came tumbling down. My project idea crumbled to dust in my hands and I could feel my teacher’s sympathy as I mourned its passing and pondered what could succeed it. I had written a paper on East Asian Fantasy narratives and the idea to design a fictional publishing house just no longer fit. My thesis wasn’t about selling books, it was about how Fantasy is an immersive cultural experience, not a commercial venture. By the end of class, I only knew one thing for certain: I needed a new idea, fast.

You hear a lot about artistic hardships in the modern age, writer’s block, drawing hand cramps, but the fear we rarely ever voice is when the shining idea we once held in our mind’s eye crumbles apart in our hands. In these moments, a student’s first instinct (like any nervous flier) is to panic at the first sign of turbulence. This being week 3, I had no such luxury. When you’re sent back to square one, you’re forced to reconsider your process. In my case, I was encouraged to get out. To think, meditate, and imagine what exactly I wanted to do with this open ended (and somewhat self-directed) project. A dangerously existential assignment for the philosopher’s daughter. Nevertheless, I got to work. I made mind maps, wrote on sticky notes, and drank a lot of tea. By the end of the week, my desk looked like I was close to solving several murder mysteries, but still far from the answers I needed.

I decided I needed inspiration. I searched for it on the web for a few hours, and when that failed to satisfy, I called up my friend and announced that we were going on a field trip. In Senior Year there comes a time when your professors simply can’t give you the answers. It’s not mean spirited, it’s just that there no longer is a right answer, just different solutions to pick from. And it’s up to you to find them for yourself. I’d love to say I walked into the Musée des Arts Décoratifs and was instantly struck by the perfect idea for my project. However, even after 3 hours spent wandering the dazzling halls I had no such stroke of genius. What I did get was inspiration.

After a lifetime spent searching for answers on Google, I think we 20-somethings can forget that there are answers to be found outside of our screens that don’t require you to watch several ads beforehand. I cannot stress enough how important it is for us as artists to refill our creative wells. If you don’t have anything new to draw from, you’ll be hard pressed to come up with new ideas. While I’m still a few hours of more leg work away from any concrete answers, I can say that looking at beautiful things for a couple of hours certainly helped me get there faster. Sitting here now I have dozens of new threads to follow in order to find my idea.

Inspiration, like an airplane, might not always take you exactly where you need to go, but it certainly does get you most of the way there. I can only hope this rather extended metaphor can give you some solace if, like me, you’re doing a great deal of searching these days. And if you find yourself with a bit of time, you might venture out to one of the many inspirational (and free) museums Paris has to offer.

Go explore!

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