You can do anything, but you can’t do everything
It’s official, I’m in Italy, and classes are already in full swing. After nearly a full day of travel, lots of jet lag, a few really amazing meals, and a bunch of broken Italian conversations, I’m finally here to tell you all about this first week. I should probably start out by saying how incredibly happy and grateful I am to be here. I have absolutely fallen in love with Italy, and I really haven’t even seen that much of it yet. The view from my bedroom is just insane, the whole staff at the Accademia have been so welcoming and kind, I’m so happy to be in studio classes again, and I’m here with an amazing group of people.
When I first got here I found my mental to-do list for the semester growing rapidly. It wasn’t much of a surprise that this was happening, pretty much anyone who knows me could tell you that. I tend to set unrealistically high expectations for myself, especially when I know that I’m going to have more free time or new opportunities (which is exactly what I have here, in a new country, new program, where multiple times a week I have two full hours of studio time to work on whatever I want). “That’s great that you’re so ambitious, Michelle,” you might say, and thanks, yeah maybe if I wasn’t crazy old me it would be. But I’m crazy old me and these to-do lists get so lengthy that most of the time I just end up overwhelmed and a little lost with a half-done to-do list. This isn’t to say that I shouldn’t set goals for myself, but there comes a point where the pressure of wanting to do everything takes away from being able to accomplish a smaller amount of more specific, more important things. Pretty much anything from taking up the guitar, to knowing how I want to do my thesis, to finding a kick-ass internship, to writing a play — you name it, it was on my list of things to do this semester. These are great goals to have, and I’m definitely going to try to challenge myself this semester, but obviously I became a little overwhelmed when I realized I had all these expectations and only three months to accomplish them all. My roommate keeps saying we’re “too blessed to be stressed” though, which is 110% true, so instead of stressing about all these amazing opportunities I have, I’d like to find another solution.
Something hit me in a lecture on the first day of classes that might help. We were learning about the history of the Cabaret, and around the time that Cabarets began opening, a few artists began to emerge who used styles of singing and songwriting that were completely different from the traditional love songs. These artists would write songs that were written in story form about specific people and their experiences. The stories in the songs were able to call attention to larger issues that were affecting people at the time. Our teacher reminded us that effective art goes from the individual to the universal rather than the other way around. Trying to capture multiple major social issues in a piece of art will just turn it into an essay or speech on what’s wrong with the world. But talking about someone’s individual experience might shed light on some of these issues.
It seems like a sort of basic idea, but this offered me a bit of a solution to my wanting-to-do-everything dilemma. I took this lesson literally regarding the art I want to make, but not-so-literally about my goals in general. Just writing one story at a time might build up a little more easily to the larger goals that I’ve set for myself. So that’s how I want to look at this semester, and things in general long after these few months come to an end. Each day, each class, each session of studio time is a new story, and maybe these little stories will come together and open up new possibilities or give me new skills and experiences that I can keep taking forward with me. Maybe turning my goal of “everything” into a bunch of “anythings” will leave me feeling more present, less stressed, and just a little better every day.