Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Portland and The Search

I am leaving Portland the same way I arrived, on a train.  I have been so entirely moved by the events of the last few months that I find it difficult to do so, though it feels like forever that I have been planning for my departure.  I am at the end of my first city and on the precipice of my second, though it feels like this is truly the beginning.

As for my own favorite Portland Place, it is difficult to find the proper words for it.  It has held so much meaning for me.  My favorite place in Portland is where I came into my own, where my father and I finally bonded, and where I simultaneously surprised and horrified myself with my abilities.  Up in the west hills of Portland, looking more summer camp than Art College, The Oregon College of Art & Craft, (OCAC) would become one of the most important places in my life.   

While I believed it to be significant during my time there, in the time that has lapsed since graduation, I have come to understand the value I garnered from my experiences as exponentially more valuable than I initially presumed.  It has been almost eleven years since I left, and in that time, I have come to understand just what I learned between the lines at OCAC. 

This came into acute perspective following the completion of my MBA.  I realized that the skills I acquired earning my BFA were far more useful in a business environment than anything I had learned while studying for my MBA.  Marketing, communication, risk taking and intense problem solving were intrinsic to almost every project I worked on after my first year at OCAC.  It was difficult to get real experience doing any of these things while going through my MBA program. 

I failed on a pretty regular basis.  In every drawing or painting I would hang on the wall for critique, only opportunity for improvement would stare back at my hopeful gaze.  I beat myself up on a regular basis.  I cried a lot.  I made other people cry a lot, (unfortunately, I became known for that).   I often had very little idea how I was going to make it through the semester without killing people.  It doesn’t really read like it could be anyone’s favorite place, but, there you have it.  I was at my very worst and my very best at that place.  Although, if you judged by my professors’ reactions, there didn’t seem to be much difference between the two.  When I was wildly successful, my professor would most often ask, “yes, but could you do that again?” or, “what are you going to do to top that?”  When I failed, it would be, “I’ll help you throw that in the dumpster,” or, “That is an awful waste of materials, use less next time.”  Either way, it was business as usual. 
Over time, I became quite comfortable with failing, and almost terrified of success.  I remember staring at a large abacus I had built on the lawn of the college, panicking.  I was surprised I was able to pull the project off in two weeks, and so well.  Truthfully, I was surprised I had built the thing at all.  I kind of wished I hadn’t.  I didn’t think I would ever make anything as wonderful again.  Eventually, this turned into an ability to take risks with an almost manic fervor.  By the time I was working on my thesis, my advisor would often direct me, and in his directions, I would find validation to do the exact opposite of what he had advised. 

By the time I was at the podium accepting my diploma, covered in stress-induced chicken pox, I had realized my confidence.  I remember standing there thanking everyone.  I literally thanked everyone in that audience for their support.  More importantly, I thanked the faculty at OCAC.  These people did not give up on me even when I had.  They challenged me to do better even when I thought I had done my best.  They helped me throw really ugly art in the dumpster in order to make way for the next atrocity. 

Now, as the train rolls down the tracks, over the Willamette River and out of the city, my heart aches.  My bff calls and tells me I am brave.  She says it is not usually the way people do things.  While I know it is true I also know, deep down, I would never be doing it if I hadn’t gone to OCAC.  Not in a million years.

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