Tuesday, December 13, 2016

I Have Earned this Degree, the Right to Make Art, and to Struggle


I stare down at my Freudian Slippers. Sigmund's cartoonish eyes meet mine while his tongue lolls out from under his white beard. At this moment, I am avoiding my husband's repeated inquiries.

"How do you feel?"

"Any goals? Comments?"

"How are you?"


He is asking me these questions because it was the first day of my last semester at BYU-Idaho. I graduate in 14 weeks.

So I stare at my slippers, wriggling my toes and enjoying my nonsensical balter, because I don't fancy an existential crisis with my morning tea.


Neil Gaiman talks about the surreality of creating for a living. His wife, Amanda Palmer, coined the term "Imposter Syndrome." Symptoms include believing two men would knock on your door, tell you creating wasn't a real job, and make you get a desk job. That has always sounded like some kind of Harrison Bergeron-esque dystopian circumstance until I remembered I've been spending four years trying to earn the right to tell people I'm a designer.

I have spent most of those years questioning and critiquing my work. Nothing was good enough, someone was better, I pushed myself harder, self-destructively wouldn't accept mistakes and was wildly disappointed when they happened. But it had never occurred to me that I didn't belong in this world.



"BABE. I GOT IT. I KNOW WHAT I'M DOING." my binder flew up into the air as I jumped out of my chair to get Burke's attention. I grabbed his face with both of my hands and stared intently.

"Dada. Existentialism. It's so obvious."

"What's obvious."

"College students. Oh, this is awesome, I'm on it, this'll be poignant."

"I'd understand your excitement a lot better if you told me your entire train of thought." he reminded me to back up.

"Okay, okay, so I wanna do Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead, right? Well, I figured out how I'm going to make it relatable. I flipping love absurdist theatre, oh my gosh."

"Still unclear, babe."

"I'm going to cast Rosencrantz and Guildenstern as college students! It's perfect! 'Cuz we're all having an existential crisis!!"


I spent October perfectly placing and timing sound effects for Jane Eyre, rehearsing my directing scene from R&GareDead, and prepping for NaNoWriMo. I was still optimistic-- a dizzy dreamer, really. Between the amount of storms/ atmospheric disturbances and music I ended up writing for the Jane Eyre, I really shouldn't have had to question if I was an artist. But I kept looking over my shoulder. I was eying the door, just waiting for the suits who were going to drag me out of the theatre.

It's a common habit of mine to analyze my life like a piece of literature. I'm usually aware of foreshadowing or thematic motifs. I learned a lot about Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead. As well as existentialism and Dada.

My existential crisis hit just before Tech Week.



"This still life looks like a 50-ft pomegranate on a snowy mountain. I guess it's a metaphor now."

"None of this is working. I've been staring at piano keys for hours and I can't nail anything down. I'm just not cut-out for this."

"Does my class just not get absurdist theatre or am I delusional in believing my scene makes sense?"

"I feel like my faculty isn't invested in me, like they've lost hope in my future, I'm not promising enough."

"Does anyone in this department even respect me?"

"Have I done anything important here? Will anyone remember me?"

"Is anything I've produced even art? Is it even good? It doesn't have to be great, just tell me if it's good."

"I don't think I can do this. I don't think I belong here. I'm kidding myself."

"I have a useless degree!!"


I spent most of November on the floor in a crumpled heap. I tried to drown out the screeching car crash of my head and heart colliding with copious amounts of Netflix. I wrote a scant 3,000 words for NaNoWriMo. And I watched my enthusiasm for Jane Eyre implode, dissolve and dissipate. I was overly critical of every sound-- every time something was heard from the speakers, I'd flinch as if I'd personally smacked everyone in the audience. I was convinced everything was terrible and my mentor, director and faculty were putting up with me because it was just one more month and then they'd be rid of me. Nothing my husband said to me made a difference. Opening night came and I hid in a corner for a week. I feebly tried to deposit hope in an quickly decreasing bank of ambitions and dreams.

I was so very close to giving up.

I was graduating anyways, the journey was over, and I could give up after this. It's not a disappointment if no one believed in it, right?



"Laura! I have a weird proposition for you..."

"Haha, okay, sure. What's up?"

"Remember when I asked you if you'd take my graduation photos? Could you take them this week?"

"Totally! Where do you want to go?"

"That's where it gets weird."


Let's talk about Modern Art for a hot second. It's a fantastic paradox where you can tell people what you've done is art and some punk teenager will say it's not art and a doctorate in art history will say it's the pinnacle of art and they're all right. It's infuriating when you're trying to take it down and impenetrable when you're building it up.

Now, Dada is this anti-art movement, perhaps you've heard the term avant-garde. Basically, a bunch of cynics got together and said "ARGH I'M ANGRY ABOUT WORLD WAR I" and then did stuff that's art but it's also not art!(?).

(Please don't describe it that way to your professors.)

It's also associated into stuff like absurdist theatre, existentialism, destructive performance art, and it was my redemption because it meant that my struggle was important, artistic, and glorious.

Taking inspiration from Pete Townshend, I decided the only way to win back solid footing in my creating field was to destroy it. 

That's right.


I was going to immolate my degree.

Not just burn it-- I was going to kill it and offer it as a sacrifice to my existential crisis.

"So, I wan wondering if you'd come out to the dunes and take some pictures while I burn this thing."

"Yeah! That sounds so cool! Let's do it!"

So here it is, my offering:

This is a compilation of everything I'd ever done during my time at this school. Resume, CV list, business cards, programs, pictures, portfolio pieces, scripts, plays I wrote, EVERYTHING. It's all represented.

And then I burned it.

I used LIGHTER FLUID. LIGHTER FLUID. I made sure that sucker BURNED. 

Because the smoke had to get to heaven. Or hell. It had to get to wherever my crisis existed. It had to reach each doubt and suffocate it.

Wow, that sounds just... so... pretentious? Artistic? Hyperbolic? Extensive? Excessive?


I learned something very powerful that day. I was educated enough to know about Dada and that what I was doing had a long-standing tradition and heritage and meant something on several levels. And because I had made an informed decision for this art project, I was an artist.

I watched my work burn and I learned it was okay to let it.


December 13, 2016 

I graduate in three days.

Wednesday, I'll be baking. Presumably all day.

Thursday, I'm going to present my Jane Eyre project in front of a panel of faculty members and pack up my apartment.

Friday, I'm going to walk on a stage and get a fake diploma and have dinner with my family and then I will be done.

I have earned my degree: a Bachelor's in Technical Theatre and Design.

I have earned my right to make my art. Wildly, imperviously, powerfully.

I have earned the right to struggle.

No one can take that away from me.


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