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Left Turns, Mozarts, and Benjamin Franklins


Earlier this summer I wrote about this year being a season of rest, and I'm so thankful for 2022 having been a safe haven of settling in, being present, and letting roots sink deeper into the different metaphorical soils in our lives. And so as we head into fall, the subconscious tends to think about seasons changing in other parts of our lives, too.


Inherently, autumn is usually a time that I feel pensive about change, a bit mournful at seeing the summer go, trying to brace myself for the whiplash of the cold winter that I just never seem to get used to. So as we head into the interior earlier and more often, my mind seems to do the same.


If our inner life is a landscape as I like to imagine it is sometimes, I've recently walked through the park of regret, trying to get some cover from the rain by standing under a big tree. Thoughts soaking me to the bone like, "why did I ever major in music? This degree is doing nothing for me except get in the way anymore," and "why didn't I major in something more lucrative and less saturated?" And lots of other thoughts.


In late September, I sent in an application for the Artist in Residence position for the ornithology department at the University of Cornell, as they announced they were looking for two people for that position for 6 to12 months. Get paid for drawing and painting birds full time? Sign me up! I jumped for joy at the chance to apply, and sent the application in hurriedly. But the more I read about the position after I had jumped the gun and submitted my info, the more my heart sank. Their requirements for the position were that the applicant have a degree in art or ornithological science, or even better, that they have a certification in scientific illustration (those certifications take no less than 2 to 3 years and are treated much like a master's degree). The artist they hire would even be asked to aid in teaching classes on bird science. I have none of these things or experiences. I mean I know some things about birds - mostly about our local Tennessee songbirds and a little bit about birds of prey. But my knowledge on waterfowl (which takes up more than half of the entire bird population) is completely blank.


So I looked into what getting certified in scientific illustration looks like now. Getting certified in scientific illustration looks super great and all, but the market is absolutely saturated in the fields of nature and wildlife unless you want to be a medical science illustrator. I found it hilarious how many medical science illustration jobs are out there, desperately trying to find someone to hire. There ain't no artist who wants to touch that with a 30 foot pole. It would be the equivalent of asking a musician who is passionate about Beethoven and Brahms to be banished to composing and listening to elevator music for the rest of their life. No one wants to live in that kind of soul-crushing artistic hell.


It made me want to shake 20-year-old Gracie who was spending all those hours in a windowless practice room trying to figure out how to play a violin, and tell her to study ornithology or art or scientific illustration or... something! But at that time, she would have looked back at me and would've sincerely asked, "why would I do that?"


But then I look back at all the changes of interests and focuses in the course of my life, and it's not surprising that 20-year-old me would ask why and then probably shake her head and say, "as soon as I did that, what would be the next thing I'd want to do?" So maybe instead of feeling regret, I can see the humor in the fact that no matter what I majored in, I would probably feel regret about it at some point. As it is, that application just made me feel like someone who is excited to be on the road, only to realize at the stop light that I am not in the left turning lane, and it's too late to get over there.


But all in all, I realize that little kid Gracie who loved to draw all the time during church would have thought it was super cool that I could even draw a bird, let alone send in a half-baked application for the country's top ornithology program as their resident artist. To her, who cares that I don't have the qualifications? I can paint birds and people can recognize what type they are! Little kid Gracie says that that's exciting in and of itself! So I'm going to pick little kid Gracie up and carry her on this sidewalk out of Regret Park, and listen to her as she tells me what she drew on the back of last Sunday's church bulletin instead listening to the lectures and tirades of the 33 year-old Gracie being mad at me for not doing something I didn't know I was supposed to do fifteen years ago. Little kid Gracie is and was more fun anyway.


I've come to learn that there are two types of people. There are Mozarts and Benjamin Franklins. Our society loves Mozarts and isn't so much into Ben Franklins. Here's why.


Mozart was copying operas down by ear at age seven and was writing his own by age eight. His entire existence was music. He specialized in one thing and one thing alone: music. Other than partying, it was all he knew. It was the language of his brain and heart and soul.


Benjamin Franklin was one of those guys who just couldn't stick with one thing. Let's write about community issues under an alias name and make it humorous but with a punch. Let's own a printing press. Let's extensively study eyesight and then invent bifocals. Let's study and harness electricity. Let's get involved in politics and making a new country. Let's spend some time in France and learn about the culture there. He dove head-first into the things he was interested in, and as much as I sometimes wish I could just be a Mozart and do my one thing, I find that me and Ben are cut from the same cloth woven out of curiosity and the insatiable hunger for the fun of trying new things.


People who are passionately interested in multiple things end up always missing their life's "important" left turning lanes. But there are times I think that maybe those that turn left and drive straight miss out on all the beautiful and unique scenery of the curvy roads of a multi-passionate life.


So even if my life doesn't come to much in terms of focused accomplishments, if it's made up of half-baked applications, and even if I start 500 things in uncontainable excitement and don't finish them the way I had hoped, one thing is for sure: I will have lived a life of tasting and seeing that the Lord is good in many, many, many ways.


The words "through many dangers, toils, and snares I have already come" has been ringing in my head and heart lately because I know that He has preserved my eyes and ears and hands and life so many times that I am amazed that I am still here, still doing the many different things I love, and He has gifted me with a life that I really love to live.


Even as winter approaches, I want to live with my heart spilling forth in thanksgiving, and not in dread of the season of cold and darkness. New days always begin in the dark, long before sunrise.


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