Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Animated Thoughts: Attitude of Gratitude, Part Two

NOTE: This is part two of a series. Part one can be read here.

(Marla Schweppe)
If Erik Timmerman was my surrogate father during my time at R.I.T., then Marla Schweppe was definitely my surrogate mother.

Marla has two qualities that I quickly learned to appreciate:

1. No matter how busy she was, she always made time to look at my work and encourage me to do better and to be better than I was.

2. She was never afraid to point out that I was full of crap when I was.

It may sound flippant at first, but the older I get, the more I have come to appreciate honesty. I can easily find dozens of people who'll tell me what I want to hear, but someone who tells it like it is with the point of making you better at what you are attempting, well, that's an increasingly rare thing. Marla didn't just look at my work, she took the time to study it and she knew me well enough to know where I was cutting corners, or not living up to what I could produce, or just not pushing hard enough against my mental/emotional/artistic boundaries.

Marla has this little technique that would always snap me right back into reality. Whenever I got into that argumentative rut--usually about some task that I didn't think I was able to pull off--she'd just agree with me and follow it up with 'so what are you going to do?' Those two sentences turned out to be a surprisingly effective tactic. It effectively left me with nowhere to go and confronted me with the end result of what would have been an hour's worth of arguing in the space of one minute. And in almost every case, it provided a moment of clarity (as I usually stood there with that 'deer-in-headlights' look) where I could see the absurdity of getting worked up over an issue when I should have been brainstorming possible ways around the problem.

A major theme of my time at R.I.T. was unlearning years of learned behavior. Both Erik and Marla did a masterful job of shepherding me around those ancient emotional landmines that had stymied my efforts towards personal growth. As I look back over my notes from their classes, I have to say that I learned far more from those ten or fifteen minute, one-on-one meetings where they would close the office door and confront me about my learned behavior and point me towards a direction of maturity. To Erik and Marla, the role of a professor was always more than just teaching animation in the classroom, it was about being a mentor, surrogate parent, confessor, cheerleader and psychologist to a bunch of overgrown kids whose enthusiasm often outstripped their artistic ability and emotional maturity.