Why Tuesday is a dick.
Psychology and the hard stuff. No pun intended.
You might imagine that there is a better way to share psychological insight than beginning a discussion about why Tuesday is a dick. A more refined and intellectual method that would have scholars nodding in agreement. And yes, there is, but you won’t hear it here. At least not today. On JOY IS NOW you’ll hear the version that I like to call Dick Day. Hang in there with me. It’s not what you think. I’ll start by saying 100% of this is true. And 100% hilarious.
When I was 14 years old, I began attending a local professional art school 2 nights a week from 6-9 after regular my regular high school day ended. The school was run by a local art legend and was housed in a restored boat building down by the water on Huntington Bay. It was my first introduction to art school and it took about 3 minutes for me to fall in love. The smell of oil paints, charcoal, fingerprints on the walls, paint covering the floor and tables. That was it. I knew it right then. The extraordinary thing about this place is that the director treated each of us like serious artists. That alone was big. To be a young teen and have an adult view your work as serious and professional. I am still a product of that space. That time. Joseph Mack, wherever you are, thank you.
Part of attending this school and really becoming grounded in the weight and serious study of the arts, was nude figure drawing, painting, and sculpture. This kind of study is essential. It is the science that gets you to the abstract. You must understand one to experiment in the other. The anatomy. Skeleton, musculature. How shadows fall. Understanding what is really actually there, versus what you see and how it looks on the outside. This is how you train your artistic eye. Most of the models were women and most of my nude study classes were drawing. I loved these classes. The sound of the charcoal against the newsprint. The blackened color of my fingers and pants after class, the metallic taste of adrenaline gathered in my mouth during critique. I loved it all. I had successfully worked my way through 2 semesters of figure drawing and was then moved on to figure sculpture. Now I should say that while in attendance, I also had the biggest crush ever on one of my instructors. His name was Ian. He was 22 and had just graduated from Oberlin. He had that kind of dark black hair that is so dark it almost looks like charcoal. Sometimes pewter in the sunlight. He had long waves that framed his face, wore the world's coolest tshirts and always wore those old school LL Bean Blucher mocs. The brown ones with the yellow marled shoe laces. Anyone remember those? And of course, he was in a band. He was the coolest guy I had ever seen or spoken to and Ian instantly ruined me on high school boys. No one else had a chance. Sorry not sorry.
I was super excited to learn that no other than the Ian himself would be my instructor for figure sculpture. We would spend the entire semester working from a single pose. This was unusual, but in sculpture it made sense. It’s hard to work clay quickly, especially when the objective is to create a true to life representation of the human body. I learned the first night of class that we would be working on a nude male single pose. Now as an adult this doesn't seem weird or strange, but as a now 15 year old girl, spending a semester sculpting a grown naked man while my biggest crush looked over my shoulder for three hours twice a week was a lot. Oh my god it was a lot! But I was determined to play it cool.
Ooof! So here’s how that went. We had 5 weeks, 2 classes a week, so that’s roughly 30 hours minus cigarette breaks and all the idiotic cool high school kid stuff there was to do to work on this piece. I was so proud of myself. I was doing a better job than I had anticipated. I had really gotten a sense of the anatomy, and had created a really nice sense of weight in the pose. I was keeping up with Ian’s musical and literature references during class. I was able to pretend I was not obsessed with the shape of his hands, the clay under his fingernails and the calluses from his guitar. I was playing it so cool. Ian was super supportive and week after week would gently guide my artistic eye as I worked. More here, less here. Keep going. Four weeks went by and I was in good shape to finish the final week. I had also managed to get through the whole experience without making an ass out of myself in front of Ian. High fives to me.
The last week of class I’m putting the finishing touches on my sculpture. Smoothing out the skin, redefining some of the muscles. The little things you do before a piece is fired. I could see Ian talking to the student behind me and knew it would soon be my turn to be illuminated by his guidance. He approached my work, stood for a moment, spun the sculpture around on the little lazy susan atop the well worn wooden pedestal. “This looks really good, Lisa. Nice work. I like this area, this area, the direction you took here. But ya know, something’s missing,” he said. I got super nervous. What did I forget? It felt done. Like it was ready. I looked at Ian with a total blank stare. I had nothing. “Do you know what day it is, Lisa?” “Tuesday,” I said. It’s Tuesday.” Ian put his arm around me and in a whisper said, “no Lisa, it’s Dick Day. Today is dick day. Your subject has no penis. And today’s the day you're going to give him one. I’ve watched you work on every other area with incredible detail and beauty and somehow you have managed to avoid the model’s penis altogether. What you have here is not a sculpture. What you have here is a Ken doll.” What could I say really. I just stood there. Ian was truly lovely about it. He didn't make notice of my silence or that fact that I probably looked like I had thrown up in my mouth a little. He simply said, “dick day, Lisa. I’ll be back.”
And god damn it if I didn't sculpt this figure the greatest penis ever. I gave it my all and with the same attention to detail and anatomy I had given the rest of my sculpture. If it was dick day, then I was going to lean into it. It would be a dick day to remember. The final day of class commenced with one on one critiques. I continued to put the final touches on my sculpture, overthink everything and wonder how I was going to play it cool while trying to figure out what classes Ian was teaching next semester. It was my turn and Ian had a lot of positive things to say. He gave the appropriate feedback and showed me the areas that were a little off. How I could have added some tone here to show the weight and pose a little better. He ended the critique with probably one of the best pieces of advice I’ve ever received. Before he walked on to the next student he leaned in really close to my sculpture’s penis and said, “that’s one hell of a penis, Lis. Now imagine how much better and more true the rest of your work would have been if you had started with what you were trying to avoid. Stay loose. Dick Day should be day one.” At the time his words only sort of sunk in. I mean honestly I was so wrapped up in the way he smelled like nag champa during the critique it’s amazing I can remember anything. But that’s why Ian ruined me on high school boys. He was cute and oh so freaking deep.
I sat with this piece of advice for years before fully understanding its psychological brilliance. Calling on it daily during art school and later sharing the story with my graduate cohort in clinical psychology. Here’s where the psych genius of Dick Day comes in. There is a common phenomena that occurs during a session with a patient where often the most important information comes out at the end of the session. When there really isn’t enough time to dive into it. It’s like dropping an emotional bomb and not having to stick around to sift through the rubble. It’s not a wrong thing to do, or a bad thing. It just happens. We all do it. It’s part of the process. Hell I’ve done it with my therapist more times than I can count. The session minutes tick by I think I’m talking about something and then the last five minutes, oh by the way this happened. And it’s like what I happen to mention on my way out is kind of what everything is about.
Ian’s wondering with me about how my work would have been affected had I started with what I was trying to avoid is a great lesson. Yes, a lot of the time we need to go in circles to get to the point. Like waiting to land at JFK. Taxing, taxing, taxing, waved in for landing. Approach, then landing. Arrival. It’s a process. But it’s worth remembering, at least for me, that Dick Day wasn’t as scary as I thought. In fact I did pretty well. And maybe if I had faced head on what I was anxious about, what I was trying to avoid, I would have been looser for the rest of the process. I would have been fully there and my work would have reflected that presence.
So I guess what I’m saying here is that it’s okay to prolong the process. Sometimes we need to take the long and winding road - one of Ian’s favorite songs by the way - to get to where we need to be. But at the same time, it’s important to consider the other route. Starting with the hard stuff. Staring down the pain. Dancing with the grief. Howling with the fear. There’s many ways to get there. But if you’ve walked the same path. Practiced the same method. Labored the process. If you need permission right now to start with what you are avoiding, go have yourself a dick day and start with the hard stuff. Ian from Oberlin approved.
Thank you for being here.
Listen to this episode of JOY IS NOW here.