If it isn’t fun, why do it? I don’t mean this lightly. I mean, can we find fun in the things that challenge us? It is an issue of sustainability. How do we maintain a practice if there is no joy in the process? If you can’t find some fun in it, some joy, some humor, how can you keep coming back to it again and again?  I think more and more this has to do with community.

Last September I started rowing at the Narragansett Boat Club on the Seekonk River in Providence. I just showed up…not knowing anyone. I had never rowed before. I didn’t know much about it. I just wanted to get back out on the water again after a decade hiatus from living on a wooden sailboat in a former life. I was suddenly surrounded by a dozen women my age who I had never met before, all with a similar curiosity. 

Fitness was certainly an agenda, but soon, the Beginners Barge we started to train on was dubbed “The Party Barge” and a magic momentum started with these delightful strangers out on the river. Our coach, Joan, was a big part of this momentum. While adeptly teaching us the art of rowing, she maintains her gentle sense humor transcending the minutia of all of the mistakes we make. She always has a bigger view. A vision. She has never once overtly doubted our progress and has always been positively supportive. Her coaching contains laughter. This is the best.

We rowed through the fall until frozen fingers meant heading inside to the ERG machines for the winter. Not all of us rowed in the unheated wooden boathouse on the river throughout the winter but those of us who did refined our technique and kept our momentum despite the relentless blizzards and the bitter cold. The frozen river was sometimes completely obscured from view as the snow squalled outside the old windows. 

What kept me coming back? Fun. Accountability. Yes, I made a promise to show up. I would have never pushed myself so hard in sub-zero temperatures without such a great coach and the support of the women who were intrepid enough keep coming. We rowed to the Beastie Boys and Led Zeppelin and warmed that creaky room above the river with our 1500 and 2000 meter runs. 

Now that spring has come, the river has melted and we are happily out on the water again. In April and the first part of May we were back rowing on the “Party Barge”. The barge is a balance between engaging in drills and technique and then drifting a bit to chat blissfully for awhile and recover before the next drill. Despite the brutal blisters, we all keep coming back. I know that has something to do with fun and the community of common experience we are building. 

Today we graduated to an 8, a long slim boat with 8 seats in a row. An all-women’s 8! This was the vision of our coach Joan. This boat is very different than our beamy party barge. I can still taste the tinny rush of adrenaline I felt as we pushed off the dock. This is where the rubber meets the road I thought. Any systemic discrepancy was amplified as we tried to balance this beautiful new craft. It was tough to keep a sense of humor while being terrified of falling into the river. We weren’t graceful but we launched and returned without flipping. 

This whole experience has reinforced what I already knew. Community makes it easier to motivate and push oneself beyond what you had previously determined as your boundary. Fun keeps you coming back. Keeps it sustainable. 

This can also apply to creative practice. I have always been a little envious of classrooms that have a more centralized social energy than mine. My classes are often so disciplined and focused on the model or the set up. Talking is discouraged in light of the concentration it takes to perceive and describe. 

A few weeks ago, however, I set up a project in my Sourcing the Imagination class at RISD where all of the students were seated around a table. There were communal supplies available for a collage project. The time passed so quickly and we enjoyed sharing ideas and stories as we worked on these images. It occurred to me that this sort of creative group could give rise to a different sort of productivity. We began to discuss starting a monthly meeting where we could just come together and create like this. Fun. Community. Sustainable. 

I think there is something to this. The barge or the shared creative table doesn’t replace the places we can get to via solitary walks or painting alone in the studio. Yet,  there is an energy that builds from communal momentum. Until next time, see if you might find a lighthearted group to motivate with. It may create some buoyancy and ease to your efforts. Don’t forget your sense of humor. Have fun and CREATE.