When I was growing up my father’s motto was, “READ! I don’t care what you read, as long as you read something.” I can’t recall the age, but I was sure to be wet behind the ears when I noticed a Playboy magazine in this basket of assorted reading material in our home. At first I was appalled because from what I was told, Playboy was the premiere ‘Scantily Clad Showcase’ magazine for men – basically a book full of naked women. My thought was, “Someone must’ve mistakenly left this magazine behind in our humble pious domicile. This couldn’t possibly belong to the Currie Family!” If you don’t know me, please know that my previous statement is part sarcasm and part naiveté. I remember asking my dad about the magazine and he said, “Have you ever read any of the articles in there? It’s pretty interesting reading.” As questionable as that statement sounded to me, what do you think I did? I tested his theory, maybe to prove him wrong or to simply see for myself if there was any merit to his statement. Now, I’m not going to pretend that I dived into this magazine and ecstatically found my dad to be right. I did, however, consider words he repeatedly stated to me as I was developing into the woman I am today, “I brought you up to be independent and to think.” So, in my very womanist state of mind, I had problems with perusing Playboy. But, my dad WAS right. There are interesting articles in the magazine, from the interview with Nobel Prize economist Paul Krugman and Chinese artist-activist Ai Weiwei to Reader’s Choice Best in Film 2011. That was the year Octavia Spencer won best supporting actress for The Help. Let me also note, I am fully aware that what’s interesting to one person may very well be ‘not’ interesting to someone else.
With that being said, I move forward. From the time my dad asked the simple question, “Have you ever read any of the articles…” I started to read different magazines and explore their histories – for example Playboy. In my research I learned about the artist of this month: Zelda Wynn Valdes, a fashion costume designer. She is the designer Hugh Hefner commissioned to create the first playboy bunny costumes which were debuted at the first Playboy Club in 1960. Now, I don’t know about you, but my first reaction was “Really, Zelda? How’d you get that gig?” There are many articles that respond to my question, but she states repeatedly that she was fortunate to have “God given talent” to create and design gowns for Ella Fitzgerald, Josephine Baker, Gladys Knight, Jessye Norman and other renowned women. She continued in her quest for perfection in the fashion world until her death in September 2001. Though our talents differ in scope (I create hats and scarves on a small scale), I felt akin to this woman, especially since her passing was on the date of my birth (September 26).
So the obvious truth is Hefner, like so many others, noticed her talent. Every article I have read attests to this and repeatedly says the same thing. For this reason I felt no need to rewrite what’s already been said about Zelda Wynn Valdes. However, my most immediate thought when reading about this woman was, “When you have talent that you cultivate, it begins to work for you. All you have to do is BECOME YOUR TALENT.” This is assuming you know what your talent is or know what you like to do. Zelda knew from a young age what sparked her interest, and it helped that she had a grandmother and uncle in the business from whom she could watch and learn.
How does balance play out in this scenario? I believe our gifts can be the balance we need to create happiness. And happiness is connected to one’s equilibrium, right? I’m not interested in being miserable, downtrodden, and simply surviving for the sake of repeating a very routine, monotonous life. I need more. I want to be HAPPY. Joyful, in fact. I want to do what I love and love what I do! Think about it. I can do the basics that will provide me the necessities to survive (i.e. work, eat, sleep). I can also shape my existence so that my basics are more than just routine activities that usher me into the next day. In other words, I can operate in my gift as a teacher and as an artist. This, in essence, IS my work; and if my work is my God-given talent that I cultivate regularly, then shouldn’t I be happy?
If there’s one thing I’ve learned from personal experience, it is when you figure out what you’re good at and develop that skill/talent/gift, you start operating on another plane. You are fulfilled by what moves you. And I suspect that if what you’re good at is similar to what you absolutely love, then you’ve probably hit the mark!
In the final analysis, being balanced is operating in what you’re passionate about and hopefully what you would like to get paid doing (whether payment is financial or otherwise). What a way to live!
So here’s to Zelda Wynn Valdes for operating in her gift. If I had an opportunity to sit with her at this moment and ask her how she defines ‘balance’ I have no idea what she would say. It very well may be different from what I am offering, but I do believe that part of the joy in living, even in all of one’s hard work and sleepless nights, is offering a bit of gratitude, knowing you are good at something in this world.
And what a pleasure it is that this gift or talent has been given to you, of all people! Most of all, you get to shape it, flip it, and do what you will with it to create the absolute balance you yearn.
About the Contributing Writer:
Traci Currie is the Art + Creativity contributor for The Phoenix Rising Collective. She is a Communication and Visual Arts lecturer at University of Michigan-Flint, as well as a knit-crochet artist, writer, and spoken word performer. She has been a part of the art world for over 15 years as an art gallery board member; spoken word series organizer; performer, nationally and internationally; and published poet. Read her latest posts here.