I’m not sure when this post will go live, but there is a good chance my thesis project (I should more accurately say, the equivalent of my thesis project) will still be up for a week or two, as it closes April 1. Since I’ve been documenting its progress for my last two blog posts, I feel compelled to sum up the narrative of the experience.
I spent a long time just now searching a personal blog of mine looking for a quote I dimly remember from years ago; one that resonated with me in such a way that I remembered it enough to want to find it again, but not strongly enough that I knew it word for word. As such, I couldn’t quite track it down. What I do remember went something like this: “Take a moment to pay attention to which doors have opened for you now while you weren’t looking, doors that you would have longed to open for you back then.”
Fulfilled Fantasies is a funny culmination of that sentiment for me. There are previous moments in my career, and especially in my involvement in Chicago drag, that I thought were the pinnacle of achievement and were going to somehow Make My Life What I Want It To Be. But I was so desperate in wanting that mythological something that I squandered the opportunities that were right in front of me for having my eyes on the horizon of some other imagined dream.
We live in a country that prizes individuality and the concept of working hard to pull yourself up by your bootstraps. I object to a lot of these principles but over the years, I have come to terms with the fact that I am undeniably American. I want, in a second to third wave feminist way, to make my own world and open my own doors and to do it for myself. But I didn’t always feel that way–I attached my self worth and my self meaning to other people, to other’s achievements or successes, and I lost relationships and sleep and brain cells over the aftermath of that level of attachment and it wasn’t until I suffered losses in these arenas that shook me to my foundational core that I realized I had a responsibility both to myself and to my relationships to focus on myself. To create the appropriate boundaries and to pursue my dreams for myself and not for someone else. To not attach my sense of self to any one person’s perception of me.
Somewhere, in all of these experiences I’m obliquely referencing, I was simultaneously constructing my current life. And the doors I wanted to open for me were opening and I was too preoccupied to appreciate it. It wasn’t until I came to Columbia College Chicago and had a moment to breathe and pursue this project I felt so passionately about that I realized what doors had opened to me. Fulfilled Fantasies opened on Thursday, February 28 to a crowd of nearly 200 visitors over the course of two hours. I grew closer to the artists in the exhibition and began the potential for new and exciting collaborations for the project moving forward, and for my own personal art practice. The exhibition received a write up in Chicago Magazine, the kind of attention I know that 22-year-old Kelly Schmader (Kelly Boner didn’t exist then) would have never thought possible. You limit yourself when you think some doors will be closed forever.
When I sat down to write this I thought I would be writing a profound screed about external vs internal validation and self worth, but now I find myself at a loss for an appropriate conclusion. What I’m trying to get at is this: the kind of attention and accolades it is common to desire often only come when you actually have something to say. Fulfilled Fantasies is a love letter to the art of Chicago drag; I think the work speaks for itself in that regard. All of the congratulations, and any media attention the show manages to garner, are all in service of doing the work. I did the work, and then some doors opened. I’m profoundly grateful I learned the lessons I needed to learn so that I was able to do the work at this time. I’m grateful that I had a team that helped me manifest the vision of what I wanted. And most of all, I’m grateful to having the space to focus on this work that opened some doors for me, which also helping me reflect on the ways in which doors have been opening when I was too self-centered about the wrong things to pay attention. I’m grateful for that, and not to be too corny, but I’m grateful for the MAM program for affording me this opportunity.