Every summer, I want to be an artist. As a child, I remember gathering my coloring books and arranging my crayons on a beach towel under the willow tree. The warm breeze rattled the long branches as I lay on my back looking through the branches to the blue breaking through. As a teen, I brought a sketchbook to the beach and imagined myself capturing the weight of the sun, the sparkle of the water, the soft roll of the dunes. As a young mom, I longed to capture the folds of baby knees, the curve of a chin, and the movement of children climbing, exploring, and discovering the world in our backyard.
Over the years, I’ve bought acrylics, watercolor, and chalk to encourage my creativity. I’ve purchased notebooks and canvas. I’ve settled into my studio, the back porch, and my bedroom. I have ideas about being an artist, I have tools, but no real sense of how to start. I dabble, I get frustrated, and I quit. Over and over again I’ve repeated this cycle. The problem is, I don’t like beginning, at anything really. It’s the learning, the awkwardness, and the fear of failure that stops me every time.
A couple of weeks ago, I felt that familiar pull. I created a space, I purchased some supplies, and I began again. I put paint on paper, splashed around a bit, and eventually crumpled it up in frustration.
Since then, I’ve been thinking a lot about this futile cycle in my life. I yearn to play with color and shape, but I have no skills. I give up before I could ever begin to learn new skills. I throw my hands up over and over.
The other day, it occurred to me that I had overcome a similar challenge with my writing. I never imagined sharing my writing with other humans, when I began. My words, instead, were just for me. A way to make sense of my life, to sort out my inner world, and bring order to my chaotic soul. I wrote and wrote and wrote, for decades. I never even thought about my writing as a public thing, because to me, it was only a private thing.
In the pages of my journal, I was free to explore. As a recovering perfectionist, my journal had to be a safe space if it was to work at all. So, from the very beginning, it was a place of no rules. If you’ve read much of my public writing, you may notice that I use creative punctuation, unorthodox sentence structure, and occasional miss-spellings/typos. I really do try to clean it up for this audience. However, in my journal, there are no such conventions.
When re-reading the pages of my journals, I find unique spelling, partial sentences, and ideas that fracture and splinter across the page. My words are free to tumble out all willy nilly. The pages are all handwritten with a unique hybrid of cursive and standard print. Sometimes the words stop abruptly, mid-thought. Often, my head gets ahead of my hand and the first letter of the next word, tags on to the previous word. It requires some work to make sense of the scrawl.
If I had ever been as critical of my words as I am of my childish attempts at art, I would never have learned to string them together in a meaningful way. Even more importantly for me, I would have missed the decades of insight, discovery, and joy writing has brought to my life. Words have helped me shape my life in meaningful ways. Without the hours spent pouring out words into journals, no one has ever seen, I would not have had the courage to share my words.
So, I am heading back to paints and paper, brushes and inks. I am going to play with color, shape, and light. I will probably throw my hands up in frustration, but I am committed to beginning again, again.