Last year my mom gave me a little book on Christmas day about writing, the creative life, and living in it to the best of one’s ability. Yup, just a little unknown book called Big Magic. Well, only kinda unknown, in most circles, because unless you are a Creative you’ve probably never heard of it. But, if you are a movie buff or a best sellers reader, you have probably heard of Eat Pray Love.
Yeah, that one.
She also did a very popular Tedtalks show several years ago. The first few chapters of Big Magic are nearly verbatim to the video, which she admits in the book, because seriously, it was an awesome Talk. And it was what inspired her to write the book. There was a lot in that little Big book. It was perfect to be one of my lovingly categorized “toilet books.” A book about writing, where the parts are short and sweet, like mini-essays, and can be read within the span of sitting on the toilet just before my legs fall asleep. I have a collection of nearly a dozen on a homemade ladder bookcase which also holds epsom salts in candy jars and a large collection of hotel soaps in mason jars.
It took me all year, less 2 days, to read the book. And I made a point of NOT placing it in my bathroom. I love books on writing and the creative life. So much so that I tend to devour them very quickly. Too quickly. So quickly, I rarely absorb what I am reading. I even more rarely remember anything of what I read a few weeks later. I am good at gleaning, not at retaining. I blame the university studying for this little tick.
I feel like I binge read some books as badly as I binge watch television serials. Watching too many of the same story over and over. This doesn’t allow your brain the time to digest and distinguish one episode from another. You eat a huge pile of mash potatoes in one sitting, never realizing that there were 3 kinds of potatoes and even some melted cheese in there somewhere. Same goes for books – if I read them too quickly, it isn’t the fault of the author that they wrote it so well that I can’t put it down, I have just ingested too much in one sitting to be able to digest it properly.
I have an absolute stomach ache. I inhaled all the words like a starving teenager in the middle of a growth spurt that I don’t even know what I ate, or if I even tasted it.
It would be better to sit and eat slowly. Bite after bite. And enjoy what I am eating. That is why they serve such small entrees in European countries. Eating for them is a passion to be enjoyed, slowly and in small portions. This is a good life philosophy.
The one thing I did get from the book, and it was near the end, was being able to do something creatively and giving yourself the permission to be crap at it.
Something I have always been crap at is painting. I can draw…with a pencil. But colouring of any nature has never been my forte. I have tried acrylics and pencils and markers, oh my. I suck! I read somewhere that watercolours can be more forgiving, and I have since found out that they can be, but they are also twice as hard to learn how to do properly. But I’m doing just that!
I am teaching myself to paint with watercolours, and I am sucking at it, a lot. Well, actually not a lot. I have done a few small minimalist pieces that are cute as fuck. Completely stolen from pintrest, but I accomplished them. But there are days I don’t care if they are perfect or crap. I just really like the feel of a brush in my hand and watching the water and pigment mix together in the dish, and then adding other pigments and making a mixture my brain has a difficult time comprehending.
Colour theory is very interesting. I am having some trouble grasping the mixing, but I love making the mixing charts. My mother made a comment once that I wasn’t really painting (when making the mixing charts), and that statement made me pause and wonder what the hell she was smoking. I believe that I am really painting even when it is just little blocks of individual colours. Just like if I was practicing my scales on the piano; that is really playing. I am pushing the keys and making a sound. It may not be a song, but it certainly is ‘playing’. As long as I am putting brush in pigment, and on paper, I am painting.
I have passed on this philosophy to other creatives in my life. My best friend started acrylic painting, another is learning how to knit, and my partner in crime has taken up photography.
My partner is the one having the hardest time grasping the concept. He is a collector. A collector of tools and materials and gadgets and information, then constantly organizing and reorganizing, and then collecting more software or the latest kit and whatnot. He does take amazing photographs and can use the software for touchups (he refuses to learn photoshop as a ‘creative’ tool, which I completely agree with). He concentrates a great deal on portraiture and loves capturing the human essence. But, he stresses a great deal on getting it just right, making it perfect in the lens so there is less work to do later. And this can be a good thing, until it isn’t. Until it holds him back from just capturing the world, and not this perfect image he may have planted in his head the night before the shoot.
He hasn’t given himself permission to get it wrong. To fuck it up and start all over again. To take a thousand photographs, and believe that there is a possibility that he is going to NEED to throw them all away. (I love the digital age for this and this alone.) Both the photograph above, and the one of my cat at the top of this blog are his. Quick snaps. No overthinking. Just testing new lenses and different settings. He has no idea how good he can be if he would just let go and let himself suck at it, even if for a few minutes.
It really is simple. Tell a writer to purposefully write something badly. High probability it is going to end of being thoughtful and hilarious, not bad. Same with a painter. They will make some deep meaning abstract that means more to them a month after it has dried than anything they have ever thought out and planned. It is the whole ‘overcoming a challenge’ mentality (another awesome TedTalk) that even when you tell yourself it is going to suck something inside of you says ‘fuck that’, steps up to bat, and hits a homerun into the next state, or at least into the cheap seats.
So, I told myself to suck, at watercolour. But I haven’t told myself to suck, at writing, yet. I need to. I need to tell myself everyday that it doesn’t matter, and that I need to actually write, everyday. If not for this blog, at least for my own self in my journal. My most current novel project wouldn’t be harmed with bad writing at this point, because at least it would be more writing than it is already getting.
So, tell yourself you can suck, and suck a lot for quite some time. I still suck at watercolour some 8 months later, and I love it. I have a handful of awesome fuckups on my wall and can’t wait to make so many more.