New Directions

Remember Who You Were

When I think about being a kid, three things come to mind right away: riding my bike all over Boise, Idaho; singing in various choirs; and drawing. I live in a busy city these days, so riding a bike isn’t going to happen. I sing in my car on my way home from work (and, okay, at the grocery store. My HEB plays the best music.) But until about a year ago, I’d forgotten all about how much I used to enjoy drawing.

That is, until I joined the free 30-day art challenge offered by Determined to Shine. Allyson Bright, who created this terrific class, sends out an email prompt every day. She shows you the art work she created in response to the prompt. Then it’s up to you to do your own thing. I’d already hopped on the adult coloring bandwagon, but Allyson’s prompts inspired me to create my own drawings. That was something I hadn’t done for a long, long time.

I had so much fun drawing again, and that led me to me ask myself some hard questions. How could I have forgotten how much I love this? Why have I never taken an art class? Why didn’t I just keep drawing on my own?

The easy answer to all these questions was I haven’t had the time. I had children to raise. A dissertation to write. Papers to grade.

And yet, somehow, I had enough time to watch a million Law and Order reruns. 

The truth is, most of us make the time to do the things that really matter to us. I never once failed to feed my children, for instance. I don’t remember when it happened, but somewhere along the way I decided that making art just didn’t matter as much as other things did.

It’s likely this had something to do with the fact that I grew up with very practical parents. They thought classes like Art and Drama were ridiculous. “You’re not going to learn anything useful,” my dad said, and pointed me toward Typing I, II, III and IV. (Yes, I am one of the few remaining people on this planet who knows how to make charts and graphs on a standard typewriter–a useless skill if ever there was one.)

But I knew I couldn’t blame my parents for the fact that I gave up on drawing. I’ve been a financially independent adult for a long time. I’ve had plenty of opportunities to pick up a drawing pencil or sign up for an art class. Plus, I grew up to be a novelist, a professor of creative writing–not exactly a practical career.

But when I really thought about it for a while, I remembered a number of things. I remembered Mrs. McClenahan (my fifth grade teacher) taking a pencil out of my hand and erasing something I’d drawn–then re-drawing it “the right way.” I remembered being told that my art didn’t look realistic, on the rare occasions when I shared it with someone. And I remembered being accused of tracing something I’d actually drawn myself. Even when I got it right, apparently, I’d done something wrong.

I couldn’t remember a single time when someone had looked at one of my drawings and made a positive comment. (Not until I joined the Facebook group for Allyson’s class, anyway. No one could ask for a more supportive audience.)

But even those seemed like silly reasons for giving up on drawing as an adult. I’m a professional writer; I’ve spent my whole life in writing workshops, the purpose of which is to tell an author what isn’t working. As a result, I’ve developed a pretty thick skin. Criticism doesn’t even make me flinch anymore. Why would criticism of my drawing–something I’ve never tried to do professionally–be painful enough to keep me from doing it?

I still don’t know the answer to that question. I do know that, whenever I’m drawing–and I do that fairly often, these days–I have to ignore the voice that tells me things like That doesn’t look even remotely realistic. I’m learning to talk back to that voice, to say things like So what? Art doesn’t have to be strictly realistic. When the voice tells me People are going to laugh if you show them that drawing, I shut it down with Who says I’m going to show it to anybody?

And then I show my work to whoever I want. Because why not?

I’ve had to give myself permission to change the way I think about drawing. Strange as it is to admit, I’ve had to give myself permission to just have fun.

That is, after all, the only reason I spent time drawing as a child: it was a pleasant way to pass the time. Mrs. McClenahan didn’t stop me, in spite of the fact that she literally tried. Neither did various other comments. When I did give it up, finally, I stopped drawing because having fun wasn’t a good enough reason to make time for it.

But then I started again. I rediscovered that kid who’d entertained herself for hours with only a pencil and some paper. And in finding my way back to her, I rediscovered a brave little corner of myself.

To tell you the truth, I’m kind of proud of her.

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