Pictures of Imperfection

Words have been causing me some problems lately. I want to say things, to spew language as I always have, but when I try, I get stuck almost immediately. After a thousand words of a story I grind to a halt, and trying to move forward feels like trying to rock a car out of thick mud.

I’m sure it’s purely psychological. My perfectionism has become a barrier to productivity. My aching desire to have my writing matter and be successful (whatever that means) has caused me to freeze up creatively.

This is why I am drawing more. I’ve always enjoyed drawing, but I’ve rarely attached any “THIS IS THE MEANING OF MY LIFE” pressure to it. It hasn’t been blown up in my head into THE THING I WAS ALWAYS MEANT TO DO the way writing has, so I’m able to participate in it as a pleasing, almost meditative activity without a lot of extra baggage attached to it. And thus, it’s a way to satisfy my need for creative exploration and expression without antagonizing my internal perfectionist demons too much.

If anything, I’m almost proud of the lack of perfection in my drawings. As much as I appreciate the awesome power of a beautifully-rendered realistic drawing, I find myself more drawn to slightly lopsided, offbeat forms of illustration. These days I’m particularly tickled by the creations of Allie Brosh (Hyperbole and a Half), Rubyetc, and Matthew Inman (The Oatmeal), who all manage to capture complex absurdity with deceptively simple-looking drawings. That is the kind of work that really excites and inspires me, more so than the still lifes I’ve been painstakingly working on in my night drawing class (though that has value, certainly… Multiple values, if done right, right??).

This morning’s offering is a gloriously imperfect rendering of a three-year-old basset hound/lab mix named Duke, who my boyfriend and I are seriously considering adopting:

I admit my version of him doesn’t do him justice, but I found the process of trying to bring him to life in my notebook satisfying all the same. There’s no agenda in the drawing, no expectation of greatness. It’s just an exercise and a way to keep my mind busy.

(We’ve already decided, by the way, that if we get this dog we’re going to make his full name Duke Silver, after Ron Swanson’s sax-playing jazz god alter ego from Parks and Recreation. So there’s that.)

I realize this is an awful lot of words for someone claiming words have escaped her, but I am nothing if not a walking (typing?) contradiction. Still, I’m likely to be spamming the internet with more and more doodles of varying quality and subject matter, so all I ask is that you be prepared. There’s a lot of weird stuff in my head waiting to come out. Just like this sketch I did from a stock photo of a panda climbing out a window:

Just like that.

Incidental Lessons

Even though it’s only been about a week, and I’ve only taken a couple of my new classes so far, I’ve already learned a few things, mostly unrelated to the actual course material:

  1. I have a terrible habit of comparing myself to people.

    I’ve never been an outwardly competitive person, never one to do extra credit or work extra hard to get a leg up on everyone else. Even so, I admit I have this innate desire to be better than EVERYONE at EVERYTHING. In school I was frequently singled out for my work or seated comfortably at the top of the class, and I had attention lobbed at me even though I didn’t go out of my way to attract it. Needless to say, though I hate to admit it and would never declare it outright, I got a bit of a swelled head from this constant recognition, and even came to expect it despite my not working particularly hard for it. So it’s humbling and somewhat frustrating, for instance, to take a drawing class and realize I’m not actually great at nuanced, realistic drawing, and even worse, other people are better than me at it! GASP! HEAVEN FORBID! I’d like to think of myself as a more gracious, less petty person, but the truth is when I am not the star pupil I get a bit of a knot in my stomach, courtesy of a little green-eyed monster with, I imagine, a bad haircut and bad breath. Not good, lady. Stop it. Jealousy and self-importance do not become you!
    Not my best work…
  2. Everyone reminds me of someone (and this probably means I watch too much TV).
    In both of these classes, I’ve had such a sense of deja vu with some of my fellow students, I have to stop and consider that I may be in a weird time warp, or the Matrix: Ah, I know who this woman looks like! She’s Ron Swanson’s girlfriend, how bizarre! Or I’m sure I’ve seen her somewhere else. Did we go to school together? Maybe she works in town somewhere? Or THIS LADY LOOKS LIKE A PIXAR CHARACTER AND OH MY GOD I CAN’T STOP STARING AT HER WHY IS SHE A LIVING CARTOON I NEED TO DRAW HER IMMEDIATELY. It’s freaking me out.
    This does not accurately capture her cartoonishness, and it’s driving me nuts!
  3. Classroom shyness doesn’t go away with age.
    In school, I always used to get embarrassed on behalf of teachers when they asked a question and were met with blank-faced silence from the students. Sometimes those silences would go on for so long, the discomfort in the room became almost a separate entity: a nervous, throat-clearing little creature scuttling around the room with its eyes darting, waiting to be put out of its misery. Of course, even when I knew the answer to the question I wouldn’t come to anyone’s rescue; I was too shy, and not a hand-raiser. Fast-forward a decade later, and guess what? I’m still not a hand-raiser. Despite being a generally more confident human being, that old habit of staying quiet hasn’t died, and apparently that’s not just true for me. Sure, there are always the few people who will talk and talk at any given opportunity, but the majority of students–dare I say, a silent majority–are like me, and let those awkward silences build and stretch out until they are nearly intolerable. Somehow, this is both slightly unnerving and slightly comforting to me.
  4. No matter how worthwhile an experience is, if the drive to get there and back is even remotely challenging, I will kind of, sort of hate it.
    This is pretty self-explanatory. I hate driving, particularly at night, or in heavy traffic, or on complicated routes my spatially-challenged brain can’t remember. Even if I’ve had a great time in a class or at an event, if I spend the whole drive home white-knuckled with my teeth gritted, forget it. Bad mood and crippling anxiety for the rest of the night! (This is legitimately one of the reasons I don’t do a lot of things that are more than a few miles away from home. I can’t express strongly enough how much I hate driving. Blech. Uck. Nope! Please to be stopping now.)

These are all incidental lessons, obviously, and I am indeed learning some actual new skills at the same time. While I hate the commuting, and fighting the inertia to get up and go out after a full day of work, I’m still glad to be taking the initiative and giving my brain some new experiences to chew on. When the brain is stretched and dragged out of its comfort zone, that can only be a good thing. So here’s to continuing the stretch! Except not tonight. Tonight I’m going home and lying down on the couch like a slug because it’s Friday and I can. So there. Yes.

September Stepping Out

One of the nice features of the new apartment is the deck, which by some stroke of luck doesn’t look out onto a parking lot, or the dumpsters, or someone else’s apartment, but onto trees. Trees that, for the moment, are still mercifully green (to match the fake ferns the boyfriend picked up with great pride at a friend’s yard sale).

Soon enough, though, the green will fade and all those real leaves will fall and we will be left looking at bare gray branches and the apartments beyond them. So I have to drink in the opportunity to be outside, in the sunlight, with the greenery and relative warmth, while I still can. The apartment has giant windows that cheerfully let in the outside world, which is a delightful feature, but I anticipate they will let the chill air in just as cheerfully when the weather starts to turn.

I wouldn’t say I suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder, just that I am a warm weather junkie and the end of summer is always a downer, which I make worse for myself by dwelling on it (like this!) when it’s still ninety degrees outside. It’s something I have to work on, the constant lamenting of the change of seasons, as if it were something unexpected and not something that happened every damn year. If I’m not careful I’ll become one of those tedious people who only ever talks about the weather. (A neighbor greeted us this weekend with, “Hot enough for ya??” and I felt a twinge of embarrassment for hearing the phrase uttered so unironically. To be fair, though, it was hot enough for me.)

Tomorrow I begin a drawing class. I’m doing it both to distract myself from this inevitable descent into darkness, and because I’m in a social and creative rut. There is a distinct lack of activity in my life, and prolonged idleness, I have found, is not the best creative fuel. So I am going to put myself in a room with strangers for a couple hours a week and relearn how to draw, in hopes the experience sparks something new. Strangely, though I have always been an avid doodler, and in the past entertained the idea of being a graphic designer or illustrator, I’ve only taken one actual drawing class. It was in high school, and while there was a kind of peace in dutifully filling my sketchbook, I didn’t enjoy the class much. Now, perhaps, is an opportunity to try again, with fresh eyes and without the pressure of being graded.

Next week I also start an ASL class, though my reasons for taking it are less clear, beyond sheer curiosity and a more-than-passing interest in language. It’s been nine years since I sat down in a classroom setting, and I’ve never taken a class that wasn’t for credit of some kind, so I don’t know what to expect. Do I still know how to be a student? Will I be the youngest person in the room? The oldest? Do I still have the patience and the drive to learn new things in a structured setting? Should I eat dinner at home first? (Food considerations are always the most important.)

I’m entering into a lot of unknowns, but there are much scarier, riskier things I could be doing to add interest to my life. For now I’m just splashing around in the kiddie pool, getting out of my stagnant routine for a bit. With any luck, these classes will help drive me to create and learn further, and this will only be the beginning of a series of new experiences. And if I’m really lucky, I’ll be able to forget that we are slowly but surely being consumed by the cold, gray void of winter.

For a few hours a week, anyway. I just want to forget…for a few hours a week…please…

The Theoretical Homicidal Bus

I would like, if I may, to put a moratorium on the use of the phrase: “Say you get hit by a bus tomorrow…”

If I’ve heard this once, I’ve heard it a thousand times, always as the beginning of a discussion about contingency plans, or insurance (which I guess is a form of contingency plan in itself). It is, of course, prudent to plan for the absence of key people in the workplace or the family, but…a bus? Really?

Who decided a bus was the go-to instrument of theoretical unplanned absences? Why do we need to conjure such a violent, splattery end for our colleagues and loved ones in order to plan for the future? Is it because being hit by a bus is a realistic enough scenario to be plausible, but not common enough to be completely horrifying? As in, it’s more believable than “Say you’re kidnapped by a gang of sentient CFL light bulbs tomorrow,” but less depressing than “Say you have a fatal heart attack tomorrow”?

Either way, I don’t much like it. If someone is looking me in the eye and imagining a world in which I am no longer there, I’d rather they assume the event that pulled me away was a happier, less gruesome one:

“Say you run off and join the circus tomorrow…”

“Say you take possession of a small tropical island tomorrow…”

“Say a talent scout sees you singing to the watermelons at the grocery store and whisks you away to Broadway to join the cast of Les Miserapples tomorrow…”

“Say you wake up tomorrow and know exactly what you’re meant to do with your life, and you quit your job on the spot…”

It just seems like a bit of a slap in the face to assume the reason I won’t be around anymore is because I have met my untimely demise, especially through something as stupidly pedestrian as getting hit by a bus*.

I know bad things happen, but could we save the morbid reality for reality, and have a little more optimism in our imaginings? Eh? Please? I would prefer not to be terrified of buses, or as I have come to know them, “Contingency Death Machines**.” That’s all.

* (Only slight pun intended.)
** Still working on the name. Fear of theoretical bus death stifles creativity, you know.