February 19, 2016

Starting


The scariest moment is always right before you start.    ~Stephen King



Smith doesn't draw or paint much. It's surprising to me, because we are a household filled with art supplies and lots of opportunity and encouragement for creative expression. His interest seemed to dry up about a year ago, and these days when I challenge him try a little drawing, he will often complain that he "can't", or demand that I produce whatever complicated dinosaur he sees in his head, but can't bring to the page. 

This is probably common for many kids, and I suspect it's partly simple frustration at a developing skill set (he's also been known to smash an uncooperative puzzle or toss an ill fitting mitten), and partly fear of failure. 


For as long as I remember the pull to create, I have also felt tremendous anxiety over failing. I'm a committed procrastinator, never having written a single outline for a paper in advance or worked on a painting over multiple days. My preferred method is sitting for 48 hours straight, without eating or sleeping, to produce a thirty page term paper I'd known was due for months, or arranging an independent study for my high school art class, literally completing nothing for the whole trimester, then faking illness to buy some time and crank out all the work in the final week. For every one of the fourteen semesters I spent in architecture school, I was convinced that this would be the one where I would fail. That I'd be creatively impotent, and so I'd skip class or make an excuse and avoid producing until the pressure left me no alternative.

I wish I could say that this was the stuff of childhood, and I'd since found ways to better manage my time, but I still operate exactly the same. Assignments are written in the eleventh hour, drawings get tackled the night before they are due, and almost everything is completed in a single sitting. I have kept this journal for over four years. I don't have a one unpublished draft. If I can just start something, it gets done, no matter how long it takes. But oh that heavy weight of starting.


One of the most perfect film scenes I've ever watched is Ed Harris, channeling Jackson Pollack, confronting a giant blank canvas. I have zero of Pollack's talent, but I do share something of his temperament, at least as described by Harris. Everything is in that scene; the fear and pressure and anxiety in the responsibility of making something where nothing exists, the exhilaration of striking inspiration, the joy in doing the work, and the relief in getting it done. There is such bliss and satisfaction for me in finding small opportunities to be creative,... but fresh starts are definitely overrated.


As for Smith, I set him up last week to make Valentine's for all 18 of his classmates. He didn't want to do it, he had so many great ideas and something special to say for each kid, and he wanted me to draw them out while he dictated. Of course I wouldn't give in, and told him not worry so much about the end result, forget what he wanted to make and just see what happened. It's funny to enter that stage of parenting where I'm giving advice that I could stand to hear for myself, but nonetheless, here we are. 

He labored for over three hours on these paintings. Each one was unique, with titles like. "Kaitlynn in a pink and purple storm", "James climbing a monkey with a climbing machine", "David became a summer sun", "Luli taking a ride on an octopus and seeing an underwater rainbow", and "Elise sliding on the purple circle". Part of me wanted to keep the whole set and frame them, just as he made them, but so much of his effort was aimed at pleasing each friend, I had to let them go. I do think I'll try pushing him to start more often. So long as he doesn't push me back.

8 comments:

  1. What a wonderful process and how proud he looks with all his creations. You are teaching him great life lessons. And I agree, sometimes we have to follow our own advice! ; )

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    1. Thanks so much! I love how proud he looks too :) And I definitely wish I could follow my own advice, almost daily ;)

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  2. Those are so sweet! My kids don't do art like they once did either. I really miss it. And I can procrastinate with the best of them. But I have to be careful because I can't work for hours straight like you can. I break every hour for tea, snacks, email...anything. Starting IS hard. Once I get a first line written, I can write an article no problem. But starting that first line...that's the hard part.

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    1. Starting really is the biggest hurtle! And I suspect your method, of breaking for some basic human needs, is healthy! I am sure it keeps you from fizzling out, and looking haggard (like I do whenever I've pushed for a deadline ;)

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  3. I've really been thinking about this very topic a lot lately. In addition to work, we've got several really big projects at home in the works, plus the chores of daily life, and it's a delicate balancing act. I can certainly procrastinate with the best of them, and I've also been known to throw myself into something for days on end. (That would likely be the twelve semesters of architecture school training as well! I do not miss those sleepless studio nights.) Now I find my problem is focus. I'm working on it, but man, it's tough. I've just got too many ideas and not enough hours in the day to tackle them.

    I love his paintings. Those are lovely, and this post really reminded me of the book "The Dot" by Peter Reynolds.

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    1. I've never seen that book Kristen, excited to check it out. I think my husband also struggles with focus, I seem to have the opposite problem where I get fixated (obsessed!) with the task at hand. And not always the most pragmatic or critical of tasks either. And yes, those sleepless nights were brutal! Although, good preparation for having a kid that is a lousy sleeper. Believe it or not, I think it's worse now! I can't wait for the teenage years, when they sleep until noon ;)

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