the hard work of fun

I assume there are plenty of people who very easily have fun, who don’t have to work at it (which is a strange-sounding thing, I guess). I’m not one of those. There I’ll be, doing something I am doing for fun — like my morning drawing, and I’ll come back to that — and I suddenly realize that I’m clenched and tense and needing to “do it right.”

poisonNeeding to “do it right” is fun poison. My entire life has been organized around this principle, and I’ve been tense throughout. Oh, I’d smile and toss my head and laugh a bit when other people outside my family failed to operate on this same principle, but inside I’d be filled with anxiety. Something is going to go terribly wrong! She/he isn’t doing it right! I sure hope my brain surgeon, my oncologist, my plumber, my airplane pilot all do it right, but in the scheme of my little life, there’s actually very little that’s going to crash and burn if I don’t do it right. Over the last year I’ve gotten much better about this, but it’s an ongoing effort.

One thing I’ve realized is that fun comes with a loss of self-awareness; maybe that’s a prerequisite, for that matter. A release from self-observation (“Watch…watch…..are you doing that right?”). I most easily lose my self-awareness when I’m talking to someone I really love or care about. My family, my dear friends. Lunch with beautiful Nancy on Monday? No awareness of myself, I was just sitting in the middle of our conversation and enjoying getting to be with her. Time with Katie and Oliver, my weekly conversation with Marnie? No self-awareness, just living in the midst of being with them, my true loves.

On Tuesday night my poetry group friends came over for a casual party(ish) — a homey kind of happy hour to give us a chance to talk to each other about something other than poetry. The conversations rambled from the place of poetry in our lives and what drew us to it, to movies we love, to the documentary film one member is making, to film philosophy, to books, and finally to politics. We’re all like-minded, politically, and almost all of us are native Texans. We talked about southern culture beyond the hatefulness of that horrible Confederate flag: graciousness, food, a sense of connection to our land, the deep meaning of family. We talked about so many things and for the entire 3.5 hours, I had no sense of myself at all, no observation of myself, no scanning what I was planning to say, no nothing. Just presence and being in the moments with these lovely people. I HAD SUCH FUN.

And so I come to drawing. I’d been trying to draw and my efforts were so terrible I was feeling horrible, crying, finding it hopeless. So Marnie and I had a 30-minute Skype session doing something called blind contour drawing, which means you place a relatively complex object in front of you (a teapot, or even your hand turned palm up with your fingers lightly curled inward) and then you draw it without looking at your paper. You keep the pencil on the paper, don’t lift it, but you never look at your drawing. You only look at the object. No one’s drawing is going to be fabulous, so it’s a ground leveler, but even more important, you really and very quickly learn how to look. How to see. The contours go where they actually go, not where you think they go. And when you look at what you drew, you see places of real truth. That spout, that’s actually good! And the curve of the handle, and the bend of the thumb, wow. Look at that.

It surprises me just how much that one session with Marnie helped me draw in a way that doesn’t devastate and humiliate me. I’m not good yet, but I’m 100% better than I was before that exercise with her. Now my eye follows the contours of the thing and glances down at the paper to be sure I’m in the right place — but it spends more time following the contours. If I keep doing this every day, I will get better. I don’t have a clue how to draw living things, people or animals, so for now I’m drawing objects as an exercise. After our Skype session, Marnie sent me a gift bomb: a set of good pencils, a moleskine, and a set of very fine pens. (There’s nothing like getting love and encouragement from your child, I’m telling you.)

Each morning, my day begins with my most cherished ritual — making my delicious coffee and slowly enjoying it to ease into my day. I love this part of my day so much. Until now I usually drank my coffee and read, or wrote. Now, though, I draw. Each page of my moleskine functions like a visual diary, so I begin by drawing the panels I’ll fill.

usually there are 4 panels, not just 2, but I'm trying to learn how to fill different shaped panels.
usually there are 4 panels, not just 2, but I’m trying to learn how to fill different shaped panels.

For the other days, each day held four panels and I drew an object — my French press, a dress I love and wore that day, my red glasses with wet lenses and my iPod on the day my walk turned into a walk in the rain, etc. Marnie suggested I start drawing metaphors and similes, so when that works I can’t wait to try it. Today I feel like …..

But the relevant point for this post has to do with having fun. The first day I did this, about 3/4 of the way through I realized I was clenched and tense and focused so hard on doing it right. I was not having any fun. I was grim about the mouth. I laughed at myself and shook my hands out — have fun, Lori! And so I did. The next day I realized it earlier and had fun until I slipped back into my grim mouth, reminded myself again and had fun the rest of the time. It does all come together: when I am not having fun drawing, I’m focused on myself and how I’m doing. The shift helps me feel lighter, have fun with coloring, go into my imagination, play.

Who cares if the proportions are wrong, who cares if the French press gets a bit wonky there on the left (but hey, I really did a great job on the handle!), who cares if the lettering size is all over the place? Next time I’ll know to draw light guidelines so the lettering is more uniform. Now I know  to look at the left side of the French press a little more closely. The next time I draw a square bowl filled with cherry tomatoes, I’ll know better how to capture the proportions. I learned something, how to look a little more clearly, and I had so much fun doing it. And the more I do it, it’s not just that I will get better (though I surely will), I’ll also find my own little drawing voice. And maybe someday it will get to be a louder drawing voice. I want to draw to satisfy myself, only; I have no bigger aspirations than that. I want to draw on vacation, because I know that something different is captured through that slow, close looking than is captured by the hundreds of digital pictures I take so quickly. I want to satisfy myself and have fun, and I’m on that road. Thank you, dear Marnie.

I wonder if this need to get outside of one’s intense self-awareness to have fun is common, or if it’s just me…..I wonder if it’s true for you too.

Anyway. Thursday, a beautiful day. In my life, today will bring drawing and coffee, a haircut, work, and dinner with my dear girlfriends at a place I’ve been wanting to try. And packing for NYC and Norway, where it’s going to be cold. I hope Thursday brings you something lovely and something that makes you feel loved and special. xoxo


16 thoughts on “the hard work of fun”

  1. It astonishes me that we are so similar in various ways. This? Me. I love drawing. I can’t really draw, but I wish I could, so much. I’ll try Marnie’s method, and see how it works. Perfection is an illusion – that’s what I try to teach myself. You’re right in pointing out that fun is better. Xxx

    1. I love that we are alike in so many ways, and wish that more of them were about our best qualities. 🙂 Do try Marnie’s technique, it really helped me. And maybe think about doing comics-style drawing (or cartoon) instead of realistic style. I think you just first have to learn how to see, and how to draw a line with some measure of confidence. That craving to draw, it’s so deep.

      Lots of gorgeous comics artists use plain old pencils, or Bic pens! They do amazing work, truly beautiful. I say this to remind us both that we can do good things with humble tools. I like to check in with Marnie’s style on occasion (but not for too long, I get intimidated) to reset my sense of what you can do with what looks like a simple line. Her drawing looks so simple BUT IT SURE IS NOT. I can’t begin to do what she does, but then again I don’t need to aim for that, I just want to make myself happy and have what I draw bear some resemblance to what I’m hoping to draw. 🙂

      Good luck, dear Alethea, I hope you do spend a little time practicing. It’s so good for the soul. And fun is much better. xxx

  2. I recommended this to someone recently, and if it was you I apologize for the repetition, but you might like a book called Wreck This Journal. It’s aimed at kids/teens but it’s so great — a journal with prompts to do BAD/WRONG things, like tear out pages and poke holes and fold things and paint with coffee and all kinds of wild stuff. Very liberating!

    Also, have a fabulous trip! I am so jealous! A Texan friend of mine used to live in Norway and her photos were just breathtaking (and that was in Oslo, though she visited Svalbard once and I lost my mind over her account of that trip)!

    1. It was me — and I bought the book! I’m intimidated by some of the instructions…pour coffee on this page, rip this one out, etc….so it’s exactly what I need. Between that book and Lynda Barry’s Syllabus and a daily drawing practice and occasional guidance from Marnie, I am hopeful about learning how to draw one of these days. But even more, I am hopeful about loosening up, which will be wonderful for all parts of my life. Thank you for seconding your recommendation! It was a fantastic one.

      Svalbard, we may take a boat out there, I would love to see that place. Depends on what the weather is doing; if it’s all rainy and we can’t be out and about, going to Svalbard makes a lot of sense. Anyway, pictures to come. xo

  3. Sometimes I feel like I never have fun. And even when I’m feeling that, I know it isn’t true, and yet it feels true. And this is all the time, even in the midst of conversations, like I’m constantly monitoring myself. Geesh. Exhausting.

    About your lovely artwork: These are intended as morning drawings that are supposed to be fun and relaxed, right? So you need space to make mistakes and cross things out, erase things. What you have right now in your journal is very regimented and restricted. I suggest you take that lovely journal out and make an intentional mistake, just to get you started!


    1. 🙂 Mary, you are so onto me. I actually have another one I use for a wilder practice. I am following Lynda Barry’s fantastic book, Syllabus, and it pushes for wildness. Wildness is the hardest thing for me, so I’m finding it even harder than drawing a French press. But it’s the thing I most long for, so I keep at it.

      Intentional mistakes, that needs to be a pointed mission of mine. I would go about it very seriously. 🙂

      1. Hello again Queen!

        I gotta say I have never once thought of having more than one journal at a time. Brilliant. Something I will consider. But…. I don’t like the idea of you pushing yourself to be wilder artistically because I can see that your natural style is very contained and I say, hey, go with what comes naturally.

        I would have a very hard time drawing like the photos here – I’m a sloppy artist. And even though you say you are more on the unpleasantly rigid side when drawing them, well, maybe you can re-name what it is you’re feeling? Like, I think I’m feeling tense but maybe it’s actually excited.

        I really do make intentional mistakes at the beginnings of journals.

        And my vote goes to you perfecting that French press. You won’t be tense about it – you’ll be excited/sparkly/coffeebeany/effortful/concentrating/jazzed. :0

  4. I DO have trouble letting go and having fun! However the big block in my chakra is procrastination while in the grip of the Black Dog. Somehow the conditions for having fun – having anything at all – have to be “right” before I can let go. My head is constantly full of ideas to create and see and do and learn but I cant make myself DO anything because the conditions have not become “right”. Unlike you and your perfectionism, I don’t mind if things are out-of-line, messy, incomplete or whatever unless it’s something like driving the car or taking the correct dose of pills. But, yep, I’m having a lot of trouble having fun.When will things be “right”? 🙁

    1. Oh that damn black dog. I’ve been in its grips a great many times, and understand that waiting for things to be right. It’s kind of the inverse of that, actually — it’s that this particular moment is so wrong in too many ways. Deep love for all of us who’ve been in his dreadful maw. xx

  5. I love that you are doing this, and it looks fabulous too. I use my stick drawings for the fun – purposely drawing like you can’t draw is very liberating – but embracing the wonk when I am trying to draw ‘properly’, that is a very hard thing to do.

    Related to nothing in particular, have you read Thomas King’s The Truth About Stories? I read it years ago and re-read it this morning and I think you might like it.

    1. I haven’t read that book, Megan– I’ll definitely check it out! And I love your idea to purposely draw like you can’t draw. I can’t draw, but to purposely do that is a different thing. Thanks for the idea!

  6. ‘Finished is better than perfect’ is something I like to remind myself when I am quilting. I think it would be the same for drawing. I am not always completely happy with each quilt I make but I have enjoyed the process and the challenge of making them and I get a little bit better with each one I make. Good luck giving yourself to the process, Lori. Your dedication to things is inspiring.

    1. That’s a great motto, and something I want to try to remember. It was the rallying cry in graduate school — just get finished and get out — but I’ve forgotten the wisdom of it. Thank you dear Amelia!

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