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.”
Needing 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.
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