Last night, my youngest daughter came to me frustrated by something she was trying to draw. Irritated, she handed me the blue pen and the paper she had been working with. “fix it.” She cried. ” It isn’t working.” She had toiled with it past the point of polite requests or wanting an art lesson. She just wanted a magic wand waved over her picture and have it miraculously turn into the image of the raft floating on the lake that she saw so clearly in her mind.
I looked up at her from my writing. “You did it in pen, we can’t change it.” I stated.
“Go bring me the art pencils and we can do one together, one we can work out the details, fix the mistakes.” She went off, unhappy about it, but returned a moment later, pencils in hand.
“I don’t see why I need to use a pencil.” She grumbled. As we began to work, the problem became very clear. I sketched and asked questions, drawing out from her mind what it was she was trying to achieve. I put a mark down on the paper. “Nooo, that’s wrong…it wasn’t like that.”
“Honey, that’s what we have the eraser for.” I patiently erased the mark, ready to put down a new one a little farther over.
“But I don’t want to have to ERASE, I want it to be PERFECT.” She was getting distressed. “It will be wrong!!”
“Honey, ” I glanced over at the clock, knowing bed time needed to happen very soon. “That’s what they MADE erasers for. NOTHING is perfect right away. You have to work on it. You have to be willing to make mistakes or you aren’t going to get anywhere.” I blew out a breath of exasperation.
We ended the drawing session. She was too tired, I was too impatient. Some things are better left for other times.
I tried to go back to my writing but the moment had been broken. I thought about all the times in my life I had been just as frustrated because I couldn’t do it perfect the first time. How many times I had given in to irritation because I couldn’t *start in pen* and never have to worry about making a mistake. How many times I felt less than talented if I had to take out the eraser and start over or go back and redo something.
My daughter doesn’t fall too far from the tree.
This morning, in my quiet reading time, I opened randomly to a page from The Sound of Paper, by Julia Cameron. My eyes lit on to the following words.
Teachers are everywhere when we are open to them.
But we cannot learn everything at once. We must first learn progress not perfection. Too often, we measure our early creative attempts against the masterworks of accomplished artists. Falling short, we become discouraged. We have not witnessed their learning curve. We have seen the Godfather trilogy, not Coppola’s beginning films. In our imagination, the early works of accomplished artists must be marked by genius. It isn’t always so. Art is a combination of talent and character, and many times the artists who win do so because of their stubbornness. They refuse to take no for an answer.
Talent, character, stubbornness and…I would add- a willingness to fail, be wrong, learn from mistakes and go on. Make the next mark better, the next words brighter, the next experience more brilliant. What is true in art is true in life as well.
Thank God for big erasers. Thank God I don’t have to live my life in pen.