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Wednesday, February 26, 2020

Permission to Fail

We've talked before about giving ourselves permission ...wait...have we talked about this?  Permission to be late, for example?  Dammit.  Lemme look.

I...guess not?  I REALLY thought we'd chatted about this.

So, in a nutshell, I find myself really stubborn about plans.  In particular, if plans have to change at the last minute, I find myself in a long-term funk related to how I hoped something would go versus how it ended up.  Almost all of the time, the change in plan is minuscule.  But it never seems to matter, because I get really irritated regardless of how unimportant.  I guess the issue is that I've taken all this time to plan something out, and communicate that plan, and do what I can to execute it according to expectations, and...something happens.  Maybe the other person is late, maybe the place we go has a wait list, or the movie is sold out, or whatever.  The reason I thought I'd blogged about this in the past is because I've been doing a lot better about that stuff lately for just the absolute stupidest reason...I started adding "change plans if X happens" to my planning.

Honestly this ridiculous "revelation" happened initially when I was dating a girl (prior to Angie, after Leslie) who was always late.  Always.  And there was always a good reason, and she had to drive like an hour to see me every time we went out, so it wasn't like I was the one who was put out necessarily, but I started including "change of plans if she's late" to my plan...and it made everything magically fine.  Pissed if plans changed, until "change plans" was added to the plan in the first place.  Boom, no longer pissed.

What crazy-ass psychological phenomenon is this?  I think I started implementing it after she was an hour late to something and I was in a foul mood the rest of the date, and I'm not saying I flawlessly implement it in general now, but when I do...A TON of the stress I feel about the plan/schedule/event just...evaporates.

Okay, so on to what I actually wanted to write about before I got sidetracked by the thing I thought I already wrote about that was the groundwork for THIS topic.  I think, and I'm not even going back to look at this point, that I mentioned in the last blog how I always feel better when I'm doing something creative/artistic.  Even if that thing is chore-like (paint the walls, for example).  Making noticeable changes or creating things...drawings, blogs, whatever, always makes me feel sort of accomplished.  Even reading gives me that same sort of enjoyment.  And I decided that if I truly wanted to draw/write/whatever, instead of spending time on my phone with apps...I could just do that thing.

And at first I did this thing I always do when I'm starting something...I delayed.  I can't draw without pencils, or a special eraser, or sketchpad.  Maybe I need a couple books on technical stuff.  And a pencil case.  It's stuff that sort of tricks me into thinking I'm doing the thing I said I wanted to do without actually doing it.  Like buying a pair of new running shoes in order to "make sure" you start running in order to justify the expense, or announcing to the world that you're writing a book so that you have no choice but to write the book because otherwise you're a liar.

And that doesn't always work.  In fact, maybe it usually doesn't.  I don't know.  Maybe two years ago (maybe three) I bought myself a sketchpad, pencils and a book instructing the basics of drawing.  And I read a couple pages, and I did a sketch, and then delayed and put it away and forgot about it until basically a few weeks ago.

Around the time I decided I needed to read more, I decided I also needed to write more (hence recent blog activity), I then also decided (again) that I needed to draw more.  So I've been taking my sketch pad with me to the little coffee shop in Etna that I go to wait when Lily has dance class on Saturdays.  While I'm there I order a cortado and get out my little pad and sketch.  So far I just did a picture of Emma that I drew from one of her senior pictures.

Oh...quick sidebar.  Emma introduced me to Tik Tok.  It's apparently the new Vine.  Anyway, lots of short videos by incredibly artistic and creative people all doing things that look really neat (at least that's the stuff I tend to like/follow).  And the more videos of a certain type that you like, the more your timeline is populated with similar videos.  Currently I could kill hours watching artists cut, draw, sculpt, paint, etc in real time or time lapse, giving their tips and tricks and providing tutorials that are...inspirational?  Yeah...I guess inspirational is the right word, because when I watch them it really makes ME want to draw.

There's this format (let's call it a format) of video by artists where they show their sketch pads.  There's a subcategory of this format where artists get real and REALLY show their sketch pads.  And they're almost always prefaced with some sort of blurb about..."okay, this really pisses me off, but here's what a real sketch pad looks like..." and the thing they're pissed about is all the sketch pads in the first format are amazing.  These artists sketch pencil drawings that look like photographs.  They're incredible.  But what many of them don't show is the goofy/badly-executed drawings that they started or stopped, the sloppy rejected pages of half finished drawings with big exes marked through them.  Their failures, basically.

The other thing I've noticed (before I move on from Tik Tok) when watching tutorials to help me with something that I don't do well and want to improve on is...these artists erase and restart ALL THE TIME.  I'm sure some small part of me KNEW that...but not on a conscious level.  I'll watch a five minute video of a person doing a sketch and see (in timelapse quicksilver progression) the evolution of an amazing drawing that is made and remade, drawn and erased, dozens of times to get it to its finished form (that is almost always incredible).  I don't think I ever really got to watch someone draw.  I don't think I was ever aware how a really great artist could fuck up so many times, erase and start over and finish with something amazing.

I always loved drawing as a kid.  I was telling Angie last night that I used to spend HOURS drawing.  In school when my work was done I'd draw.  I had tons of paper in my desk in grade school and whenever there was a break I'd just draw stuff.  Kids would stand around my desk and watch me do it.  Nobody ever taught me how...I just liked it.  And the more I did it the better I got at it, but...I didn't really know what the fuck I was actually doing.  My last art class was in sixth grade.  And around that time I started to have trouble with some of the kids in my class (probably seventh and eighth actually).  I started to withdraw into myself.  I stopped doing things that would draw attention to myself for a while.  I started worrying about how NOT to look dorky and, growing up as a kid in the 80's, art was dorky.  I stopped drawing.  I read instead.  I doodled a bit after my rough patch in seventh and eighth, but really nothing like what I used to do.  I never really went back to it.

What I'm saying is, I feel like I could DO some of the stuff I see on Tik Tok, but I just was never really taught how.  And having never witnessed someone ELSE drawing, I just had my own weird habits and hangups to judge from.  And here's where I go full circle to my point...I started giving myself permission to draw poorly in my sketch book.  I previously drew a thing or two here or there.  But there was always this weird self-imposed barrier to drawing for the sake of drawing.  I had to KNOW what I wanted to draw.  I had to map it all out and start it so that when it ended it would be something I'd be proud to show someone.  The whole sketchbook had to be pristine and something to show off and...that was wrong.  There were no doodles.  No half started sketches.  No brainstorming or experimentation.  It had to be right the first time.

That approach made the act of drawing so intimidating that I would never pick a subject.  I would never start.  I would only start if I knew I could make something cool/neat.  And now...now I've decided that I'm going to use my sketchpad not for finished projects, but to learn how to draw.

So I'm drawing a picture of Emma.  I'm working on her hair currently.  I draw hair badly.  There's a YouTube video of "Do's and Don't's" of drawing hair.  The artist shows in a single sketch all the things you shouldn't do, the "don't's" (is that apostrophized (is apostrophized a word?) properly?  Angie?)...and it's still better than what I can draw.  And her Do's???  Well it just looks like a photograph of someones hair.  And I'm looking back at things in the sketchpad that I drew before (some from years ago) and even just from watching a handful of tutorials on Tik Toc (and YouTube) I see lots of areas that are immediately better than what I was previously proud to call a finished product.  And this is just the learning process...not something I'm doing to call "art" or to give away or to show off.  This is just me educating myself on how to draw.  And by giving myself permission to draw for the sake of drawing, to draw just because drawing is fun and creating is fulfilling and practice makes me better, I've already found myself doing it more...and better.

I've given myself permission to not be perfect.  You wouldn't think that's something you'd have to do.  But I'm finding that artists' sketchpads are like Facebook families.  They show you the best and hide the worst.  And there's a lesson there for parents and friends, for family and for life in general, that what people show you and share with you is usually the best part of their life/love/art.  Behind each triumphant post are dozens or hundreds (or more) failures.  Facebook captures only the snapshots of our friends' lives that they choose to share and we know this subconsciously because it's what we ourselves also choose to share.  But we forget.  And in forgetting we feel driven to strive for that perfection that we and others share publicly and when we fall short, we have 'failed'.

I've given myself permission to use my sketchpad to learn how to draw better pictures.  I need to give myself permission to use my time with my family to learn to be a better father, son, husband, friend too.  To fuckup, but learn.  And realize that fucking up is PART of learning to be better, and that despite what the Tik Tok sketchpad of life might show, there are some pretty goofy-looking pictures in the sketchpads of all of our lives, even the most perfect-seeming.  And if we keep practicing we'll get better, and getting better is the goal.

I didn't meant to try to make that sound deeper than it really is.  I just find myself continually amazed at how the ridiculous conscious decision of "giving myself permission" to fail, draw badly, be late, change my plans, not be perfect, look goofy, etc, can relieve so much of my personal stress.


Monday, February 17, 2020

Newlyweds

Angie and I have been married about nine months.  We've both been previously married, so although I guess we're still technically newlyweds, we've also both had some marriage experience.

We just celebrated Valentine's Day, adapted it to our new blended family of dogs and cats and children, pregnancies and autism.  And in advance I think we agreed not to buy gifts, just go out to dinner and spend time together.  And this was a LITTLE different...a bit of a babymoon (yeah, I'd never heard of it either), a bit of a celebration of a year since I'd proposed, a hint of Valentine's Day...so I got her a little something.  Very little.

No big deal, but she and I had looked at these illustrations by this artist she followed on instagram, Yaoyao Ma Van As, and they were really cute.  It was mostly this woman and her dog doing different things.  She has a neat style though, and so we looked through the instagram feed and she told me which ones she liked and I told her which ones I preferred.

Here's the illustrator and her work, for reference:
https://www.inprnt.com/gallery/yaoyaomva/


I'm getting forgetful.  These days if I don't strike while the iron's hot, or put a reminder in my phone, I'm forgetting.  So I bought a couple prints from the website and a couple frames from Amazon, and when they arrived I hid them in my special hiding place that I cannot reveal here lest it no longer be special.  Or hidden.  It wasn't a big expediture, just something I thought she'd like.

I'm a pretty good husband, I think.  Mostly.  There are times, however, that I nitpick.  And I recognize (after the fact mostly but sometimes as it's happening) that I'm doing it, but in the moment I'm helpless to stop myself.  I try to learn from it, try to recognize how petty it is, and stop doing it before the NEXT conversation, but sometimes it just bubbles up anyway.

Some past examples:  Paper towel roll tears off the wrong direction on the vertical rod, vegetable peeler belongs in a different drawer, toilet lid shut sounds like it's slamming, and many many more.  I'm not saying I'm constantly peppering her with these things.  I'm honestly not.  But I see old married couples do this all the time, and as a bystander it annoys me, so I KNOW I need to chill the fuck out about it.  Also, for the most part I think I'm pretty good about recognizing it and apologizing for making a big deal out of nothing and trying to do better.

And on Angie's side, she typically hears my ridiculous "complaint" and does whatever unimportant thing I took issue with "my" way because she really doesn't give a shit, and one way is just as good as another so what's the harm?  And honestly thank god for her and for that, because it would be super easy for her to be pissed about it and then we'd be arguing about the least important shit and I'd have to apologize.  And I'd hate to let our streak of *checks notes* two years and five months without an argument go to waste.  From her perspective, she's been living alone long enough that she isn't concerned with things like "making too much noise closing a toilet lid".  So she says she recognizes not every habit adapts perfectly to living with three other humans, her dog and a cat.

So we've lived together for 11 months, and I'm getting used to her habits and she's getting used to mine.  And if you're worried that perhaps Angie is getting steamrolled in this relationship, bullied into doing things the Jim Walter way, please don't.  Angie holds her own just fine. 

I got her two inexpensive prints for Valentine's Day and we had dinner together and spend the night downtown and explored Lawrenceville the next day and it was so much fun.  And Angie wasn't caught flat-footed by my gifts despite my springing them on her at the last minute.  Not to be outdone, I had my own gift to unwrap on Valentine's Day.

A soft close toilet seat.


Tuesday, February 4, 2020

Bloggers Gonna Blog

As part of my 'return to reading' I just finished my wife's favorite book, "I Know This Much is True".  It was good.  It's not the kind of book I'd ordinarily read because a lot of it is sad and I honestly just feel like I can do without all the sadness in my 'entertainments'.  It's a drama.  But it was really thoughtful, and well written, and researched, and it made me think, which is key.

I had just finished IKTMIT and moved on to, "Manhood for Amateurs", which Angie's sister and brother-in-law (I think it was them, Angie?  Wasn't it?) gave me for Christmas.  It's by one of my favorite authors, Michael Chabon.  It's a series of essays, which is ALSO not something I typically read (Honestly, it's basically a book of blogs if we're being honest.  And I'm not sure you could go TOO wrong reading a blog written by Michael Chabon.  ANYWAY...), but straight out of the gate, his essay on - what?  Art?  Taking chances? - struck a chord.  It was called "Loser's Club". 

In the context of a story from his childhood where he attempted to create a comicbook fanclub (and failed), he writes about the process of creating art, and it resonated with me.  He said, "Every work of art is one half of a secret handshake...an act of hopeless optimism in the service of bottomless longing."  "Art, like fandom, asserts the possibility of fellowship in a world built entirely from materials of solitude."  He talks a bit about this failed fan club as a model for every book he writes.  "My story and my stories are all, in one way or another, the same, tales of solitude and the grand pursuit of connection, of success and the inevitability of defeat."

And boy, does that seem like blogging.  At least for me.  Whether I'm reaching out to fellow autism parents, writers, friends, family, or my kids...or maybe I'm reaching for memories or trying to capture a feeling for myself...blogging is looking for connection the way he describes making art as the pursuit of connection.  And with blogging, perhaps a much more direct and tangible result like interaction with like-minded people, and social media conversation.

And all this 'inevitability of defeat' stuff is a bit of a downer, except, EXCEPT, this is the Pulitzer Prize winner.  And it's kind of nice to know that even when you've written...however many novels he's written, and even when you've won...whatever awards he's won...you still question yourself and worry about failure.  And maybe for someone like me (or others who might read this) you shouldn't worry so much about the failure, because EVERYONE worries about failure, and instead just reach out for that secret handshake and search for a fellowship of readers in the solitude of writing.  I think that's what all bloggers do, or are doing...looking for people 'in their shoes' to read their words, acknowledge their own similar/same experiences, and take what was a work of solitude and turn it into a shared experience.

I hope that made sense. 

Meanwhile...or...actually "later":  I was 'reading' "Sharp Ends", which is a series of short stories (another nuther thing I usually don't read) by Joe Abercrombie.  I put reading in quotes because it's an audiobook.  I love Abercrombie's books.  At the end of Sharp Ends there's a ten minute interview with the narrator and Abercrombie, and they discuss "muse".  Abercrombie is asked how he approaches writing.  Does he wait for the muse to strike, or sit and write from 10 - 2, or other?  And Abercrombie said something that I thought was smart.  He said if he waited for the muse he'd never write.  He said that real writing, is writing in SPITE of your muse (or lack thereof), the hardwork of writing something even though you don't really feel inspired to do so. 

I think I've always known that, but again, it's nice to hear an established author talk about not really being particularly inspired, but writing through it anyway, because...it's what he does for a living.  He went on to say that he sometimes IS inspired and sometimes DOES get a great idea he wants to commit to the page, but that his writing is not and can not be dependent upon that.  It's too inconstant. 

That, to a certain extent, is advice I need to apply directly to myself.  I mean, I don't ever really want to feel like writing is a slog, or writing isn't enjoyable.  But maybe abandoning writing entirely because you're at a particularly uninspired place and waiting for ideas to come to you is the wrong approach.  And maybe getting into the habit of writing...on good days, on bad days, so that overall you've enjoyed the process even if a few times you felt like what you produced was complete dogshit, is the right way to do it, if you want to DO it. 

I often pay lip service to the idea that I want to write, but also struggle from time to time making the effort to do so.

Anyway.  I've wanted to write.  And to read.  And so this is some stuff that I read and it made me want to write about it.  Win-win!

Friday, January 31, 2020

Hello

Two posts in 2019.  Yikes.

I always used to say that when my online friends went AWOL it was usually one of two reasons...
Things were going really well, or things were going really badly. 

I don't know if there's a way to track time spent on social media, but sometime over the course of 2016 - present, I started dreading social media in general and facebook in particular.  The vast majority of the dread stemmed from constant divisive political discourse.  I decided twitter was easier for my psyche, but I still post sporadically on Facebook. 

Often I have almost this posting paralysis.  I think...I should post this, and then my brain starts analyzing it and I end up not posting.  Lots of stuff going on in my head, some of which I really need to work out...guilt-type stuff, but mostly just not as engaged on social media as I once was.

And...things are going really well (see above).  So *pats self on back* I was right all along!

2019 had a proposal, a wedding, a honeymoon, a pregnancy (this is a developing story), college visits, nursery planning, and much much more.  But I suppose I could have taken the time to write at least SOME of it. 

And the more I don't write the more I feel weird writing again.  Like I somehow have to make up for all the stuff I didn't cover.  Like the longer I don't write the more stuff builds up that I NEED to write about, and the more pressure I feel to either write it all...or write none of it.  And so I write none of it.

I was telling Angie a week or so ago that I want to write again. 

There are a lot of things I want to do.  There always have been.  And nobody ever has all the time they need to do all the things they want to do.  But recently I started reading books again.  I've never stopped..."consuming" them.  I listen to audio books every day on my commute, or during walks.  But I just started picking up paper books and reading those around the time we flew to Athens in June/July on our honeymoon.  It felt good.  It felt nostalgic.  And it felt...productive(?) to choose a book over apps on my phone. 

I want to draw again too.  I've been watching TikToks (speaking of unproductive phone apps) of artists drawing/painting/carving...and it's so satisfying to WATCH, and I really enjoy doing it...who knows, maybe that's next. 

Creative stuff in general, I guess.  That's what I've been missing in general.  I think somewhere in these 'pages' I once wrote about things that make me happy...I think one of those things was 'creating'...writing/drawing/etc.  I have to go find that now. 

But I digress.  I won't say I'M BACK!  But it's likely I'll try to make more time to write.

I have stuff that needs saying...heavy stuff, sad stuff, happy stuff, silly stuff.  The usual.

Plus also, I'll be the father of a baby boy sometime in the late March timeframe, so I basically will have a whole shitload of new material about raising a baby at 50, etc.  So...enjoy THAT shitshow.