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 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.


  1. I find the way you write sophisticated and unique. Please do continue writing instead of checking applications(I keep reminding that to myself too),embracing your imperfections and drawing moments that deserve to be drawn.
    Oh,and I hope you and Angie enjoyed my city during your honeymoon. Keep going and Cheers!

  2. Miss your posts but hope you and your family are doing well! ♥️