Thursday, May 9, 2013

It's All Good

It's always a struggle for me to feel OK about myself when I'm getting behind, but I would feel worse if I didn't make my family a priority over my work.  I guess it's just a function of trying to do multiple jobs—mom, artist, housekeeper.  As one of my female UMD professors, who had two young kids at the time, told me:  "You're always failing at something."  I think you have to try to get good at failing—you have to learn to feel OK in spite of it.  Otherwise you'll get too down.

I've been thinking about this with regard to painting more generally.  When I was walking around at Oregon Ridge park the other day, looking for a place to paint, I was frustrated and stressed until I told myself:  "Maybe today will just be a scouting day.  I've been meaning to get up here just to look, without time pressure, to see if there are any motifs that could keep me busy for a while—so I'll view today as my chance to do that.  No pressure to produce."  Once I chose that perspective, it was like loosening the stuck gears in my head, and the world around me opened with possibilities—all kinds, offbeat and otherwise.  No more "Well, maybe I could make that work"; no more trying to talk myself into things I really wasn't interested in.  Just the chance to wander and to observe my feelings as I wandered.  Even more bizarrely, I found something very soon afterward—a view of the stream that just felt wonderful.

(To digress:  For me, scouting by feel is key.  That day, I often noticed motifs that were pretty enough, or colorful enough, etc., but nothing that "captured my heart."  It's hard to find words for what that experience is like.  I told a friend afterwards that it was like looking in a mirror, like seeing my heart somehow, some manifestation in the landscape of what I adore.  In this case:  Color, nature, movement, darkness, light...deep nature:  a fallen log, mud, flowing water, dry grasses from winter catching light while new green plants grew around and over them, etc.  Change, decay, growth; plus all the artistic elements of contrasts, complements, movement, etc., as well.  A beautiful place to be.  To me.  I guess that's why it felt "right" to paint there.)

To return to being able to fail:  That experience reminded me of an Alex Lowe quote I have on my wall.  Writing about mountaineering, he says: "There are people who can't bear to fail.  Those people are on the short track, as far as their careers go.  You have to push hard, do hard things.  But you also have to be able to say, 'OK, today's not the day.'" 

That is key in itself, of course, if not THE key:  You can't allow yourself to get so discouraged that you stop.  Continuing to try is All.  But in this case, giving myself permission to fail that day, at that moment, gave me a kind of peace that unlocked latent potential.  It's the same as when I remind myself to play:  the "play" mode is conducive to possibility.  To hope, maybe.  To a feeling that "It's all good," or "Anything can be done, or at least tried, and failure is already forgiven."  A great approach to life!  A very helpful approach to painting, and maybe to creative work of any kind.

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