A friend recently posted on fb that “My bathroom has the sparkle that only the ominous glow of a blank word doc can inspire.” I think every once-upon-a-time student and writer has faced the “white hole”–the paper or word doc or canvas that ought to be filled but seems to suck you dry of inspiration the moment you find time to begin.
Now, inconvenient places like the shower or the driver’s seat of my car, that’s where my muse apparently hangs out and waits to whisper ideas into my mind. And yes, I’ve tried to write it all down the second that I get out, but it’s still not the same. The precise imagery, the perfect wording, it all has dissipated with the shower fog.
This is why I admire women who maintain creative hobbies while their kids are little. There are so many needs all the time, that putting the world on pause while you run to catch a muses’ teasing shirt tales for a few moments doesn’t happen. I’m not bitter (ok, not too bitter … usually); I adore my kids, and more often than I’d like to admit, they teach me the many lessons that fuel my imagination and mold my understanding of the world.
I want to model creative expression for my kids. I’d like them to see me start and finish a project. Maybe they’ll understand me better someday through the things I create as well. But it sure is hard to get to sit down and fill a blank page while my ears are straining to anticipate the baby’s wake up cry!
At the same time, I find myself falling into the trap of fantasizing what my life COULD be like but not actually DOING it. It’s my rooster problem …
I love chickens. They are hilarious and beautiful in turns–just as you’re admiring their feathers, they start running pell mell after a bug, looking rather like a fat old lady with her skirts up and her ruffled bloomers peeking out. They are also useful. And they don’t sniff me in impolite places and slobber like dogs do. I like them so much that I would like to paint a picture of one of my golden Buff Orphington roosters for my sunny kitchen.
So, I bought a giant 20″x 30″ canvas on sale. (Go big or go home, right?) I bought paints. I researched acrylic techniques, composition, animal pictures, paintbrushes, under-sketching, how to make a multi-layered background, color palates, and more. I bought the clock and other wall decorations to go around the canvas. In fact, I read articles, watched videos, paged through library books, and fantasized about this silly rooster for about 6 months. And then I realized that all of that didn’t actually produce a painting on my glaring bare wall. Rather disappointing, don’t you think? I mean, I had put a lot of thought into this!
I had convinced myself that all this preparation was “the first steps” toward creating my little masterpiece of self expression and (hoped for) beauty (or at least, whimsy). But to be honest, I was terrified of starting. Because when you start something, you can be wrong. And people can see it, can judge it, and can scoff at it (interiorly or exteriorly). Actually creating something brings self-knowledge. This is hard. I don’t have a great eye for composition or color the way I thought. My rooster looks like it got smashed. My strawberry leaves look like they are diseased. But, “if a thing is worth doing, it is worth doing badly,” right? [Nod to Mr. Chesterton, who was actually talking about something quite different in that passage.]
So, I finally decided to face the blank canvas. I whipped up a two hour quick version on a piece of card stock and sent that imperfect attempt to my amazing cousin who is a professional artist for suggestions. He had a lot, and they were all spot on and useful. So, I swallowed my pride, reassessed my color palate, and actually BEGAN my canvas. I have layer one (of about 4) of the background done. And I have continued to learn.
Our ideals affect our lives, but they are not realized yet. They do not have life and do not make us a great person when they are all trapped up inside of us. We have to take a risk. We have to live our values and actualize our imaginings. You are not a charitable person just by thinking nice things about the world in general. You actually have to be nice to the person who clicks their pen during all the meetings and the neighbor who is difficult to talk to. You are not a generous person by talking about solving poverty. You have to actually help someone who has suffered a loss (of possessions or of spirit), perhaps even to the point of personal sacrifice. And I’m not a painter if I don’t actually paint a picture and risk that it may be terrible and take many more hours than I can conveniently dedicate to it.
I believe that God invites us, amateurs that we are, into His creative and even His salvific work on earth. He doesn’t need us. He could just take over and control everything. But He knows that we’ll learn better and love more truly by having chosen the good and acted within that ethos.
Re-read the first couple chapters of Philippians. St. Paul totally understood this action thing. In fact, God had to throw him off a horse and blind him temporarily in order to re-direct him to the right path. Over and over in his letters he prods the Christians to be bold in faith and to accept the task before them.
So, today, my challenge to you (and to myself) is to paint your rooster–whatever it is that you are thinking about doing all the time but afraid to start. Do it. At least take a step. And ask God to give you the strength to persevere. We only move forward by moving. We only increase in love by loving. And we never walk alone.