Monday, July 31, 2017

Duck, Duck, Goose: Making Mistakes, Having Fun. . . .

Celebrating mistakes was the subject of a post I wrote a year ago, focused on some of my sketching efforts but extending outward from that to think about doing things we're not necessarily good at but perhaps enjoy. About valuing process as much as product, sometimes more, depending on context. I'd forgotten about that post until a week or two ago when my friend (and Art Teacher Extraordinaire) Alison commented there that she'd obviously come to the post late, but found worth in what I said about drawing as a way of being in the moment.

Would it be too immodest of me to say that her comment prompted me to reread that post and to find myself thinking it was not bad at all?

Funnily enough, having enjoyed revisiting the post, I'd tucked it back in my mental filing cabinet, relegated it to near-oblivion, until I looked again at the page I'd inked in my sketchbook Saturday, sitting on a boulder in the shade, by the muddy shore of Burnaby Lake -- a page that first elicited frustration and dismay at my efforts.

 In my defense, as you look at my journal page, remember that these waterfowl were moving constantly. And if you remember what I wrote last year, you might guess that, similarly, I admitted that I can't draw ducks and geese, but that I can sit and observe them and then move my pen on the paper to capture a sense of this movement or that. I tried to catch a sense of their fluidity and their squabble, their avidity, the attack-like motions of their heads and bills. I was happy to grab a fragment here -- the webbed feet of the geese, for example, or just the proportion of their legs under their bodies.

And I looked and looked and looked at their bills, and tried and tried to "get" them on the page. Working with my fountain pen -- and this might surprise you -- makes the sketching easier for me because it makes it impossible to correct myself. I'm training myself to accept what gets on the page and then move on.  Which does mean that I have to look at my mistakes (or, to be kinder, to see my process) later, in perpetuity. . .  I figure that at least my grandkids, should one or two of these sketchbooks survive me, will see that I was willing to try doing something without having to be particularly good at it.

And should I ever get good at it, or even just arrive at "good" occasionally and fleetingly, they might know I did it via my mistakes.

Because those mistakes did lead me to that one goose bill above that I thought caught my sense of a Canada Goose head. Then later, at home, I decided it would be worth fiddling on a page, practising what it might take to get those bills. For this play, I let myself use a pencil, and I gave myself some stationary models. Not just stationary, but flattened onto two dimensions for me into photographs I found by Googling for images of ducks.
Finally!
I think I'm onto something here, beginning to understand the ratio of width to length and the tiny curves in just the right places.
Discovering what my mistake-making trust in process led me to, I went one step further and -- for the first time in months, I took my teeny box of watercolours out. And for the first time in even more months, I pulled out some watercolour paper -- this particular paper bought in the form of a blank card -- and I quickly sketched a duck on it and began painting a mallard to decorate a granddaughter's birthday card. (Three-year-olds can be very generous art critics, is my hope. . . )
It's not quite finished yet, but I want this post to be, so here's a glimpse of my current imperfection, in process. The painting is crude, but that duck is recognizably a duck, right? Not a seagull or a pelican or a pigeon. A duck. And that's what the three-year-old will see when she opens the card in Rome in another week or so. Unless she sees una anatra. . . .

If you've made it this far, maybe you won't mind my telling you that I wake, many mornings, with a sort of existential weight, a doubt about whether it's all worth getting up for, an awareness of mortality and time passing and happiness being fleeting and ephemeral and even, in some ways, spurious. It only lasts a few moments, but there's often considerable resolve to get me up and out of bed, to get some tea into me and my pen in hand to talk myself back into the world via my morning pages (a fairly recent practice, as you might remember).  So part of my writing here about mistake-making and process and the delights of play and of being imperfect in honour of observance and practice . . . .much of this is for my benefit, quite honestly. But I hope there might be something here you could relate to also.

I'm writing this on Sunday afternoon, scheduling it to post sometime tomorrow morning, and by the time I read your comments (Oh, I do hope you'll leave a few!), we'll be on the island again, in a different spot. He has meetings, and I'm going to soak up some Quiet. I'm also going to polish a post or two, and I have some exciting news for you -- there is another Garden Visit in the works for us. I'm not sure when that will happen, but stay tuned. . . .

27 comments:

  1. Oh my, I have the same issue getting up in the morning. It's reassuring that you have some hesitation too. I have no artistic talent other than painting stage sets, which isn't too useful at home. My milieu is words, and I often fumble for the right one. If I can give myself the time to reflect, the wrong word sometimes tells me something about what I am thinking or feeling and significantly improves what I was writing. I just need to give myself that time on a more consistent basis. I like your ducks -- your ink sketches have movement, which must be hard to capture. Enjoy your island respite.

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    1. Scanning the comments, I'm surprised to see how many of us share this. And oddly comforted by the company.
      Stage-set-painting sounds pretty artistic to me!
      So interesting what you say about choosing the wrong word, the way that "mistake" holds a truth of its own. . .And about the way it takes time to see what that might be. Thank you!

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  2. Oh I hear you on "soak up some Quiet". I live on the Island, my partner in Vancouver. We would like to live together, but he's not ready to leave the city and I just cannot move there. Sometimes I think I'm ready... and then a rather visceral tightness makes me realize I just am not ready.
    Well done with the sketches - that is most definitely a duck.

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    1. That's tough, and you may never be ready. I'm still not completely sure I am/was, but it seemed time to jump. . . When it seems time for you (or him!) to move, I think you can find ways to smooth the transition. It's what I'm working on now. . .

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    2. Thank you for responding! I realized after leaving my comment that I was dumping my problems on you - and probably not helping you with your transition to the noise of the city... Apologies! I do love many aspects of Vancouver - the city has done an amazing job with bike routes and parks and public spaces.

      Thankfully, we do have a possible end-date to our stalemate, as early retirement is only 4.5 years away (or full at 9.5) and he doesn't plan to stay in the city beyond retirement. But he loves his job for the moment. And I'm apparently not quite ready to leave my life here!

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  3. Yes, the existential weight can be quite a stone. I find that I sometimes have a day or two, without any discernible rhyme or reason, when the heaviness leads to inertia. Then just as unaccountably, on the second or third day, I spring up with enthusiasm. Quiet seems to turn the tide.

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  4. Remember, you are the woman who sketched those blackberries. (I just looked at that sketch again, and I still like it so much. You wrote about your dad.)

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    1. Thank you so much for that, Georgia. I'd forgotten -- had to go searching for that post, and I guess I like that sketch as well. xo

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  5. Existential weight..love that phrase, if not the emotion that prompts it. Mornings are hardest for me too, if I'm not feeling my usual "bounce." Especially as I am a slow to start person in the morning and live with someone who gets shot out of a cannon every morning before 6:00, usually. Why is it that early rising is seen as so much more "worthy" than later rising? I'll never understand that. What I love about that page of geese is the crowded, half finished snippets which make me think of the constant, quick alertness of the birds. I'm not saying that well. But it's late and I was uncharacteristically up at 6:00 this morning. Yawn...bedtime. Night.

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    1. Well, at least we early risers have dispatched our existential weight, sent it packing long before the rest of you are getting out of bed. . . Pretty sure that Pater would commiserate with you, though, although (and is this a gender thing or is that too reductive an explanation?) he doesn't feel guilty or defensive about his slugabed tendencies. Whoops! Sorry, that word just slipped out. I'm not judging ;-)))))

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  6. I really believe that there should always be some sort of reminder kept of any creative endeavour. How else can you prove to yourself that all the struggles are worth it on the days that you question why you do it......whatever it is.
    Ali

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    1. I'm with you, Ali. Evidence, some days I need evidence.

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  7. This training oneself to allow imperfection and to keep coming back, very aware and conscious of the process is HARD work. I know because I've aspired to it - and have a sense of the cost. At times in the past I've engaged in that kind of work but now have mellowed into acceptance that my current stage of life - primary breadwinner in a demanding but fortunately engaging and remunerative job - just doesn't allow that kind of focus and mindfulness of my inner life. I've always assumed I'd get back to it on a few years when I downshift and then retire. But as I read your ever-evocative writing the spark of reaction was that maybe I don't want to after all. The things I would have aspired to "fix" no longer trouble me so much. They seem part of who I "am" for better and worse. I have no idea if this represents a healthier acceptance for me, if I'll again find joy in the inner journey as I once did, or if I'm just tired.


    All this is no comment on your work as you seem only curious about how you might change your experience and not at all self-flagellating. Still I know it takes courage to keep going back to what frightens or frustrates and admire your dedication. I think I'm just tired��

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    1. It IS work, and I didn't have/take the time to do much of it while I was doing paid work. I admit, though, that I have always tended to be a harsh judge of my own efforts and accomplishments, and although I also found my former work engaging and satisfying, I'm glad that I can now afford to spend some time-- and most importantly, now have the energy, on this process. We do what we can when we can, right? Ah, that old balance.. .

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  8. 'a sort of existential weight, a doubt about whether it's all worth getting up for, an awareness of mortality and time passing' oh my goodness, you have put into words exactly what I have been feeling more and more. And then feeling more and more guilty and careless of my privileges each time. Thank you so much for sharing this brave admission. I have deliberately not read the comments above before posting this so I am going to see now whether this resonates yet more widely.

    And I love the mallards - and your Italian grand daughter will love hers even more...

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    1. Another who can relate -- I'm so surprised to find this much company. Do you think it might have to do with the ageing? I don't remember it being so much a presence, particularly in the early hours, as it is now. . .

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  9. I know what you mean about the moments of doubt . Though there are other moments when we really appreciate our good fortune & realise we do acquire a little wisdom as we go along , well some of us do - I can think of many who haven't :) Nice ducks
    Wendy in York

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    1. Yes, and once I get up and about, most days I see the good stuff pretty clearly. Ducks and all. ;-)

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  10. Thank you for your honesty. I can related to much of what you write. You give "food for thought" and it is appreciated.

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    1. Ah, you're very welcome, Jeannine, and thank you for commenting.

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  11. My mother used to talk of that weight on waking, sometimes even terming it more strongly as a sense of dread. I am an early waker and don't have that sensation but do feel increasingly self conscious as time passes in a way I never felt before and there is too much mental catastrophising which, while I try to block it, still takes up a space that wasn't being filled that way before. Clear as mud?

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    1. Interesting -- do you remember what age your mother was when she spoke of that? And are you at that age yet? (see above, my response to Ceri in Bristol, I'm curious about whether this has to do with age). And your self-consciousness is something like, I'd say, and the space it does take up to push away or block the catastrophising. Yes. Yes....

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  12. Well she was probably into her seventies and I am not that age yet but she may well have been feeling it long before she spoke of it. We never talked about things like the menopause or ageing. My father had dementia and was ten years older than her. That was tough. Their life was much more difficult than we children ever appreciated or could have understood. Although her oft repeated refrain of, 'You don't know the half of it' was a tad unfair as you can't have it both ways!

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    1. The options of that generation for discussing difficulties were so limited, weren't they? My mother was depressive, and one of the most poignant things she ever said to me was that she envied us (her by-then parenting children) our communication skills. .. .

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  13. I know the feeling you describe, this existential doubt about getting up at all. I did not feel it very often while I was working, then I was just plain miserable because I had been ripped out of my sleep and pushed out of bed by the alarm clock at 5.30 am, contrary to my natural rhythm. But at the beginning of the holidays it would be there every morning for some time, then diasappear. I have come to link it to physical and emotional exhaustion. My way of dealing with it was just sitting still, letting the waves roll over me, hoping/trusting that they would subside.

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    1. I wonder if that's part of what's going on -- there was just not time to feel this when working, so I'm much more aware of it now. Your method of dealing with it seems very wise. Most days, the waves do subside, I hope...

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I'd love to hear your response to my post. Agree, disagree, even go off on a tangent, I love to know you're out there, readers. Let's chat, shall we? I apologize, though, for the temporary necessity of the Word Verification -- spam comments have been tiresomely numerous lately, and I'm hoping to break that pattern.

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