There are certain phrases I’ve been programmed to say, regardless of their validity or fairness.
I’m fine, just tired.
I’m sorry, it’s all my fault.
I can’t draw.
Honesty is for the internet, because the conversations online are often less taxing than ones offline. Also? I’m often a coward. It’s easier to take the blame or shrug off the problem than it is to risk the people I know telling me they don’t believe me. My current counsellor calls me an ‘unwilling people pleaser’.
He kinda has a point.
I found myself, over and over, saying I couldn’t draw today. Silliness happened online, and I wanted, needed, to draw it. Me feeling inspired to art, knowing it would be seen by someone I respect the hell out of? It’s rare.
When I was in highschool, I had a shitty art teacher who made me feel like crap about everything I tried to do. I started out passionate, engaged. Not a shocker: growing up when I was asked what I wanted to be, my answer was almost always ‘writer, singer, artist’. Sometimes ‘palaeontologist’ so I could work with my big sister. By the time I graduated I was half-assing assignments like nobody’s business because, over and over, that art teacher told me I was shit at art, and eventually I gave up and started believing.
Grade nine, she ‘helped’ me with an assignment, taking over and adding glue and white paint to the surface of my artwork while I was out of the room. She’d suggested the addition, and I’d said no, I didn’t think it’d work with what I was trying to do. She failed me for those additions, because they were too much and ruined the overall look of it. It clearly didn’t go with what I was trying to do. She even managed to break the triptych I’d made for an art showing at the school, cutting the linking chains and gluing Velcro to the back of the timber, and basically making sure it couldn’t be salvaged after the event. She hung the pictures- of ghosts, because I was a morbid little shit even back then- upside down. I remember looking at everyone else’s work, all beautifully presented, with mine arranged upside down and lopsidedly haphazard, hidden in the back like it was an embarrassment. In class, the old cow would stand behind me as I worked, pointing out flaws and asking why I couldn’t be like her favourite student.
Four years of that, and it was ingrained pretty well that I suck at art. It took years to even pick up a coloured pencil again. But the thing is, I enjoy being creative. And I’m even okay at it when I get out of my own way.
For the first time in forever, I decided to make something and show someone. It’s not perfect, granted- I’m not going to be animating anything for Disney. But I like it. It’s cute. And it makes me happy. It also makes the person I’m giving it to happy, which is kinda the point.
But still, even looking at a piece of paper covered in proof to the contrary, in the back of my mind I hear ‘I can’t draw.’ To the point I got spooked. I actually worried whether one of my friends would be angry about it- even though he’s the kindest, most easy going person who would never give someone shit for imperfect art. I was genuinely worried he’ll be mad about a picture because ‘I can’t draw’ and he might be offended that I took the silly and made an ugly picture of it even though I know it’s not ugly and actually like it.
My brain is a complicated place to be.
We all have a running narrative of bullshit forced into our heads from ourselves, but also from those around us. The unhelpful relative who tells us that we could stand to lose some weight if we want to get/keep a partner. The teacher who told us boys only like girls who smile (jokes on you, asshole: I still get hit on when I’m scowling, so there!) The helpful sort who explained that creativity is a hobby, not a career, and starving artist is all you’ll ever be because you’re not talented enough to be in the minority of successful art makers.
I’ve recently started cognitive behavioural therapy, which is fucking phenomenal for someone who likes picking things apart to study them. It’s hard, sometimes, but I kinda love it, because it’s like dissecting a story to see how the author made it work.
I am the writer of my life story, and gods dammit, but I’ve made it a hell of a complicated narrative.
In a way, in CBT sessions we play a game: find a negative thought currently fucking me up, and figure out where it came from. What started that fear, or running monologue? And how do I change that belief now?
I was scared to show a friend a picture of some My Little Ponies because a woman told me when I was younger that I can’t ‘do’ art properly. Given she was in a position of authority on the subject and was bullying the hell out of me, I started to believe her, to the point where that voice in my head telling me I suck is hers, even after all these years.
What I didn’t expect was how that ‘you’re not creative’ fucks me over as a writer. I’ve been writing fiction for years, but rarely sharing it. Certainly never getting it published away from spheres I control, even though I want to be an author. But I hesitate, over and over. Because ‘you’re not creative’ wormed its way into the part of my creativity that means the most to me.
The bullshit we’re told is sneaky. It gets into the nooks and crannies you don’t expect it to be in, until you’re left wondering what the absolute fuck is wrong with you. You chalk yourself up to lazy asshole levels of uselessness, beat yourself up emotionally for the wasted effort, and never realise that there might be something just below the surface.
We’re all a melting pot of our own baggage, and the baggage other people have dumped onto us, knowingly or not.
The thing about epiphanies is that they’re fucking worthless on their own. I am really, really good at having them- at picking things apart and understanding why they’re happening. What I suck at is figuring out how to fix things.
I’m getting slowly better though. Here, I know that Van Gogh had a good point: if you hear a voice saying you can’t paint, paint and it’ll stfu. Push through, and take some of the pressure off, and suddenly that big scary ‘can’t’ is turning into a ‘kinda can’. Take the Dory approach (just keep swimming), and ‘kinda can’ turns into ‘can’ turns into ‘fuck me, I’m awesome’.
When they said you have to suffer for your art, I had no idea that they actually meant that you’ll probably suffer crippling self-doubt and a society given belief that you’re unworthy to call yourself a creative. But there you go.