I have a friend, a student of mine, who is writing her life story. Some days she struggles, as we all do from time to time. She emailed me recently and told me progress was slow, that she deleted more words than she saved.
I told her not to delete ANYTHING, not one word. She was to go forward, forward, forward, never looking back, we would edit it later. It helped. She tells me she deletes less now 🙂
It made me wonder why we do this. I guessed she had memories of an inept teacher telling her she was wrong. I thought on it a lot over the following days, imagining myself at school, so easy to sense the shadow of the teacher standing behind me, looking over my shoulder – and I suddenly had a powerful insight. I was 5 or 6 years old and the figure standing behind me was Sister Rose. She is standing behind me because she has taken the pencil from my left hand and placed it firmly in my right. She stands behind me as I form the clumsy, painful letters, the pencil awkward and unwieldy in the wrong hand, the words laboured and forced.
I switched back to my left hand as soon as she was out of sight but it has left me with a lifelong sense of doing things wrong. Natural is wrong.
Why have I carried that sense for so long? Why do we all carry that sense for so long? It’s time to let it go. We are perfect just as we are.
Which brings me to my art class. I have a problem with drawing. When I paint I feel free and playful but put a pencil in my hand and I am stressed beyond measure. I find the exercise difficult and there is an overwhelming sense of not getting things right.
Then I realised.
It’s the pencil.
I draw ellipses, my mind relaxing and I lean back in the chair, the repetitive motion taking away the fear. Claire notices, she wants to help. She looks through her books and finds a line drawing of a horse and gets me to draw it. She turns the drawing upside down for me to copy. The resulting image is at the beginning of this post – so now you realise it was meant to be upside down.
I concentrate, study the lines. I draw quickly, barely taking my pencil from the page. I criticise myself as I draw. I finish, turn it upside down and …voila! a horse. The sheer joy of it.
After that I am relaxed and Claire leaves the studio, goes into the garden and returns , hands me a feather and a twig. She pours ink into a dish and tells me to draw with them.
And once again it is fun. I cannot control the twig, the ink runs out on the feather too soon. I let go and I am free.
I am under no illusion that I am a great artist or even good at it. I go to my class because I have fun and it makes me brave and creative in my writing – and because I can practice with my twig and feather. And mostly because Claire is a great teacher.
Get rid of your pencil or black pen if it doesn’t work for you. Use coloured paper, coloured pens. For heaven’s sake write with a quill if need be. You need to banish the shadow of the teacher looking over your shoulder unless that teacher is benign and encouraging. Let it go.