Just at the moment, the walls of my crisis viper pit started closing in. Just when I had resigned myself to a life of wallowing in mucky bad choices I’ve made, a little crack of light appears.
I enrolled in a watercolor class.
It occurred to me that the only difference between a wealthy, successful person and me is that she would probably take this gift of free time to take a watercolor class instead of binge watching Frankie and Grace (which I’d already finished).
There’s a certain freedom in taking these classes in my mid 40’s. I no longer feel pressure to make a career of it. In my 20’s, if I invested in a yoga program, it was to pay my way to travel the world, by offering yoga retreats to wealthy unemployed women. If I took a cooking class, it had to be the first step to opening a restaurant. Now all I want is to get out of the house.
“Wow,” says Alice when I tell her why I can’t meet for our Wednesday coffee date. “You’re so brave.”
Alice says this only because she doesn’t follow the news and also because she knows I have zero artistic talent.
Is it a Canadian thing not to try anything we aren’t already good at?
It used to be my thing until I just impulsively signed up.
In the first class, I’m totally blown away by how loud and limiting my creative process is.
As soon as I walk in the room, I can tell everyone is better and more experienced at painting than me. For starters, it’s obvious no one else had purchased their paint set from the dollar store. My stomach squeezes a little.
The voice in my head says, “You’re going to suck.”
My asshole voice is super pleased when people pull out their paintings – most of which are already half finished and awesome.
Then I remember seeing an ad at Whole Foods for a painting class called, “Anyone Can Be A Great Artist If They’ve Had Enough To Drink.”
At the very top of the supplies list was:
One bottle of wine – or 1 pre-rolled joint – whatever works for you. Wine quiets that asshole voice, the editor that bungs up any creativity that wants to come out. Every time someone stops painting to criticize their work, the teacher pours them a glass of wine or offers a lighter and tells them to keep going.
I remember thinking I should sign up, but I wasn’t ready to dedicate my life to becoming a professional artist.
I start to sketch out what I want to paint. I’ve got a thing for abstract designs of nature. Like Emily Carr, because any moron should be able to paint like that on her first try. I look around the room and notice most of the excellent artists use a picture or photograph as a guide. But since this is my first time, I decide to enter at pro level and freestyle.
When I write, I also start off by comparing myself to Margaret Atwood or David Sedaris and immediately start freaking out because my writing totally sucks compared to theirs and now I’m going to die a miserable failure. And then, if I can pick myself up from that, I attempt a project that will cause me the maximum amount of stress possible – like deciding to write, act in and produce an hour-long one-woman show.
And when I can’t manage that, I toss myself back in the viper pit and wallow.
Sitting in this painting studio, brush in hand, I can see this whole pattern laid out in front of me.
This is why I’m here – to break free from that shitty cycle – without the aid of medication (although, don’t think I wasn’t tempted to smoke a joint right then and there.)
I tune out everyone around me. Stop looking across the table at the woman feigning humility as she adds finishing touches to her beautifully executed “Still Life in a Zen Garden.”
Instead, I just let myself breathe. Feel the bench beneath me. My feet on the floor. Then I pick up a brush and begin, first with the light colors, then carefully layering the darker details.
Every time, I tell myself that it’s not going well. Every time I make a mistake, I tell that asshole voice, “It’s just an experiment. I just want to see what happens – so fuck off.”
Then, I hear a voice that isn’t my regular asshole voice say, “Whatever wants to happen will happen.” Because no one can totally control the paint. It goes where it wants to – especially if you add too much water. But you just have to go with it. Watercolor paint demands that you follow and make the best of it.
Whatever wants to happen will happen. That’s the great take away. That’s the new metaphor I’ve been searching for. The one that erases my compulsion to foresee the next five steps before I even take one. The one that makes sure I don’t try anything unless success is assured. The one that equates success with perfection and so keeps me safe in bed, popping Ativan, like Melania Trump (probably).
Anyhow, none of that prevents my painting from seriously sucking. Even now when I look at it, I have no idea what I was trying to do. But I don’t even care. And I’m still going to go back next week.