Side Quest, Week 1 Recap: Art Challenge (an epiphany in pencils)

Last week I made a little creative side-quest to go along with my “Rescue the Muse” challenge. It was really pretty simple: draw something every single day. It didn’t matter what the subject matter was, what items were used, how technical the piece was or even how “pretty” it came out. The whole purpose was to get out of my own head and start playing again in a medium that I don’t find myself particularly skilled in. All of this was done in an effort to overcome my fixation with perfection. I have a bad habit of dropping ideas when I don’t think I can live up to my personal standard- so bad drawings sounded like a pretty fun way to toy with my inner critic. (We will be dealing with these inner monsters a little bit more this week as we continue on our Muse-Saving Quest).

Now, I anticipated that I would have some fun with this challenge, and I knew going into it that my artistic abilities wouldn’t suddenly be morphing into anything grand or amazing. Don’t believe me? Look at Exhibit A: (virtually slaps sheet of paper onto the screen)

Hehe- I added the photo of Link to give you an idea of what I was attemtping to draw in the middle of the sketch on the left. Lucky for me, Link is an unconditional-love kind of dog, and not much of an art critic. He was just tickled to be included.

While I was anticipating that this challenge would be solely about learning to draw and playing around with circles and lines- I wasn’t prepared for the epiphanies that came with the meandering lines and overworked erasers. I’m not sharing the above sketch with you to show you the kinds of “skills” I’m working with- I’m sharing it because it is the perfect example of what art morphed into. You see, I started this random assortment of drawings by playing with things that I enjoy: my dog, Star Wars (which turned into a very sad baby yoda), the mountains, chairs (apparently I’m a big fan of sitting- honestly, I don’t really know why that one is there). As I was drawing I could feel my insecurities building, I could hear that little voice start to whisper that I wasn’t any good and should just quit. Instead of listening to it, I started drawing a little anxiety monster in the upper right-hand corner (based off of the Mental Illness Monsters created by Toby Allen- look them up, he is phenomenal).

As I finished drawing my little monster I decided to scrawl out the words bouncing around in my brain- don’t worry, it’s written by a lefty in cursive, so I don’t expect anyone to be able to read it. But it says “What does it say about me when I am far better at creating monsters than the things I love?” And below baby yoda, I wiggled out my own reply after a moment’s hesitation, “My sweet, who ever said you shouldn’t love the monsters too?” It was a strange, yet peaceful moment to acknowledge my internal monsters without trying to shove them back into the dark. It was powerful in a way I didn’t expect. I ventured away from the usual cartoons I like to draw, and wound up uncovering an inner-truth I’ve been struggling with.

And here is the real epiphany I never expected when starting on this little journey: art in any form is emotional. That’s what makes it so damn beautiful. It captures truths we didn’t know were inside of us- and even if you can’t ‘read’ it in the artwork, the artist can feel it. As a writer, I have always experienced this moment with words: my words are my lifeblood, they are my link to the world, and they tether me to the things that are important. I am accustomed to the emotions that roil below the surface when I am writing. I never expected to feel that same energy channeled into my random little sketches. Which leads me to believe that it is the act of creation itself that makes us more connected to who we are in this vast world; and not just the particular form we thought we were good at. Art and emotions are intrinsically tied together; you cannot have one without the other.

So I got brave with my pieces after that. I decided to tap into this well that I’ve struggled with. I decided to embrace the emotions that were coursing through me, and allow them to lead me to my next piece. I was able to channel these emotions that I haven’t even been able to adequately write about- instead, they came out in sweeping lines of colored pencil. And while the picture itself isn’t anything grand or spectacular: it has turned into something pivotal for me, a piece of my soul that has been liberated and can now float freely into the world.

The backstory here is pretty important to the outcome. As I have shared before on this blog, at the beginning of 2019 I experienced my first pregnancy loss while in my second trimester. What most people don’t know is that seven months later I lost my second at eight weeks. 2019 was a year of painful transformation for me; I not only had to deal with the pain of the losses themselves, but also the loss of security in a dream I always carried. I was left unmoored in the world, unsure of what a future would look like for me. It’s been a struggle- there’s no nice way to get around that. And I have found it exceedingly difficult because this was the first time in my life that my words failed me. I couldn’t adequately portray the roiling ocean I had tearing me up inside. I didn’t have the words. And that was terrifying in so many ways because my words are all I ever really depended on. Without my voice, I lose who I am as a person. I’ve had these images and feelings buried inside all of this time without the relief of releasing them into the world.

So I started tapping into that well, and I let those silly colored pencils dance across the sheet. And when I was done I found myself staring at the picture I haven’t been able to speak into existence. It is a sketch of a promise lost: two sweet little boys (I always picture them as two little boys) running around the grass together, counting stars, and existing in this beautiful place with one another- a place that I can’t go to yet. And in my head, I see them sitting together, staring at the same moon I look at from my bedroom window as I ask the question I ask them every single night, “Can you feel me when I think of you?”

It was powerful and therapeutic, and so damn good for my soul to see the picture I’ve carried inside all this time. Even in its childlike imperfection: it speaks the truth I couldn’t verbalize, the one that was too large to be ensnared in syllables. But here it was, on a piece of paper that I could hold and touch. It existed somewhere outside of me for the first time in nearly a year.

It reminded me of the importance of this work; these creative endeavors that we take on. Sometimes the tools you have in your kit aren’t adequate for the job that you need done. Sometimes you need to step outside your comfort zone and try something you aren’t very good at- because it will help you grow in so many more ways than you anticipated. Sometimes you need to put down your words in order to speak your truth.

Reading Dangerously

Books have the ability to shape minds and sculpt opinions, they are as diverse as the people we share this beautiful world with. They can change us if we are willing to step out of our comfort zone and challenge ourselves and our beliefs. What we choose to read will show in who we become as people, and, as creators, it will become apparent in what we bring into this world. Whatever your chosen medium is, you have the power to make an impact with it, to become timeless and honest. I want to write books that change people, I want to pen articles that make others question what they thought, or provide them with a glimmer of hope that they are not alone, that they have an ally in a world that has too few. I want to write Dangerously, and to do that, I must read the same way.

When I was in high school we had weekly opinion pieces to write and then group debates on a myriad of subjects we originally knew nothing about, and a few key topics our teachers were brave enough to let us choose ourselves. One of their favorite things to do: make us argue a side we deeply opposed. Why? Because it forces you to learn, it compels you to challenge your own views and opinions and, in effect, discover a sense of compassion for those you disagree with.

It is no secret that we live in an interesting time; though not as unique as we may imagine it to be. We have hot button issues that compel passions within individuals that are unrivaled. Passion is a double-edged sword, and in a world of misinformation, skewed propaganda, and sensationalization: passion can be a unforgiving and dangerous blade. It seems that searching for information and challenging our own thoughts has become too difficult a task. It is far too easy to get swept away in the sea of words we have billowing out around us.

At the end of 2016 I started working through some of the books I’ve left idling on my shelf, books that ignited a curiosity and passion inside of me, some of them made me question my current belief system, and others managed to reinforce my opinions with information that I did not previously possess. They gave me a fire, and a deeper understanding of the world around me. And they reminded me of how complicated and colorful our world really is. 

I believe in tolerance and compassion, but there are many cultures and social issues I still only had limited knowledge of. I felt unable to voice my opinion in fear that I was missing something. At the same time, I feel we all have a social obligation to help one another and defend each other from unwarranted hate and preconceived notions.

It was my desire to challenge and educate myself that led to a very specific goal this year, one that I suspect will continue far longer than these 12 coming months. The challenge: to read dangerously, to confront my own views and biases and force them to make a case, to expand my knowledge and, with that, my understanding of this complicated world that we live in. It is a year to remember those long-forgotten facets of our history and find the correlation with our current troubles. It is a chance to propel ourselves to be better people.

I was originally thinking about monthly themes, and while I may eventually transition that way, right now I am simply enjoying the extensive and random selection of books I own but have been sitting unread. I have books covering all subjects: history, religion, race issues, sexuality, the sciences, biographies of strong women, athletes, and world leaders, philosophy, classics and modern tales that shape us in unseen ways. I have books that I suspect will support my current beliefs, and ones that I have a strong inclination will test them. 

Now, I have hopes that this will be somewhat interactive, though I think it will evolve a bit as we go. I have just finished Voyage of the Damned, a phenomenal book I will be doing a follow-up post on in the coming week (spoiler: I highly recommend it). If you would like to see the 2016 books that inspired this, feel free to peek here: Tipsy Typer’s Top Ten Year-End Literary Lovelies

My current selections include an overview of world history in the form of The New Penguin History of the World because, well, I am a bit rusty and I’ve tried to read this lengthy tome many times- darn it, I will do it this time! Also, I am finally reading The Quran; I’ve always had an interest in religious studies and have read the texts of other religions, but have never made it to this one. Thus far it has been very eye-opening in terms of some of its similarities to a few other predominant religions. I think a big part of understanding and having compassion stems with educating yourself on what is important and fundamental to other people. Religion is a driving force for many, and learning to respect that and understand the similarities as well as the differences will go a long way on our road to acceptance and appreciation. I also just started a promising new read that follows my underlying theme: Threading My Prayer Rug

But I want to ask you all: what suggestions do you have for me? What books have changed you, expanded your views or made you ask questions? The genre, the subject matter, geared towards children or adults- there are no boundaries, any book that made you feel something, learn something, or challenged you in some way; I’d love to hear about it and add it to my list. And if you care to immerse yourself in your own Reading Dangerously challenge, feel free to comment; I think sharing this experiment with others would only help us all grow.

Cheers, my friends, may we forever find the strength within ourselves to keep growing and changing.