I was cranky yesterday. Hugely cranky. I’m usually a naturally happy person, but not yesterday. Actually, I haven’t been myself for a week now. It’s been a slow build of general irritability over the past seven days. I’ve known why, but there was no way that I was able to stop it. This happened because I was dreading a party. A party you ask? Yes a party. But this wasn’t just any party. This was a painting party. The kind where you are given a glass of wine, a blank canvas and a set of brushes and told to paint. You do this while other women are sitting all around you laughing, talking amongst themselves and swirling colors together as they paint brilliant beautiful art on their canvases. To most anyone this probably sounds like fun. But not to me.
You see, I suck at painting. When I say suck, I truly mean suck. I suck even when painting stick figures. I love painting walls, and have actually spent the past few days painting the interior of my house. But when it comes to painting pictures, I give a new definition to performance anxiety. I start to tremble while I numbly stare at my blank canvas, my brain freezes when I try to think about where to begin, and then, I become really cranky.
This all comes down to me being a perfectionist. I like to do things well. The first time. I know this is completely illogical. The 10,000-Hour Rule is quoted constantly for a reason. How can I be good when I don’t even practice? Yet why would I practice something I have never enjoyed when I know there is no way on earth I would ever become good at it? Not even if I put in those 10,000 hours.
My girlfriend Ole and I arrived at the party last night to find a bunch of happy women mingling about with their wine and hors d’oeuvres. My crankiness had already gripped me to the point that I had to force a stiff smile when I was being introduced to the women, and then I stood mute amongst them while waiting for the painting to start. I had nothing to say. I DON’T WANT TO BE HERE played in constant rotation in my head, and it took every bit of will power not to tell Ole that I had changed my mind and was going to abandon her and go home.
Instead, when the teacher told us all to take our places in front of our easels, I obediently shuffled over to my stool. With shallow breaths, I put on an apron and sat looking down at my palette of colors, while wondering how in the world I was going to get through the evening.
The first sign that things might not be so bad was when I realized that we were going to be copying a print of a row of houses, and that the teacher was going to initially talk us through each brush stroke. Okay, this wasn’t total free form, perhaps I would be able to do this after all. As I sat painting, and as my Dixie Cup of wine finally started to relax me, I realized the obvious. My problem is that I don’t want to admit that I suck at painting. I take myself too seriously, trying to not suck as I paint, when I clearly do suck. I began thinking that if I could only become one with the fact that I suck, then I could finally relax and just have fun.
At the end of the evening I realized I had an empty space on the far right side of my painting. I had started to come to the conclusion that painting wasn’t as painful as I had thought it would be, which meant I had started to relax, which meant I broke from the script. I free-formed. I painted a tree in that empty space that wasn’t on the print of the painted houses that we were supposed to be copying. I actually mixed colors to create a new green and a new brown, and then, in wicked fast brush strokes, I free-form painted a tree. I actually really like my tree. It’s by far my favorite part of my painting.
To my friend Ole, I apologize for how cranky I was, and I thank you for giving me an experience that I needed to have. I can’t say I’ll eagerly accept an invitation to another painting party, but I can say that I’m glad I went. I’m hanging my really sucky painting in my garage (where no one but me will see it) so that the tree I painted will remind me to relax and take myself a little less seriously. I’m not perfect, my painting is far from perfect, and life certainly isn’t perfect. But that’s okay, because life is a lot more fun that way.