I painted this cat several years ago. It sucks. It’s really, really bad. But I had fun painting it, and it served its purpose.
I love to doodle. I draw all the time–faces, little cartoon animals, aliens, even my happy little elephant butt (see below).
I come from a family of artists, some of them professional, most of them wicked talented. For years, I never “did” art because, frankly, I didn’t want to put it against the work of family members who were much better than I was. So I just scribble little cartoons in the margins of my notebooks and have a good time with it.
This week I donated a six-string guitar my father gave me to the local LGBT Community Center. The official reason was that we didn’t have space to bring it with us in the car to Arizona. The underlying reason was that in the two years I’ve had the thing, I never learned to play. I would start, suck, stop, start again, suck some more, and stop. (Sorry, Dad.)
Things have always come pretty easily for me. I did well enough in school. I can carry a tune to the point where singing isn’t painful for those around me. I can write stories and blog posts. Yes, I worked at these things, and yes that effort improved my abilities over time. And yes, I have failed tests and bombed songs and written excruciatingly crappy stories.
In essence, I sucked.
So why do I persevere through the suck on some things while letting it defeat me on other things, like art and playing the guitar? What is it that causes us to continue in some situations while we give up on the others?
I am not sure why it doesn’t bother me that sometimes I suck as a writer. Everybody sucks, now and then. But I keep writing. I know that, to a certain extent, it’s a numbers game. For every sucky story I write, I’ll probably write a good one to balance it out. I think my sucky song ratio is about five to one on the good side, and dude–try to stop me from learning. No, I will never be an archaeologist or an astrophysicist, but that’s not going to stop me from learning about both subjects.
I think what really matters is how much you want to do the things that you suck at. While I enjoy doodling, it’s not important enough for me to work through the sucking part. And it was cool strumming the guitar and actually getting a chord to sound right, but not enough to get calloused fingers and put in the effort.
To truly excel at something, you have to be willing to suck at it–possibly for a good, long time. You have to be willing to get bad grades, reviews, feedback. Hell, you have to accept that you might even be made fun of from time to time.
This sucking is the price you pay for becoming really good at something. Every C-minus, every rejection letter, every painful wince as you struggle to reach that high note is a due you pay to get where you want to go. Every crappy drawing you crumble up (or stick under a fridge magnet as a reminder of your suckitude) will spur you on, if that is where you really want to go.
If you are not willing to fuck it up, and royally, you will never get through to where you truly become a master.
So, let’s fuck it up, ya’ll. Let’s make bad art, and bad music, and tell really really crappy stories. Let’s share them with the world, so everybody understands it’s okay to suck. And when we’ve done that, let’s do it again–only a little better this time. And do it again, a little better, the next time. Until we really have something worth sharing.
I’m going to keep posting, and I’m going to keep drawing, and I’m going to keep singing. I hope you will, too.
Good night, Dear Souls.
Still reading Anna Deveare Smith’s Letters to a Young Artist. I intersperse it between other reading, allowing my subconscious mind to digest and process the information in its own time.
Today, I read an amazing quote from her March 2003 letter entitled “Urgency:”
Don’t even bother coming out onstage–or doing anything in the realm of artistic communication–if you don’t have a sense of urgency. Nothing is cool here.
Smith in the next chapter discusses “The Death of Cool:”
So the death of cool…would do what? It would probably bring more tones, more color, more emotion, more love, more raw spirit, more argument, more energy. More authenticity? More compassion? More laughter? More tears? More open hearts?
Try it. Be uncool. As uncool as you can possibly be….Be hot.
These words were a revelation to me. In my youth, I was as far from cool as I could be. I didn’t eat the right foods, follow the right musicians, wear the right clothes, or lust after the right celebrities (or gender, for that matter). I laughed too loudly, argued too fervently, and imagined too wildly for most of my peers.
I was a geek, a nerd, an oddball, a wierdo, and a spaz.
Somewhere along the line, I learned to conform. I learned to fit in…to a certain degree. Enough to keep a job. Enough to avoid controversy. Enough to get by.
But that conformity came at a price. With conformity, I wrapped up my energies and passions and enthusiams, making them user-friendly and as inoffensive as possible. I buffered the world against my “uncoolness,” which probably made a lot of people much more comfortable around me.
But I died a little, too. That part of me who went wild with enthusiasm over Broadway musicals, worried passionately about the plight of the sea mammals, she kind of took a back seat to the me who could create excellent spreadsheets and write great business correspondence.
But I only died a little, and it seems a ghost of that person still mucks about inside me.
Because when it comes to science, I’m uncool.
When it comes to politics, I’m uncool.
When it comes to music and art and literature, I’m uncool.
When it comes to Doctor Who, I’m totally uncool.
And at the ripe old age of 47, I think I’m coming full circle with my geekiness.
At the risk of being absurd, I believe embracing my lack of cool might be the coolest thing I’ve ever done…
Peace to you–
I am one of the luckiest people in the world. I am friends with some of the most talented people, folks to go forward an create personal and powerful art. Some are writers, some musicians, and some work with visuals. Many of them are talented in multiple areas.
From time to time, I will use this space to highlight the talent of one of my friends. I hope you will take my shameless plug of their work for what it is: a sincere desire to share something wonderful with my readers.
About a million years ago, in high school, I met a wonderful girl named Joycelyn Boudreaux. Joycelyn (or Juice, as she was called) was the kind of kid everybody wanted to hang with because she was just so funny, smart, and pretty.
Little did I that under that classic cut-up lurked a fierce an amazing artist in the making. Today, Joycelyn has her own art studio (Copperhead Studios, Ltd.) in Louisiana, where she does amazing art. Her work is mostly on copper and reflects the passion, imagination, and sense of fun we all love about Joycelyn. I just wanted to share some of my favorite pieces with you. Check out her Facebook page for more.
I hope you enjoy this journey into art. Good night, and dream in color.