On Tracing Circles and Relentlessly Picking Yourself
I get to know fear at watercolor class.
I have watercolor class this afternoon and I don’t want to go. I’m currently rummaging around for excuses to let myself off the hook. I like to walk to class, but the weather today is miserable. I must attend a webcast that starts just as class ends. I’ll miss the first 15 minutes of the webcast, I think to myself, and it would be beneficial for me to see the whole thing. I think, this class is supposed to be fun so if you don’t want to go, don’t go.’ But mostly I think, you really, really don’t want to be no good at this. And thus, fear extends its hand and asks for a dance.
The teacher walks around the room as we do painting exercises. I know that she does this to make herself available to us and in an effort to learn about our styles and skills and how she might best support us. I genuinely believe this is why she roams and yet it always make me feel under examination, particularly because when she walks around the room at the end of an exercise she will stop near each student and point out something positive about the person’s work. Last week we drew circles from a stencil and then were instructed to experiment with different ways of creating textures with watercolors within each circle. We flung water droplets, dappled paint with sponges, applied salt. As the teacher rounded the corner towards my paper she remarked, “I like how close together your circles are.” I took this to be a compliment on my competence in the kindergarten level skill of tracing circles, a compliment which was of exactly zero relevance to the class. I read deeply into her non-statement about my experimentation with texture. An indictment indeed!
I pretended to have a sense of humor about the exchange, but I fear the absence of a glowing review lodged itself somewhere in my head without my knowing and now I find myself not all that excited about returning to class today. Not that I signed up for this class in an effort to accumulate accolades. Not that I expected to be good. Not that I thought I might discover I was some sort of prodigy. I signed up because I know nothing about watercolor technique and the medium has never felt intuitive to me. I signed up because I want to learn But still, if I’m honest, deep down I wanted to be picked and praised.
The truest thing is that I signed up for this class after years of not painting. Truer still: I signed up for this class after years of not painting but wanting to paint. The desire to paint hit again in mid-April so I googled studio classes at the local art museum. They just so happened to be starting on that very day. I went to the museum and signed up for a class that began a couple of hours later. I ran home and cobbled together a hodgepodge of supplies from previous fits and starts with painting and marched off to class. I didn’t have everything on the supply list, but felt compelled to use what I’d already purchased. I was a little insecure to start, but anchored in the fact that I had picked myself. This is what dancing with fear means: relentlessly picking yourself. And so, I’ll march off to class again this afternoon. Not because I have to, but because I want to practice picking myself -- even when, no especially when, my only effort worthy of external praise is my ability to trace circles.