“Learn something new every day.” That was heard around our dinner table by anyone who cared to join us for dinner. Some families talked politics, some sports, or world problems. My Dad was a big believer in learning something new every day. Over dinner, he was sure to ask us what we learned. This was not just book learning or school. He was looking for life learning. As a graduate of the school of Hard Knocks, he realized life skills for what they were: Invaluable.
Learning something new often means experimenting and being willing to put yourself out there in a different way. Trying something new does not come easily to any of us. Sure, some of us more than others. But all of us had the knack for trying and failing and trying and succeeding as children. I heard last week that as children we are more willing to try things until about age five, at which time we attend school and are taught about the right way to draw a tree or the true colors of the tree. Before we met a rating system, we learned to walk by trying and failing. And trying and failing. Receiving encouragement, trying again. And then, maybe a step or two before we dropped. Only to get up and try again. No judgment, no ratings. We walked eventually.
As I enter the year, I am going back to learning something new every day, but this time not in answer to my Dad’s questions. He has been gone nine years and I sorely miss his wisdom. I'm not going back to this practice because “conventional” spiritual growth says trying the new is good for personal growth. I am going to learn something new every day because--here it is--It Feels Good! I want to feel good, even when I fail and need to try again.
What inspired this blog post and new attitude? Simple. A freezing cold weekend in Vermont with low motivation for outside activity. I unwrapped an oil paint kit tucked away in the house. I have never used oil paints before in my life. I have painted once in my life. And I could not even tell you how long I have had the kit. This is not about my memory failing me but since I had to dust the kit off, I only know it has been years.
I sat on Saturday, December 30th, and thought about what to paint. The thing on my mind was 2018. I sketched lightly as suggested by the guidebook accompanying my paints – I did not know that most visual artists sketch first. Then, I started painting. Fun colors. Designs that appealed to me. I mixed some paints together and made new colors. “This was fun," I thought with a smile on my face.
As I moved on, covering more and more of the surface, I wanted to do another layer of paint and merge some colors on the small canvas. Every time I tried, something blurry and unlike what I wanted appeared. So I stopped. I did not YouTube my question, I did not Google it. I went back to that guidebook – yes, someone is still reading books. The thin paperback book explained I would have to wait to do my next step until the paint was dry to the touch. I figured an hour or two. However, further research revealed that I was going to have to wait 16-24 hours for the oil paint to dry. Hmm! I wanted to be finished.
Instead, I had to clean up. I knew how to clean brushes but admit to texting a friend on how to clean the artist’s palette. My artwork finished for the day, I had time for reflection. Writing is my typical creative endeavor. Breaking out something new felt freeing and fun. What I did not anticipate is that on December 31st, I still would not be finished with my painting project. After a bit of time with the paints, I realized I needed to add the lightness of yellow to my piece. But again, I had to let the current piece dry. Perhaps I am more patient than I thought. Or, I am learning patience in a creative way.
After the final touches on January 1st, I realized something about myself and my own creative work. I always want to power through my writing and get to the finished product. Something worthy of the reader's attention. So I write, I edit, I review and have someone else read a piece through before I commit to the completed piece. What if instead, I let the “paint dry” on my writing? I did not have to commit to hours and hours each day. Rather, I could work when something comes together in my writing and then let the writing sit for a day or two--knowing I will come back to it with fresh eyes and be ready to put the finishing touches on it.
Yes, I am on to something. I tried something new. A real creative reach for me. And in the process, I learned a new way to approach my first love of writing. The finished art project? You be the judge…