First let me state that as I write this I am having the most batshit insane excuse for a snack: a pile of cacao nibs and a single prune. It's like opening a cigarette and eating what falls out. And a prune.
I'm eating it by leaning over the bowl and sticking the nibs to my tongue anteater-style.
This is all just to set the stage.
I made some things once. Some of them were poems. Some of those poems were very good, at least some Real Actual Poets thought so. I also made some art, and some of that was okay, although my printmaking professor was of the opinion that art that looked like things was not in fact art, no matter the effort that went into making that copper drypoint. Whatever. The important thing is that at one point I made things, a lot of things, just for the pleasure and necessity of making things. Then I stopped making things.
It wasn't that I didn't want to make things; it's that I didn't think the things I made were worth the making. I couldn't take myself seriously. Why, that would be TOTALLY DOUCHEY OF ME.
Why that should be so, I was never able to adequately explain to myself.
I decided to make other things. Little human things. When those things didn't come along, I started writing about that, which is a kind of making things. It was terrifying at first but I had no choice: if I didn't make this thing, and show it all around to other people, I was going to die. Or at least become completely unrecognizable to myself. Which is arguably the same thing. It was hard to be new at it, but I kept going, and for once, a thing I made attracted some positive attention. For which I thank you.
* * * * *
I eventually succeeded in making some little human things. And periodically would be stricken by the urge to make other things, non-living things, but it is difficult to bring something new into being when you are being shat on by your existing creations, or they are howling at you, or waking you up every forty-five minutes. You may buy time in fifteen-minute increments with small cookies but eventually you are going to have to deal with the seven pounds of ground-up cookies that are lodged under your sofa cushions and in your carpet fibers. Because you will be very tired, and you will want to sit down somewhere.
Besides, what was the point? Who would care about the things I might make? They wouldn't be any good. There wouldn't be any reason for them to exist. It was better not to make them. Easier. Where I wanted to be, in the field of making things, was so far away from where I actually was. Frustrating.
* * * * *
That same impulse of unknown origin that drives me to make things one day pushed me into running shoes and down the street at a humiliatingly slow clip. I just had to, and damned if I could tell you why even to this day. It was a new thing for me: running, yes, but starting something. Doing something that I wasn't already sure I could be good at.
I admit it was an unprecedented cliff dive. How silly, what a minor thing, but I had spent my entire life to that point avoiding precisely that sort of thing. It was my first time at being a novice, and not using that as an excuse to quit entirely.
I kept going. Slowly. And then faster, and more, until I was a decent runner, though still a novice, but at least comfortable with my newness -- but I never believed I was a real runner until I ran so much I hurt something and had to stop running. Then had to restructure my whole life around getting back to real running.
But the running. I never thought I could do it -- I said terrible things about myself all the while -- I doubted my ability to progress even as I got faster and stronger. Until suddenly the only way I could hang onto it was to take myself seriously enough to form a plan to get back.
* * * * *
I need to make things. And now, having made two very demanding and increasingly large things who are right now watching Wild Kratts because before I turned the TV on I was rousted from my chair literally every 45 seconds, I am stuck with the fact that the only way to make things is to take myself seriously as a maker of things. There are new challenges, of course. There is no waiting for the muse to strike, and as it turns out you can't sit around wishing you could draw better and magically have those lines organize themselves on the paper. There is only practice, practice, practice, in the hour you steal a minute at a time from everything else that wants you.
It's the pen and paper equivalent of logging road miles, of abrading the rubber off the soles of your shoes one molecule at a time, this draining a Sakura Micron dry of ink. I might tell myself I can't do it at the beginning of each run but my body puts the lie to that every time. It's harder with a pen and paper. For that to work, the editor in my head must die. Or at least take a long and complete sabbatical. For that to work I have to promise myself and mean it, that I will fill this entire sketchbook with garbage and not argue each line out of existence before it even hits the page. Let the body do the work behind the back of the mind. It means a pared-down practice of art, black and white, three pencils, two pens, one Mars plastic eraser. And a vow to use that eraser only to refine, and never to second-guess.
This is terrifying. And exhilarating. It took me thirty-five years to take myself seriously enough to buy a pen without being told which pen to buy.
Sean has been telling me for twelve years that he likes the things I make. That he thinks they're interesting. Worth looking at. And that that is reason enough to make them. I finally heard him yesterday. Was ready to hear him.
So here's to a sketchbook inked to the edges with crap.