I want to tell you a story. It’s about ugly.
Once upon a long, long time ago, I had an idea. I was lying in bed in my attic bedroom in the old farmhouse we lived in when I was a kid. I was probably about eleven. My feet were down by the window, and my head was under the slanted eaves, the roof only an inch or two above my nose. I stared up in delight. I’d woken up early with this idea and my brain had started whirring (I still do this, quite often).
I was an artist.
It was suddenly clear to me. I’d never been one before, but that morning, at eleven years old, I knew I was an artist. I could feel the urge in my fingertips, the tingle in the palms of my hands. My whole body wanted to draw, and the image of what I’d draw first was perfectly encased in my mind’s eye.
It was a dachshund. (Come to think of it, it was a low, fluffy, wide dachshund who looked a lot like Harriet.)
In my mind, still lying in bed, I could see the outline of this dachshund so clearly. I was astonished. I’d never thought too much about being an artist outside coloring books and FashionPlates, but it was immensely exciting to know that I'd acquired overnight the talent required to be good.
I imagined it, over and over again, so that when I got up and found my colored pencils, I’d have it right. Yes, I could see it, there was the curve on the nose, there was the soft underbelly. There was the flag of a jaunty tail.
I couldn’t wait to draw it. Everyone would be impressed. I would draw dogs for my sisters upon request, and after a while, I would branch out. Cats, horses, crickets. Beach scenes! I could probably sell them to someone!
Unable to keep my excitement or my artistic bent under the sheets a minute longer, I got up, went to my desk, and pulled out the old ledger book I kept notes in (I’d found dozens of them in the attic when we’d moved in, huge red business ledgers. I longed to fill their cunning boxes with numbers, and sometimes I did unnecessary math, just to make the pages pretty).
I sharpened my pencil.
I drew the first line.
It was wrong.
The very first LINE was wrong.
I took a deep breath. I erased it and did it again.
I drew that dog, and friends, it looked like a portobello mushroom. The dog’s face looked like a droopy question mark.
It was awful.
It was worse than awful, it was UGLY.
I was a terrible artist. I could see the truth, and anyone who looked at it would see the same thing.
I gave up drawing for the next thirty or so years. Then I suddenly said, I’d like to draw something! I painted Clementine tangled in the jasmine vines, as she is wont to do. (Funny, that I drew a dog, after all that.)
And you know what? I wasn’t attached to the outcome that day. I just wanted to draw for the feeling of it, for the colors. When I forgot to worry if it would be good or bad, it kind of came out awesome. And I know this: some might call that painting ugly.
Many might, in fact. But I love it.
The painting bug hasn't stuck, and I haven't done much since. But I feel the echo of that moment in my writing, when I slap ugly words on the page and smile at them. I'll make them pretty, or I'll throw them out, no worries. Their ugly doesn't scare me. In fact, the ugly does the opposite. It makes me happy, proving I really am an artist. (This doesn't take away the fear. The fear never goes away. That's fine, too.)
My friend Kim wrote a whole book about embracing the ugly. No, not not-minding-ugly. That’s different. One day, while overwhelmed with doubts, she embraced ugly in a big way. And it changed her life.
Her book about this? It’s nutballs awesome. People, I underlined. I did exercises. I folded corners down. The book is chock full of her no-nonsense voice and her super inspiring
approach to creativity.
If you are creative, you need this book.
If you want to be creative? You needed this yesterday. I seriously love it. I would read a page or two and then launch myself off my couch to Do Something Awesome.
Her publisher is giving one away to one lucky commenter (tell me about something you made, pretty, ugly, or in between) and I’m giving another copy away to someone randomly drawn from my mailing list. (Blog comment winner will be drawn on Sunday the 12th.)
**ETA – I forgot! I'm mentioned in the book! Kim interviewed ME! I forgot when I was reading, too, and she started talking about a writer, and I sat up when I saw my name!
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