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Touching the Creative Snake

Like most creative people, I get distracted by shiny objects and get impulsive when an exciting creative opportunity is waived in front of me like a red flag to a bull. Last week, on impulse, I signed up for a series of workshops to help me grow 4 inches and look better in heels. Well, not really, but I really don’t want to say what I signed up for because it sounds so corny. And it’s not the point.

The point is, I signed up for the workshops and waded through the list of titles until I found something that looked interesting. The title to said workshop sounded a bit suggestive like 101 Ways to Re-Kindle Your Relationship with Mr. Buzzy, but the description (nothing to do with said battery operated boyfriend) sounded interesting so I clicked on JOIN.

The great thing about these workshops is they start with a nice little video to introduce you to the topic and tell you what you can expect. The video I watched was well-produced (I notice these things) and quirky and I found myself engrossed. That was until the instructor began listing the supplies needed for the class. The first thing she told us we would need is two pieces of poster board, two paintbrushes and paint. Hearing I would need paintbrushes and paint, my brain shut down and I stopped listening.

Why? Because I am not an artist. Stop laughing. Let me explain.

I was probably the only person on the planet who actually hated art class in Junior High. Despite my teacher’s best attempts, I couldn’t draw or paint or make anything that looked like what it the assignment required. I hated making art in grade school and usually never completed my assignments for fear of having my ugly drawing of a deformed snowman or punk rock leprechaun placed on the wall for all to see. When I was in 5th grade, I painted an ugly picture of a clown during a field trip. Like most art projects I made, it did not look like the other beautiful clowns in the class. I had a very sad clown. I was so embarrassed by it I tried to hide it when I came home from school but somehow my step-dad found it and thought it was beautiful. He had it framed and my parents still have it hanging up in their home. My step-dad has a degree in art and architecture and knows a good painting when he sees one. I never understood what he saw in my sad, sad clown.

Going back to the workshop that started this rant, when I clicked on “leave this group” I could see my mom’s face in my mind’s eye giving me The Look. It was the look of, “You didn’t even try. You just gave up. Stop being such a stick-in-the-mud.” But Moooom!! I’m not being a stick in the mud. I can’t DRAW. The look didn’t go away so I ignored her. She’s in Canada right now and can’t do anything about it.

I found another workshop that fit into my comfort zone but my initial response to the poster board and paint really stuck with me. Why did I react like this? Why can’t I just get past it? No one was going to see my drawings. There were no sad clowns to be painted.

My answer actually came from a talk I happened to catch on Ted.com. In this talk, entrepreneur and designer David Kelley spoke about how to rebuild your creative confidence after someone tells you the beautiful drawing of a horse you made is really ugly or that you can’t dance or sing even though you are having a good time.

We’ve all had it done to us. I certainly did. When it happens we just shut down and refuse to move past it. Kind of like me when I’m asked to draw or paint. Or dance in public. David’s resolution to this problem was to use a technique designed by psychologist Albert Bandura to overcome fears and build confidence. Bandura recommended turning that what which you fear most into something more familiar. Afraid of snakes? Don’t go into the room full of snakes, rather go into a room adjacent to the snakes and watch them. Get familiar with them, turn it into an adventure rather than something that frightens you so you can eventually touch the snake and get past your fears.

This theory was further emphasized to me when Ray Bradbury had to go ahead and die. I was listening to an interview with him on Fresh Air (while trying not to cry on the bus) and he was talking about how he got teased for collecting Buck Rogers comic strips when he was a kid. He said a part of him died when they teased him but he decided these people just were not worth his sadness. He told Teri Gross, “I had allowed these fools to kill me and kill the future. From that time on I decided I would never listen to another damn fool in my life and started collecting comics again. I have learned that by doing things, things get done.”

Bless you, Ray. You are so right. I think I might just have buy that damn poster board and paintbrush and figure out how to approach making another ugly clown painting and yes, touch the snake.

About Anna Alexander

I am a freelance writer and producer living in the Pacific Northwest. My husband and I live with our cat Grendel who lets us pay his mortgage.

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