One of the ironies of my career change to teaching English and Special Ed is that, while I feel that an English teacher should be writing with every spare minute of time (and feel more confident about writing than any other skill), in the few minutes of each day that I devote to creativity, I end up drawing.
It is what the heart wants, even if the head is saying I should/need to write. Part of me wonders if one of the pitfalls (or blessings depending on how you look at it) of a career that demands so much emotion and thought and writing is that, at the end of the day, there is only room for the emotional release that is drawing or painting.
I recently came across a letter from Vincent van Gogh to his brother Theo. He had just received oil paints from his brother, and, during the year of waiting for the paint, had devoted himself to drawing. In the letter he mentioned how grateful he was for the time to draw, it helped him see the beauty in the paint so much better.
For my part, this last month of drawing has helped me see the beauty in my students and my life even better. It is not writing, but it is still a conversation with life.
I don’t know if the next season of creativity will feature brushes or strokes on the keyboard, but I do know that the main goal is to keep the conversation going, one way or another.
I had already decided to make 2019 the year of finished projects, but I was a little unsure of where to start and how best to prioritize them.
Last night I stumbled onto a new Netflix show, Tidying Up, and, having seen reviews of the host’s books on Amazon, decided to give it a whirl. I knew that the host, Marie Kondo, made her fortune helping people de-clutter. Some of the reviews had panned her strategies as being doctrinaire and extreme, So I hit play with healthy amount of skepticism.
Ten minutes into the show I was hooked. I recognized the people she was helping—parents of children a little younger than ours. they too had started the show as skeptics, but as they begin to think their relationship with their possessions, they begin to see the beauty and the advertised joy of illuminating what doesn’t make your life better.
I listen to the show last night as I struggled to settle on an illustration style for a book I’ve been working on for too long. I played with colored pencils. I played on the iPad drawing tool. And finally I got out what worked for me at the very beginning: a number two pencil and a $10 pan of water colors. It took me an hour to redo the first drawing, and it was the first time I’d been happy with the results for this book. I’m onto the next pages, issuing methods that I “should“ be using in favor of the one that works when I’m illustrating.
Focusing on the method that brings joy worked so well, I may actually have to try it on the house. My days of being able to write about being the world‘s worst housekeeper may be coming to an end.
I’m still plodding along on the illustrations for my first children’s book. The illustrations are black and white with punches of color, a style chosen from several versions of the book by Thing2 (Thing2 has impeccable taste and almost no filter. If he says wear the blue dress, I pick the blue dress). I’m making a few changes from the original sketches, but for the most part, I’m happy with the outcome. I’ve also been a bit worried, leading to an unfinished book and multiple new projects.
I’ve also been trimming and trimming Truth about Trolls to make it the right length, to make sure the story is allegorical and still uplifting. But because the allegory is abuse, it’s a tough subject. There is darkness in the injury, but so much of birth and rebirth — in nature and in our hearts — also happens in the darkness like seeds in soil.
Sometimes I worry that dark themes and color schemes will turn off children who are not mine. I know there are other mostly black-and-white children’s books and some that deal with difficult subject matter, but they are not the norm. It occurs to me, however, that at least a little of each book, like all of my last book, is as much for parents and other adults as it as for children.
And most grownups I know aren’t afraid of the dark.
For some reason I can’t quite remember, I found an hour or two to myself on Christmas Eve of all days. Presents were wrapped, someone else was responsible for Christmas Eve dinner, the table was set, and the Sunday New York Times was sitting on the end table waiting to be read. it turned out, that that Sunday Times contained a little lump of coal in the form of an article about the advent of sensitivity readers at publishing houses. I shouldn’t be surprised that there are 1 million ways to offend potential readers or that publishers might want to keep one or two of those readers, but I was suddenly very grateful for all the classic works of literature that, having survived government censors, had the good sense to be written before sensitivity readers existed.
Then I thought about my own kids’ book (and future book ideas) and all the ways it might possibly offend people.
The pictures are black-and-white and red all over, so some people might get offended by the predominance of red or the fact that the starring role in the book is played by kid with really bad hair. Or some sensitivity reader might worry that I’m insinuating that mom is with bad hair can’t get their kids to clean their rooms.
But as I thought about the ending of my little book about a kid who has his own idea about the definition of a clean room, I realized the people with whom I’m really gonna be in dutch are the millions of moms who are also trying to get their kids to clean their rooms. OK, so maybe I’ll only be in dutch with the moms who still have kids under 12. And I can whittle down that number to the number of moms who read my blog who haven’t figured out the magic formula for getting their kids under the age of 12 to clean their room. So that’s like, five or ten moms at least.
I don’t want to scare you because the book does have a happy ending, if you’re the kid with the messy room, and I do want to go on record that I am not endorsing the non-cleaning of rooms. I do find myself in the controversial situation of being willing to support a flexible definition of the term “clean room“.
This last week, was winter break and, after ordering Thing2 to clean his room two days in a row before he was allowed to invite friends over for “get together’s“ (formerly known as “play-dates” which, out of sensitivity to our resident tween, has been dropped from the approved household lexicon), I realize I’ve been a bit insensitive to him on this sensitive and highly controversial subject.
Thing2, now getting better at making the room look clean (at least to the casual observer), will stuff a few things end of the bed where they were less likely to show and spend the rest of his energy putting away all the shards of paper from his last homemade light saber, organizing his props for his next special effects project, and finding a place for all the disassembled electronics he rescues from the trash.
When he’s done, the room still looks like hazardous waste site, but in all fairness, the madness is the result of a creative but methodical and investigative spirit. What looks like a shambles to me is for him a laboratory of life.
I’m a huge believer in encouraging the creative spark in everyone, especially in my offspring. That laboratory is why he comes to me at the end of the day to show me the special effects space movie he’s just made or the book he’s just “published”. So even though even a domestic anti-goddesses such as myself sometimes has to draw a line between the dirty socks on the floor to establish benchmarks for distinguishing the a laboratory from a trashcan with a bunkbed in it, the laboratory is part of what makes Thing2 grow.
It’s also why, at the end of a book about a little boy who has his own idea about how to clean room, I decided to let that idea win out.
At the beginning of the summer thing one and I traded spaces. He wanted privacy in the attic office/guest room (translation: at least one story between him and T2), I wanted a workspace with a window downstairs, and T2 wanted me close enough closer to him.
So, for the second time this year, I relocated my desk and printer to a new home. The first time I moved them out of a tiny windowless room with a small skylight whose main selling feature was a two walls of books. now I know somethings not right in my head, because it took less than two months before I decided I’d rather be surrounded by the books and paintings then look out the window.
Now I know somethings not right in my head, because it took less than two months before I decided I’d rather be surrounded by the books and paintings then look out the window.
And as John Lennon might’ve said if he had been a nerdy hermit, you might say I’m a bit goofy, but I can’t believe I’m the only one. I hope someday you’ll join me (in your own little cave, of course) and the world will unwind with a few books or even just one.