I made that bird up there, and I’m pretty darn pleased with him. Not too shabby. And if this were a different blog, I could just post that picture and call it a day. Ta daaaaaaaaa. But for the purposes of this post, I’m going to dig a little deeper.
I’m going to show you something else, and you have to promise not to laugh. Promise?
Ok. Here it is:
You said you wouldn’t laugh! Heeeeeyyy! Knock it off!
Are you done yet?
Are you sure?
I heard that. Enough already!
Yes, that’s how this bird started. Sure, he’s homely, but he has a place in my heart. And this guy too:
These bad birds taught me more I’d ever have learned if I stuck to things I’m “good at”.
I used to draw very seriously, but that was a long time ago, back when I was itty bitty. I drew the way most kids do, unselfconsciously at first, then graduating to a five-year-old’s megalomaniac conviction of her remarkable talent. By the time I started calibrating my sense of quality to the real world, my doodles stopped looking so good to me. I did the math in high school and calculated that my natural artistic talent peaked in fifth grade, when I could still get my classmates to pay a quarter for a horse picture.
So I quit drawing. I quit a lot of things because I wasn’t “good at them,” and my days lost some sparkle. As a 15-year-old, my list of “natural talents” was pretty short: one item. I was good at school. Life of the party.
I’m relieved to tell you that a falling meteor conked me in the head a few years ago, and my life has been completely different since the resulting personality change… Just kidding. But I did eventually grow out of my deterministic understanding of what we bring with us into the world, and into the possibility of all the wonderful things we might end up carrying out with us in the end.
I can’t quite explain what a relief it was to me to discover that, no matter where you start with a new exercise or discipline or art, there’s no limit to how much you can improve at it. I earned a genius award with that one, I think (duh, Erin). One night, I got itchy to make something like I used to long ago, so I painted some bad birds for fun. Most turned out much worse than the ones I posted above, but we’re flirting with the limits of my vanity already, so I can’t show them here. I didn’t care if they were any good. Maybe I liked them more the less flight-worthy they turned out, because I learned so much from the glitches. Each bird, no matter how poorly cobbled together, taught me something new and interesting, stamped another detail in my memory, hinted at possible new ways of looking and knowing. The beauty of the bad birds is that I didn’t waste any of the time I spent with them.
I never learned anything from doing things I thought I was naturally good at. That’s always been a pretty short list. But I’ve learned a hell of a lot by trying, and practicing, things I’m “bad” at, and there’s no end of possibilities on that list. Isn’t it wonderful?