Hold Your Own


My painting instructor meant well, I’m sure. With an MFA from RISD and years of professional experience, what newbie painter wouldn’t follow her directions? It went against my inclinations to paint the foreground like she wanted me to before finishing the background, so I felt unsure. She insisted that I switch gears, so I did. There are some lovely moments in that landscape, but every time I look at it, I don’t see the image I wanted to convey. I see something else, which I wasn’t connected to then, and remain detached from still. I never signed it.

Am I stubborn and narrow-minded? At times, sure. Friends and family might complain about my steadfast views on certain things, like chocolate and books. Not much flexibility. But I’m an eager student, ready to assume sponge mode whenever I have an opportunity to learn something. I’m especially appreciative when a seasoned writer takes the time to read my work and share some insights.

One of my early readers had some hefty recommendations for a theme in my book. It would be more meaningful, richer, he said, if I changed it to cover the bases he felt I had neglected. He believed his ideas would improve the story, and without them, it was lacking. I’m in sponge mode here. This is my first book. He has done some good writing. I considered his ideas and found myself standing in front of that easel in art class again, tilting my head in discomfort. Should I listen to the (wise?) words of this well-intentioned advisor, or return my head to its upright position on my spine and focus on my own convictions?

From there, looking straight ahead, my view is clear. I’m holding the paintbrush, and it is connected mysteriously to my brain, where the image I want to depict on the canvas is forming. If I accommodate someone else’s conception, my vision retreats to a foggy space where it morphs into something that might please them, but is no longer mine. Finishing it from there is like frosting a crumbling cake.

How can we tell the difference between resistance and our own determined will?  Resistance rises up to hold us back, and keeps us from acting. An inkling to disregard interference in our work, on the other hand, should be examined from another angle. A few thoughtful questions will suffice: how might this turn out? Are my ideas moving forward, or waning into a dimmer version of what I want to see?

If I change my story according to someone else’s idea of how it should go, it’s almost like handing over my paintbrush. Here, make it better. We can both sign our names in the corner when it’s finished. When I look at the landscape from that painting class, I’m grateful for the message I receive from its undermined process: That Didn’t Work. It reminds me to listen with clarity, and a little stubbornness as well, so that my signature belongs there in the end.

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