I drew today, for the first time in a long time. A very long time, actually. Probably my first time since Scotland. I drew my hand. I like drawing hands. They get things done. I’d argue, as a writer, they’re probably two of my most valuable and beloved assets. But that’s not what this post is about.
It’s actually about one of the most important lessons I’ve ever learned – in a drawing class of all places.
Cut to 2014, Ottawa, Canada, and an eager 23-year old Dudys sitting in her new drawing class, excited to make friends and learn how to create pretty pictures. Day one, the art teacher asked her students if they were artists in any way outside of class. Everyone was quick to share with pride: “I sculpt.” “I’m a graphic designer.” “I use deli meats to craft footwear.” Etc, etc.
When it came ‘round to me, I gave a shrug and said calmly: “no, I’m not much of an artist at all.”
“What is it you do for a living?” asked my teacher.
“I’m a writer.”
“Of course, you’re an artist.” She said, expecting me to light up.
That was the first time I had an existential crisis about my career path. Oh, they think I’m a REAL writer. Like J.K. Rowling or some shit. Writing headlines for emails no one reads isn’t REAL writing. Scribbling thoughts into a journal isn’t REAL writing.Blah, blah, blah. I’m positive every copywriter has had this moment at parties when people ask them what they do. But it was a fresh feeling for me at the time.
Later that night, teacher posed another question: “Why are you taking this class?”
Again, everyone shared their answers. Most were similar to mine: “I want to be able to have an idea in my mind and communicate it perfectly in a drawing.”
To which teacher replied: “Young padawan, learn to see first you must.”
Well, she said something along those lines but in a much less Yoda way.
What we see in front of us is not usually how we envision it to be in our minds, even while we’re looking right at it. I make assumptions about my fingers while I’m sketching. My nail is this long or my knuckle protrudes here, when in actuality my nail is shorter or my knuckle protrudes 3 mm lower than I think. It’s easy to draw well if you see what’s actually there. But most of us don’t see things as they are.
In life, we do the same. We hear people’s words differently than they intend them based on our past experiences. We see people doing one thing but perceive them doing another. We make assumptions about the whys of the world without fully knowing. We fill in our own blanks, instead of taking the time to see people and situations for who and what they really are.
I get it. We HAVE to do this in a lot of ways. We’ll never have the whole story. We’ll never know what is really happening, why it’s happening and our part in it. I think the key is leaving our assumptions out of it and learning to just let things be in their own state.
Quarantine is exposing a lot of truths to me, mainly about myself but also just about living. What is social distancing for me? What is it when I look at it clearly? It’s a measure put in place to keep people safe. It’s a change for me and the way I live. It’s a change for my family and friends and the way they live. And I can choose to look at it as such. Or I can fill in blanks:
What is social distancing? It’s terrible. It’s no hugs. It’s no arm pats or drinks with friends or crying in each other’s arms or dancing with strangers or shaking hands or park hangs in the sunshine with a big group of people. It’s loved ones dying before their time, and families facing disastrous outcomes. It wears on me all the time and heightens my anxiety. I’m sallow and my skin is dry and I’m incredibly sad that I might have to postpone my hike in September.
OR, what is social distancing? It’s awesome. I’ve connected with old friends I haven’t spoken to in ages. I’ve connected more with myself than I have since moving back to Toronto. It’s provided a level of collective consciousness we’ve been lacking in the world for far too long. It’s proven that we can fix this planet we’re destroying if we all really make the effort to. It’s helped me to save money, be more fit and feel healthier than I ever have in my whole life.
OR, maybe social distancing is what it is, and the key to making it through this, and everything to come, is staying balanced. Remembering to see the true figure and lines of a situation, and accepting that there will always be blanks to fill in. When you fill in those blanks, try your best to fill them in objectively, and SEE ALL SIDES to the situation. Really SEE that situation.
So, I’m a copywriter. It’s not the same as being a famous novelist, or a politically-charged journalist, or an award-winning poet. But it’s also great that I’ve gotten to help small businesses brand themselves, hone my writing skills with incredible talent around me, and work at a job I’m damned lucky to have. I write every day and grow every minute. And yeah, writing is a form of art.
What’s really there, then? An artist. And two hands that are excited to punch out hours and hours of feelings and send them off into the great abyss that is cyberspace.