#28 It's Not Much, But It's the Best I Can Do
There was a “green room” in the theater at the San Francisco Fringe Festival. It was open to anyone who wanted to hang out there, but it was really a place for the artists, volunteers and staff to kick back, grab a snack, and shoot the shit. I flitted in and out, mostly to get water. And every time, I’d glance over at the Art Table.
It was colorful and shiny and messy — overflowing with watercolors, markers, glue, scissors. Once there was a woman sitting there, making some sort of collage with feathers and glitter. As I passed her I said, “Oh, I wish I could do that!” She looked puzzled and said, “You CAN.”
But, I was rushing to get to a show and besides, I don’t do "art." I mean, sure, I’ve done a vision board here and there —who hasn’t? But, visual art — drawing, sculpting, collage — it’s not really my thing.
On the last day of the festival, I decided at the last minute to see another Fringe show, Hi. (Jean-Luc Godard). The show description said "an aesthetic investigation, where symposium meets jam session, and the audience contributes vital material.”
Symposium meets jam session? Audience participation?
Also, there was a clown involved.
I was skeptical, but that’s what Fringe is all about: experimental theater and clowns. (Also, SO. MANY. MAGIC. SHOWS.)
Hi. (Jean-Luc Godard) was in a very intimate space and the performer, Clown Rodeo Debbie, was already on the stage, silently greeting each audience member with a wide-eyed glance and a nervous nod.
Rodeo Debbie (RD) sort of looks like what I imagine a French clown might be. A bright yellow dress, a red knit cap, and a simple red clown nose. No creepy makeup, no wig, no oversized shoes.
(Credit: @theexittheatre) Schlumpy chic!
Rodeo Debbie (RD) began the audience interaction immediately by asking if anyone would be willing to come up on stage and be interviewed.
Obviously, I volunteered.
RD’s demeanor was sweet and curious and she’d punctuate her thoughts with tiny exclamations of wonder and puzzlement: Wow! Gosh! Oh, no.
RD started by asking me what kind of art I did as a child. I liked to draw and color. Didn’t every kid do that?
What kinds of things did you like to draw? Dogs? Gosh! That’s so interesting. Are these dogs you knew?
We’d had a lot of dogs in our family over the years. Our household could be chaotic, and I can only imagine adding a dog to the mix was not exactly gilding the lily. More like overloading the lily with one more fucking thing.
Usually, we’d have a dog for a little while, then it would run away to “go live on a farm.”
A farm? Gosh, that sounds nice. To live on a farm. Maybe the dogs liked to live on the farm. But that must have made you very sad.
It was sad. Here today, gone tomorrow. I always wanted to visit the farms.
(credit: Netflix) All my best video work is ripped from the TV.
And maybe you drew the dogs, you know, because you were sad? And maybe that made you feel a little better?
Yeah, probably. (Also, hang on a minute, am I feeling a little emotional?)
Maybe you were…. healing?
Uh oh- definitely emotional. Rodeo Debbie might make me cry in front of this audience.
And do you still draw?
Well, no. Not at all. I guess I realized I wasn’t good at it.
And, is that important? Being good at it?
Yeah. Of course. Right?
I don’t know. Hmmm. Maybe you could draw again. Just in case any one else goes to live on a farm.
I sat down after that and the rest of the show was a conversation between RD and the audience about art. The value of it. What’s good, what’s bad, and who gets to decide?
At the end, RD gave each of us a card and a pencil with space to create something. I wrote down a few things RD had said then thought, fuck it, and drew a little picture of a dog.
My handwriting is shocking. It says: “I don’t know if the sun needs the sculpture. Maybe it does. Oh my gosh. Art.” and “Is being good at it important? Maybe you could draw again- in case anyone else foes to live on a farm. Healing.” and “dog.”
Today I was doing Morning Pages for the first time in what seems like months. (Probably because it’s been months.) I was whining about my current state of malaise (jet leg, lack of motivation, bloating) when I glanced up to look at one of my favorite view from my apartment. A clutch of red brick buildings surrounded by trees up against a pale blue sky. I often find myself looking at these buildings, wondering what they were used for and what they are now. Somehow I haven’t gotten around to googling it or even walking over there to snoop around.
Built in 1863, Romanesque Revival style. Thank you , Google.
I flipped my notebook to a fresh page, and started drawing what I saw. I read somewhere that one drawing trick is to just draw the outline while staring at your subject and not at the paper so that’s what I did.
I spent a few minutes just slowly moving the pen around (no pencil for me! Confidence!). When I looked down, I thought, well. it’s not good.
But it looks like a bunch of buildings so that’s a start.
I noodled around a little, trying to add details. The more I looked at the buildings, the more things I saw: shadows, pipes, other structural details.
I added a few things — windows, the line of the roof — but they looked wrong. Too big, Too straight. Too crooked. The trees really threw me. I mean, they’re IN FRONT OF the building! How the hell do you draw that? What if I screw it up? It will ruin the whole thing.
Maybe I should google HOW TO DRAW A TREE IN FRONT OF BUILDING SO IT LOOKS LIKE AN ADULT DID IT NOT A 5-YEAR OLD.
Maybe I just won’t draw the trees.
Then I remembered. It's MY drawing. My pen, my paper, my effort, my practice.
Sitting on my deck, in the September sun, drawing felt a little like getting away with something. Like pinching a piece of candy from the bulk bins at Wegman’s. (Not that I would know what THAT feels like.)
Because drawing is a kind of artistic practice that I always thought wasn’t for me. I didn’t think I was allowed to do it because I wasn’t good at it. And there are people who are good at drawing. Or acting. Or writing. Or comedy. Or singing. Or playing music. Or writing music. And there are some people who are good at all those things. Or none of those things. And that’s just how it is.
Except that’s not how it is. It doesn’t have to be that way at all. And here’s the proof:
I drew the damn trees.
Have you ever done something (art or otherwise) that you’re “not good at” just for the sake of doing it? Let me know in the comments or on FB/IG. Also, please enjoy this short conversation featuring my friend, the late Rayya Elias, on the pure joy of making stuff.