“Big Catch” 6×6, oil on canvas. Buy Now

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong [wo]man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the [wo]man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”

–Theodore Roosevelt

I created today’s pelican painting to represent me at the end of this 31 days of painting. He is yawning. Wa-hooing. Screaming in frustration. And still hoping a fish will jump right in. Or maybe one already has, and he’s not yet closed his mouth from the catch.

On day 1, I talked about glorious failure– the kind that means you’ve at the very least been in the arena, marred by dust and sweat. If you didn’t read that one yet, could you give it a quick scan before I tell you this next part?

The contest I’d mentioned wanting to win so desperately? Well, the website posted that the winner would be notified by September 30. That date long gone, I wrote about not winning. Last week at the home stretch of these 31 days, my phone rings. I actually did win. And if you read day 1, please don’t worry. The painting they selected was not the one I’d painted over. Whew.

I’m not going to show the winning image until the Louisiana Marathon posts it, but I’ll give you a hint. It includes an open-mouthed pelican much like the one I’ve posted today. And runners. And I may have used myself as a model for one of those runners.

These monthly painting challenges are always my best teachers. This round has been about not making assumptions, trying new strategies, being okay with familiar and “safe” imagery. It’s been, as it always is, about commitment and ritual, trusting that showing up regardless of how little I feel like it will yield, over time, results better than my imaginings. Art must take a physical form. It is nothing if it doesn’t leave my head.

And this month I’ve been literally running strong. I started running in high school. I’ve forever told myself I’m a super slow-and-steady type of runner, and I’ve not once challenged that self-talk. But recently a very special someone has helped me question the limits I put on myself. And yesterday, after a seven mile run where I averaged an 8:50 mile, I thought, well, maybe I’ll just have to give up that slow-and-steady mentality and go for under two hours in the half in January. Maybe my self talk deserves to change. Maybe the way I’ve always envisioned myself has been woefully inadequate.

Because I used to also tell myself quite often that I could never be a real artist. That I’d never be a homeowner. That’d I’d never be a parent. That I’d never be happy in a relationship.

So January is a big month. And it also has 31 days. And the group that took on this October 31 days– we are buzzing about doing it again in January. Our only rules are these: 1. Do it (anything) for as many of 31 days as you can. 2. Be supportive of others’ efforts. We’d love to have you on board. Just holler. And please, for the love of God, don’t let your limiting self-talk convince you not to. If you want in for January, leave your version of “I’m in” in the comments.

A big thank you to my 31ers. And to all of you who have read my blog this month. Your encouragement and support has made this my favorite challenge yet.