Day 31. You do not have to be good.

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“Another Beginning” 12×12, oil on canvas 

This morning’s weather is a bit sad. The rain isn’t pounding, not threatening. Just a little grating, making soft piles of red mud in the backyard as I watch through the window.

This is the thought I keep having: how is it that after 31 days, that after seven years, I am no closer to knowing? 

Knowing what? I asked myself the very same thing. And that I don’t know either.

This is the hope: painting is not about knowing or achieving something eventually, even though I think of it that way often. There is no finish line, no trophy, no box to check. But maybe, hopefully, painting is the thing that soothes the uncertainty– that makes all the not knowing just a little bit more manageable. I think I do this 31 in 31 every year partly because it asks me to “just be.” Asks me to paint like it’s as natural to my day as eating or sleeping, brushing my teeth, or sipping coffee. Asks me to make painting an essential thing and in being essential, less profound. But more important. 

Often, I think of Mary Oliver’s poem that starts: “You do not have to be good.” and I thought about it again this morning when I was listening to the rain, looking at the stack of paintings I made this month but didn’t post, the paintings that in some way or another fell short. Which, I realize, is all of them. I do not mean that to be self deprecating. There would be no art in the world at all if falling short were not allowed. You do not have to be good, Oliver says. You do not have to walk on your knees for a hundred miles through the desert. You just have to be. 

You still belong.

You do not have to be good. The whole poem suggests you are good. You don’t have to be. You can’t help but be.

“Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,

the world offers itself to your imagination,

calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting —

over and over announcing your place

in the family of things.”

To make something in the world is to be a part of it. 

I’m a little sad this morning. Maybe that it’s “over”; maybe that I didn’t make the grand epiphanic painting I always think is lingering out there somewhere, a stroke or two away. 

But even through these quiet raindrops, which, turns out, are the perfect setting for my morning, I’m celebrating this month, these small paintings, the people who took this journey with me, and day in and day out, inspired me more than they could possibly know. It has been a pleasure taking up space with you– announcing our place in “the family of things.” 

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Picture of Denise Hopkins

Denise Hopkins

January 31, 2021

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