Present Over Perfect

I’m still in the hustle. You’d think frantic breakfasts and repeated “please-put-your-shoes-on” would phase out a bit as summer settles in. When you work from home, summer inevitably brings it’s own hustle.

A much needed break arrived last week– I had the joy of attending a truly heartfelt wedding in the Dominican Republic. As fate and fortune would have it, a friend mailed me a book that arrived the day before I left. I’ve grown accustomed to my kindle and light packing so the actual hardcover book in my carry on was itself a step outside my comfort zone.

Present Over Perfect: Leaving Behind Frantic for a Simpler, More Soulful Way of Living by Shauna Niequist is a call to connect rather than just perform and achieve. Niequist used one particularly poignant metaphor. I’m summarizing here, but it’s something like driving at 100 miles an hour and stopping at gas stations, running to the slushy machine and opening her mouth to let in the rich, red, corn syrupy goo before jumping back into the speeding car. She wants one single, ripe strawberry, but her life is pure hustle and goo.

I paint like that sometimes. Punching the clock. Throwing the paint around. Hoping it lands so I can move on to the the next one. I’ve got my entire inventory up right now at EAT New Orleans, a lovely French Quarter restaurant, and I have a big show coming up in late July. I don’t want to have to take down the paintings at EAT (which stay up until August) so I’m trying to create an entirely new set of inventory in about a month’s time. Oh, and it’s summer. I’ve not lined up any camps for my almost five year old and the daily painting of four or five hours I enjoy while he’s at school has been shredded to about one, if I’m lucky.

I just reread that last paragraph and hear it. The “see, look how busy I am” need for you to approve of my hustle.

But I’m trying to change things up. Since reading the book, I’m trying to actually sit down to eat rather than running through the house picking up toys with a mouthful of eggs in my mouth and a cup of coffee gone cold; I’m trying not to use my phone when I’m talking with my son. And I’m trying to connect with my paintings not just spit them out.

On nearly every blog post, I show a finished product. But this is just what I’m working on. They aren’t finished. They may or may not be soon. They are the horizons that I never tire exploring. The lines that blur. The mysteries I’m trying to take in rather than solve. They are my meditation in connection. We will see what transpires. 

I Didn’t Know What She Meant by “Walking Around in Your Underwear.” Until Now.

Into the Unknown, palette knife painting

“Into the Unknown” 20×20, oil on canvas Buy Now

“You’ll feel like you’re walking around your underwear,” my art professor warned as we inexperienced undergraduates prepared for our senior art exhibits.

One of my classmates felt the metaphor so deeply that she made it the title of her exhibit– “Walking around in Your Underwear” was a collection of beautifully abstracted pieces. Her paintings were lovely, and I remember wondering how they could make her feel so exposed. Art made me feel less vulnerable, not more.

I was a newcomer to art. I’d never taken a single class until college. I had spent my childhood and formative years pouring every thought (petty and not) into countless notebooks and journals. I never shared my writing with anyone. Art was exposure but not the same as words. It was a different language altogether. Whereas my words left me feeling naked and vulnerable, the art made me feel competent and bold– I made this thing, this thing is big and colorful, look at it, and not at me. So I shared the art and clung tight to the poems and stories I wrote in secret.

The title of my senior exhibit was “Between the Lines”– I had scribbled illegible words into many of my paintings. Because the viewer couldn’t actually read the words (though I saw some noses pressed against my canvases trying) they functioned on the level of design rather than literature. They were safe.

Fast forward fifteen years, and I am just now starting to feel what my art professor described as walking around in your underwear.

My moderate success since I’ve “gone pro” has allowed more people to see my art than ever before. While almost all the feedback has been overwhelmingly positive, there has also been a small dose of criticism as well. Which is agonizing. I struggle with it.

Over the years, painting has gone from something new and exciting to something I do regularly, passionately, and devotedly. I am more committed to it than I was in college, and it, in return, has allowed me to take up space I used to think I didn’t deserve. Paintings literally take up space– they are physical things. Creating them involves making literal marks. These very literal expressions remind me of the less literal ways I take up space and make my mark– from kindly and respectfully informing a waiter that he’s gotten my order wrong, to having a difficult conversation with a loved one.

A couple weeks ago, I was brainstorming with a friend for a business she is starting. The next day, I woke up and went to a yoga class during which an image of a woman walking off a ledge kept appearing and reappearing in my mind. She wasn’t falling off a cliff so much as confidently stepping into the unknown. My friend’s entrepreneurship inspired me. And so did my own agency. I was very much the woman I saw.

The painting that is the result of this vision is one that makes me feel vulnerable. It isn’t a bird which might sometimes stand for me or the qualities I want to have (grace, confidence, patience).  It is actually me– my thoughts and my fears. My vulnerability and my intention to keep walking forward despite the uncertainty. Despite the little criticisms. This painting is about taking up space. It’s about moving forward. Even when I feel like I’m walking around in my underwear.


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