Saturday, August 11, 2012

Flat Pigs... or Like Watercolors for Chocolate

Julie Rahm

     Growing up I dreaded art class. My hand wouldn’t do what I wanted it to do. Every project felt like a disaster. I remember one fourth-grade art project vividly. It was one with a happy ending. My class made paper mache’ pigs. On the first day, we applied paper mache’ over blown-up balloons and set them aside to dry. On the second day, we glued on the nose and feet, and painted our pigs. I got bored and didn’t apply enough layers of newspaper and liquid starch. Consequently, my balloon lost air overnight. And, my pig-to-be flattened into an oval blob. Everyone else had a perfect pig’s body. I was humiliated and on the verge of tears. Thankfully, a creative mom who was a helper that day rescued me from despair. “Oh! You decided to make a ladybug instead of a pig!” she said with a smile. Equipped with red and black paints and black felt, we created a beautiful ladybug. I would still have that ladybug, but my first husband got it in our divorce. Yep. It was that good!
     Also, I had some success in art class painting with watercolors. So, the “Watercolors in Nature” workshop at the Library last Saturday seemed like the perfect place to start anew in learning to express myself artfully. I brought with me a nine-year-old girl who already believed she could not draw or paint. I thought the day might bring breakthroughs for both of us. And it did. My young friend struggled at first. But then, she turned her paper over, shot me an “I’ve got this” smile, and sketched again. Her breakthrough moment of confidence was short-lived, though. As the paints were placed before us, her perfectionist anxiety resurfaced. “When are we going for chocolate ice cream?” she pleaded. On our way to the workshop, I promised her a fun day of sketching and painting followed by ice cream. So, unable to bypass her perfectionism and find the fun in brushing color on watery paper, we left at lunchtime. The watercolor workshop was only a partial success for her.
     As a recovering perfectionist, I can spot perfectionists everywhere. They are the ones miserable while everyone else is having fun. They are tense and impatient. They don’t try new things, because they might not do them perfectly. Their accomplishments are never enough. Consequently, celebrating success would be time wasted as more needs to be done. And, like alcoholics, they will deny they have a problem.
     I was lucky. A skilled friend intervened and showed me the ridiculousness of my ways. Now, when someone in the audience finds a typo in my presentation slides, I give them a prize for paying attention! (Caveat: surgeons, accountants, engineers, and musicians, perfection in your work is desired!) So, if making a simple mistake ruins your whole day, stop. You’re not fooling anyone. No one thinks you’re perfect. The next time your “pig” gets flat, make a ladybug and enjoy your day! 

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