I attended a food truck party this past weekend, an event to support the local arts alliance where I participate in open mics, enjoy exhibits and classes and, this summer, will offer a multi-week course on novel writing.
The party was a smashing success. Despite the drippy skies, we arrived (late) to a parking lot full of students, art patrons, and locals patiently standing in loooong lines to the food trucks. The atmosphere was upbeat. A musician sang. Dogs wagged their tails. Children played around the tents. Even the lights of the firetruck closing off the street seemed festive. It was as much a community block party as it was a fundraiser.
But by the time we reached the front of the seafood truck line, the good stuff was gone. My dinner was French fries and onion rings. Sold out was good, though, so I didn’t complain. Instead, I bought ice cream.
Ice cream at a street party. Do I live wild or what?
At the crafts table, I ran into My Friend the paper artist. She introduced me to Her Friend the potter. Her Friend cocked her head at me and said, “Aren’t you a trashy woman?”
I sputtered my ice cream. “I don’t think so. I mean, I’ve never been called that to my face.”
My Friend was laughing. She explained about a group of local women who create art from what other people throw away.
“Ohhh,” I said, relieved. I told Her Friend, “No, that’s not me. I’m not artistic.”
My Friend didn’t have ice cream but she sputtered anyway. “What are you talking about? You’re a writer!”
I waved my hand at the paper crafts and pottery. “I meant art-art. I’m not good at making stuff with my hands.”
My Friend sputtered some more. What about the paper Christmas tree I’d made in her class? The vision board, the two soul collages, the haiku micro-book?
Well, sure, I had done all that, so I caved in and said she was right, I was artistic.
But did I believe it?
I thought about this all weekend. I had indeed made the paper crafts and collages—under tutelage—but those projects required no talent beyond the ability to wield scissors and a glue stick. And sure, I sewed all the curtains in my house, but anyone can sew a straight line, and I can’t read a pattern. And yes, the tables in my house are covered with beautiful settings from antique linens and vintage dinnerware, but I didn’t embroider the linens or paint the plates. I just bought and displayed them.
Add those up and you get “I’m not good at making stuff with my hands.” Heck, despite daily practice for hours and hours, I’m still a lousy typist.
The short version of that is “I’m not artistic.” But My Friend, who makes beautiful, creative items out of paper and yarn and ephemera, argued about that.
Self-knowledge or . . .
How many times a day, a week, a month, do we remind ourselves of all the things we are not?
If asked if my writing makes me an artist, I say yes, absolutely. Why? Because I write stories and I think I’m good at it. Short stories, in particular, feel organic and natural. I consider myself a short story artist.
So how can it make sense that I describe myself as “not artistic” when I create something with my hands? Because what I built with my hands wasn’t impressive? Because I followed directions and didn’t come up with a unique idea? Because these projects are fine to show in my home but I know perfectly well—and honestly—that it’s not at exhibit level?
Yes. Upon reflection, that’s exactly what I think. There’s the stuff I make with my hands, and then there is art. Two different things. What I make with my hands does not feel organic or come natural.
I have no problem with that conclusion or bit of self-knowledge. Why kid myself? You can’t be good, or a natural, at everything.
. . . Self-myth?
When I teach classes in building strong characters, I often have writers share three adjectives about their protagonist. The answers are words like brave, curious, dependable, talented, loyal, protective, damaged, intelligent, cautious, strong-willed, etc.
The next step in the exercise is to prove these adjectives by showing, in the story, places where the character does a brave act, shows his curiosity, displays his dependability, loyalty, etc. The third step in character building is to figure out how the character earned these adjectives and if/how she will change during her journey in the story.
Over the weekend, I wondered about the “I’m not” statements I would apply if I was a character. I made a list:
- I’m not artistic.
- I’m not organized.
- I’m not introspective.
- I’m not adventurous.
- I’m not techy.
I do not consider these put downs or demeaning. I could make a list of things I AM, and it would be just as long. But I have been studying myths, and now I wonder: Are these “I’m not” statements the truth, or are they beliefs I’ve told myself so many times, I believe them to be the truth?
Still with me?
May is the month of flowers and spring. Renewal. A month for self-examination, perhaps, or busting some myths we say about ourselves that hold us back from adventures or endeavors.
Will you join me?
Think of five “I’m not” statements about yourself. You can post in comments or you can keep it private. Tomorrow (Tuesday), I’ll post some of the questions I use in character exercises to compare what we believe about ourselves as opposed to what shows in our real life narratives.
It’ll be fun. And if it’s not, let’s all buy ice cream to keep on hand, just in case.