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Glitter, a hippocampus, and the feeling of success

I have a funny story to tell you today and it involves an absurd amount of glitter and the mention of a hippocampus. It's a long one, but I hope you enjoy. If you're of the blissful crowd unaware, it is Spring Break.<Insert visible shudder here.> I am teaching camps which are always an adventure, but almost always come with some pretty great stories and a lesson or two. I thought that next week would be the week I'd be thinking about the creative process and the whole how-to-be-ok-with-failure thing with the kids since our camp is all about that, but there was a great little moment this week I wanted to share with you. Now, as I mentioned before, there was some glitter. And silly me for not remembering how infectious and unrelenting glitter is in any space, but particularly one filled with 6-year-olds.

We were making some coffee filter jellyfish and despite my efforts to explain otherwise, these kids were using the glitter glue as more of a glue than a glitter. You might be asking yourself whats wrong with that? But please remember:

It was everywhere, and each time I turned around another set of tiny hands were squeezing the bottle with all their strength, with pools of the stuff flooding out over thin, frail coffee filters covered in googly eyes, never missing the chance to cover the table too. It's not often I question my ability to create good quality lessons for these kids, but today was absolutely that day. Anyway, back to the lesson. We were all hopped up on sea creatures, jellyfish being the selection for the morning, but with Hippocampus' fresh in our minds from the day before, the kids were creating some pretty...intense creatures, none of which actually reminded me of jellyfish. I see this all the time: a kid gets a little too stoked on supplies that they forget their idea. They go a little crazy, throwing everything they see into their project and completely forgetting to take a step back and look. Then when they finally do, they realize what a huge mistake it was to put glitter over top of the eyeballs and tentacles coming out of the ears, and they want it fixed. So they come to me. I won't do their art for them. I never have, and I tell them this. But they want me to fix it to make it look more like mine. I try instead to give suggestions, to offer my advice or whatever, but by this point they have basically given up and are ready to throw it in the trash and go back to drawing a puppy or something. And I know these are 6-year-olds and we should expect nothing less, except I know that that feeling isn't going anywhere. It's something we as adults deal with constantly, not just with art but with everything that requires skill and effort. We imagine ourselves as great artists, poets, writers or whatever IF WE ONLY HAD THE SAME TOOLS as that other person who is so so good at it. If I get these $50 pencils. If I buy myself the good laptop to write with. The good piano. The expensive paints meant for REAL artists. But that's the thing: we get caught up in the supplies or the tools when the reality is that being good at anything isn't about the stuff at all. It has always been about the practice. Before I end this long story of silliness, I want to show you my most recent finished painting. It is a painting I've had in my head for over a year and I've sketched it out, and I've played with the idea so many times. And I finally finished it. This issue of living up to our expectations of ourselves is something that hits so close to home for me. I thought up this idea over a year ago and have been essentially hiding from it with the idea that if I don't actually do it, I can say there is always the possibility of it being good, just as much as the possibility of being terrible. Basically a 50/50 chance I will ruin the painting, right? 😉 I get that that'd not how probability works, but you get my drift. So here it is:

I am super duper in love with this piece! So needless to say, sometimes you just have to do the things you want to do to make them a reality. Kids handle the disappointment of failure better in the moment than us adults, but if we spend our whole childhood giving up when things get hard, we do it in adulthood too. And as an adult it's a lot harder to convince yourself to keep going when you keep making trash!

But do it anyway, because boy does it feel good when it works out.

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