The threat of the blank page

Recently I was gifted a Very Large sketchbook. (Pictured above, with water bottle for scale.) Seriously, this thing is Truly Massive, weighing in at about seven pounds. It outweighs a hardback Brandon Sanderson book.

When I saw it, I squealed, hugged it for several minutes….and proceeded not to draw in it for a month.

A blank page, an empty canvas, a newly made word doc, or a brand new sketchbook— these things give me a mix of delight and fear. Delight, because there are so many possibilities, so many different ways for me to fill that emptiness. Fear, for the same reason. There are so many different ways I could use this—but what if I pick the wrong one?

I don’t think I’m the only person with this issue. I can think of at least two people in my life who collect new notebooks, and hardly ever use them, and I only know a tiny fraction of a percent of the billions of people on Earth.

In my case, the fear is a result of perfectionism. I may know, intellectually, that doing everything right all the time is Not Going To Happen, but convincing my anxious brain to actually believe it is a different story. I can’t make mistakes if I stay inside all the time and do nothing, right? Wrong, and also not a very happy way of living life.

In the case of things like art or poetry or journal writing, there is no “right” way to do it anyway. There’s just a bunch of different ways people have done it, and the ideas I have for doing it. Some of those ideas may work better than others, but that doesn’t make the others wrong.

I’ve been working on accepting that fact, rather than letting fear paralyze me when I try to be creative. It’s still a work in progress. But today, I filled the first page of my Massive Sketchbook, which I have named Goliath.

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Dancing Alone

I am like water,

smooth and swift,

ever in motion.

I move like earth,

slow but unstoppable,

never overbalanced.

I fall like air,

rising again,

constant in change.

I burn like fire,

steady, flickering, spinning,

home.

The world dances with me.

Stranger than Fiction

Fantasy and sci fi stories are full of creatures that are strange, fascinating, and entirely fictional. But there are some real animals that could give these critters a run for their money.

The Kokopi is a variety of flightless parrot native to New Zealand, and it looks utterly bizarre.

The cone snail, which is ocean dwelling and famous for extremely pretty shells, is one of the most venemous creatures on the planet, and it doesn’t even bite. It stabs you with a radula harpoon.

The Satanic Leaf-Tailed Gecko, which is native to Madagascar, looks like it’s supposed to be a dragon. Look at it.

Armadillos look so strange, they were used in place of rats in the film Dracula.

Ever been to Kartchner Caverns, or some other place where the rock formations have been left carefully undisturbed? There are some completely bizarre shapes and colors to regular old rock.

Surrounded by stories of dragons and spaceships and other worlds, it’s too easy sometimes to forget how bizarre the world we live in is.

What Language Can’t Say

Feelings

can’t be measured or quantified

like color

or mass

or sound.

They don’t translate to words.

How am I feeling?

Dissassembled,

Alive,

Something.

*

Lindenberg said

that poetry

doesn’t happen

cuz of something we want

to say,

it happens

because we can’t say something.

Language

is inadequate

to contain the deepest pieces

of a human soul.

Poetry tries

to say the things

language never found words for.

*

Lewis said

there’s a speech

at the center of everyone’s soul

that we spend our lives

trying to say.

I wonder

can language hold that speech?

can a drawing or poem say it?

Or will my speech remain

in the deepest parts of myself,

unspoken,

unseen,

alone?

I am trying to say something.

I always have been.

I don’t know what it is.

Why Stories Matter

People have been telling stories for as long as people have been people. They tell them and retell them times and again, presidents and kings and schoolchildren and factory workers. There’s something fundamental to being a person in the love of stories.

I don’t know what that something is, I’m just an art student. But I do know something about why stories matter to me.

Stories are home. Star Wars is the same wherever you go, and you can see Scorpius from California or Georgia. You can carry the stories you love most with you when life takes you away from familiar places.

Stories are friends. You get to know the characters as well as they know themselves, and so following their story feels like spending time with them. Some might have experiences like yours, but with dragons. Maybe it seems wimpy to need stories and characters as friends instead of flesh-and-blood people, but at some point everyone struggles with feeling a connection to the human beings surrounding them.

Stories are safe. Horrible, awful things can happen in them, but if it gets too much you can close the book or turn off the screen, and they have a set beginning and end. Life isn’t nearly that kind.

Stories are constants. Well, they are and they aren’t. Every version of Cinderella is slightly different, and the differences change what the story means. But there’s still a shoe, or a cyborg foot, left on the stairs, and a prince at a royal ball. Change is inevitable, except for from vending machines, but stories make familiar patterns no matter how much they are told.

Stories are exciting. Though life is too. It has octopuses in it, and colors and trains and quantum physics. There’s magic everywhere, if you know how to look for it. Trouble is, in the day-to-day drudge of normal life, it’s easy to forget that. Stories help bring back a sense of wonder.

Alive

Running through mesquites,

sun on my shoulders,

fighting

for sandpaper breaths.

never approaching fast.

it was awful.

it was awesome.

*

Rhythms that matched my pulse,

handing glowsticks down the row

shouting the chorus

with the man on stage,

with the crowd,

united.

*

Sketching my newborn cousin

in our grandmother’s arms

rubbing his silky hair

holding his tiny hand

in mine.

*

Throwing snow at my brother,

or water balloons,

or socks,

or paper airplanes,

or fallen leaves.

*

The first time I drew a mermaid,

eleven and gangly and wrapped up

in stories

that guided my lines.

the mermaid I painted a decade later,

with

a shark’s tail

a steady gaze

only the vaguest idea

what I was doing.

*

Dancing

in a garden at night,

on a stage, wearing glitter,

in a kitchen,

or a dream,

or a studio,

or a quiet warehouse.

sandpaper breaths are an old friend,

and so’s the burn between my shoulder blades.

I jumped more

when I was young,

but the dance has the same heart.

*

A Gila monster

sighted at dusk

on the side of a dirt road.

a peacock

wandering, gleaming,

in a zoo.

a tree, old and bent and strong.

ants on the sidewalk.

fish in a tank.

a coyote, half glimpsed in tall grass.

a heron at a river.

a dragon

that no one can touch.

*

Cutting

paper and fabric and soul

into bits,

reassembling

into something new,

*

Finding a story

that fills a space

I didn’t know my heart

was missing.

telling a story

to do the same

for a heart I can’t even see.

*

Standing in a thunderstorm

wet clothes

bare feet

just listening

to the pulse of the rain.