Today’s the Day

When I was eight or nine years old, I went to a children’s museum in Utah where they had one exhibit that was neither colorful nor noisy and therefore all but abandoned by most of the kids. Being a curious person, though, I had to check it out.

In the middle of a big room stood a small house. It had all the rooms – a kitchen, a bedroom, a bathroom, a living room – all squeezed down to kid-sized proportions. I can’t tell you what any of it looked like, though, because inside the house it was pitch black. Really, truly, can’t-see-your-hand-in-front-of-your-face darkness.

This was my first encounter with the world of the blind.

I knew blind people existed, of course, and I had, in my childish attempt to understand their lives, walked around my house with my eyes closed and my arms out zombie-style. It didn’t seem so bad. Stairs were annoying, but I could always cheat slightly by looking down for just the briefest second. I could totally handle being blind, I thought. This is not such a big deal.

That’s what I thought until the day at the museum, that is.

When I tried to navigate through this house, I couldn’t cheat. I couldn’t peek for just a second. I had my eyes wide open, hoping for some kind of light to penetrate the room, but it never did. The only way to get through it was to use the rest of my senses.

It was slow. It was awkward. It was clumsy. And I never thought about blind people and their experience of the world the same way again.

I love my eyes. I love them a lot. Knowing they are possibly temporary and seeing for myself what that would look like made me seriously respect my other senses and diligently hone them from that day forward. Just in case. But I would really love to hang on to my vision as long as I possibly can. It’s for this reason, this respect for my eyes and how much value they add to my life that I have put off today’s events for as long as I have.

This afternoon I am having lasik surgery. I am told that by this time tomorrow I will be able to look out my window and see individual leaves on trees. I can, of course, do this just fine right now with my glasses on, so I’m not sure what all the fuss is about. But yes, the idea of not looking for dropped contacts on blue tile floors does appeal. As does no longer having face grease impede my vision as it slowly creeps across my glasses during the day.

There are are a lot of great things to look forward to from this surgery, but the surgery itself is not one of them. It is the leaves and blue tile floors and face grease I will try to keep in mind as I allow someone to slice my cornea open with a laser and burn little bits off of it (just typing that made my stomach flip – apologies to any sensitive folk out there). I’m very much not looking forward to those ten minutes of fun. It doesn’t seem like the most respectful way to treat eyes that have worked hard for me for nearly 33 years, but them’s the shakes.

The benefits of seeing the world without the aid of contacts or glasses (or tiny diamonds made between my forefingers and thumbs) sounds pretty spectacular  though – as does diving without fear of losing a lens, not carrying a whole bag of solution and cases and lenses and glasses with me on camping trips (or any trips!), not choosing a new pair of frames at the eye clinic (though I’ll miss my red ones!), and not taking off my contacts only to realise I don’t know where my glasses are. Those all sound pretty great. So great that I will face my fear of losing my sight in the hopes of gaining even better vision.

Today’s the day. It’s going to happen whether I’m ready for it or not. Here we go!

I’ll see you on the other side!

My Life With Fish

My relationship with fish has always been a confusing one.

I grew up in a house with a big pond full of goldfish. I loved them. They were my friends (and my cat’s enemies). I fed them every day in summer and worried about them every day when our pond was frozen over in the winter. I loved them endlessly.

But, for the vast majority of my childhood I had one recurring, anti-fish dream that was really terrifying. It happened in two very consistent forms over the years and the premise for both was the same: I had to complete a task that involved going through water to get from A to B.

At the beginning of the task, the water was like unto a swimming pool. Clean. Clear. Chlorinated. As I progress, it got more natural – muddier, smellier and with more floaties. Panic started to set in as the seaweed appeared, tickling my toes and wrapping around my legs. I ran or swam on (depending on which version of the dream I was having) into the deeper water; the murkier water; the fishier water.

Things carried on getting more and more hairy until I was nearly at the end, almost free of this horrible experience. That’s when the piranhas came, snapping at my ankles – the sparkle of their teeth the only light coming from the now nearly opaque water. I always managed to get out just in the nick of time (with only a few nicks on my toes as evidence of the encounter).

Needless to say, it was terrifying.

Looking back, I think there were a few things that led to this fear of the water.  A) Jaws. Just like the rest of the world. 2) A particularly awful experience on a canoe in Montana. C) my very active imagination. 4) That time my mom told me the log bobbing up and down in the water (water we were sitting on top of in a tiny boat) was a monster. I crawled up to the top of my dad’s head to try and hide under his hat.

While most of those are typical childhood fears, it’s C that really kept the panic afloat well into my adult life. I am now 32 and I am happy to say that things have changed. Slightly. Ponds can still fuck off. But there’s this new and wonderful thing I have discovered about swimming in what used to be my nemesis: the big, endless, deep, unfathomable ocean.

I have finally discovered my super power.

I can see under water.

You may know this by it’s more common term: goggles.

You know those stories you hear as a kid where someone is afraid of something so they are given a magical item (maybe special shoes or a magical hat or fairy gloves or something) and then they go along doing things they could never do before, not realising that the magic wasn’t coming from the thing but from inside of them without them knowing it? It’s was all so terribly heartwarming.

Well, that story happened to me. In fact, it is still happening to me. I haven’t quite gotten to the part where I can get along without goggles, but I am getting better. You see, before I had goggles, I imagined that when I was swimming, all the fish just below the surface were eyeing me up and planning their imminent attack, and  that all the seaweed was wrapping itself in to tight curls around my ankles so in one swift move it could drag me down to the mer-world, never to set foot on land again.

When I wear goggles, though, I can see what’s actually down there. And what’s actually down there is a whole lot of fish who are either completely uninterested in me or very interested in not being anywhere near me. Then my biggest frustration is trying to get close to the damn things so I can see them and all their colorful glory without them running away from me in fear of their lives. Oh the irony.  Now I am the scary thing stalking poor innocent creatures under the water.

After I started diving (that’s where this whole goggle thing came into the picture), I noticed something weird happening with my dreams. Instead of having scary dreams about water and the fish it contains, I started having dreams where I got into the water and actually went down to see what was going on down there. It was still a little scary (and, in typical my-dream fashion it was dark and mysterious and more than bizarrely surreal – think underwater gorillas), but I started to dream about being under the water, purposefully going check stuff out and to follow the fish and observe them going about their business.

It was a weird and wonderful thing.

Like I said, not all water is my friend now, but the ocean is a big enough place to keep me entertained for quite a while to come. Thanks to my new superpower, that is finally a fact that excites me much more than it terrifies me.

Inklings

If there is one thing I have consistently wanted to be good at, a talent I have desperately envied in others my entire life it is this: illustration.

From time immemorial, I have had an absolute obsession with all things paper and pen. The closet in my childhood bedroom was absolutely enormous (not just in kid relativity) and one entire shelf was full of paper – top to bottom, side to side. I had all the colors, all the thicknesses, all the textures you could possibly imagine. The shelf above that was rammed full of pens and pencils – jars of them, bags of them, drawers of them. I had skinny ones, fat ones, glittery ones, inky ones, scratchy ones, markers, sharpies, colored pencils, crayons – anything I could convince my mom to buy or get away with accidentally not returning to whoever lent it to me (yes, I am the place where all your missing pens end up. Mystery solved).

Pen and paper are the perfect marriage for me. They are all I really need in my life. They let me write, they let me read, they let me doodle, they let me fantasize and wander and daydream. There are few things I love more than black ink on a white page. I love coloring in the spaces. I love appreciating the lines. I love whimsical swirls. I love ominous images. I love it all. I cannot get enough of it.

In my adult life, I can and have quite easily gotten quite lost in the world of illustration online. I used to haunt a series of blogs, watching the artists talk together, listening to them inspire and support one another, and feeling utterly despondent that I couldn’t be a part of that world.

This envy comes from the fact that every time I put my own pen to the page, I produce the most infantile scrawlings known to man. My dogs look like small, deformed elephants. On a good day, my people are stick shaped. I am either the very best or absolute worst partner you could ever have at Pictionary – it all comes down to how much you like to laugh.

I have never let myself imagine that I could call myself an illustrator, that I could put myself in this class of people I respect and love so completely. That I could actually belong with people who are so creative, so incredibly inspired, so beautiful. Every time I have ever touched my pen to the page, I have heard the tape in my head start to loop “I can’t draw. I can’t draw. I can’t draw.” and I have stopped – broken, sad and completely defeated.

For the last few weeks, I have been going through the Artist’s Way book (a truly amazing read and creative adventure I think everyone in the world could benefit from), and it has stirred up a lot for me. It has made me address some of my ideas about what creativity means, about where it comes from and what it is capable of. It’s also made me see a lot more clearly what it looks like when a creative person stops themself from doing the thing they are compelled to do.

This realisation came to me as an image – as it always does – and I was desperate to express it as a drawing. All I wanted to do was draw a stick figure carrying a hobo bag on a stick. That’s it. But the thought terrified me. My hands were shaking and I was absolutely panic stricken that I wouldn’t be able to draw even that simple image.

And yet, I started.

I drew heads that were too wonky. Smiles that were too creepy. Legs that were anatomically impossible. It was kind of a mess – but I kept going.

It took me two pages of practice to get the beginnings of the image I wanted. But after some tweaking and some wishing, I sat back and saw exactly what I sat down to draw. I couldn’t have been more chuffed to see my pen create the perfect image for what I was feeling.

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It made me go a little nuts. I was so excited about making an image I was proud of that I spent the next few days in a total Sharpie frenzy. I couldn’t draw enough. I couldn’t be with my notepad long enough. I would make myself stop for a while to start on other projects – things I have to do to live my life as a responsible, adult-type person – but I could only think about drawing. And for the first time in my life, I found a strange thing happening with my images. I started liking them. I started seeing them as a place full of possibility, a place for my own self-expression instead of a xerox machine for others’ ideas.

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My images are far from perfect. They are far from skilled or professional. But making a lot of them over the last few days has changed my perception of what it means to illustrate. My whole life, I have looked at images that other people create and thought, “Oh my God! That is the most amazing/beautiful/stunning/evocative/powerful/moving image I have ever seen. I love it so deeply I cannot even express my total amazement at its beauty and my gratitude that this is now part of my life forever.”

Then I try to make that thing.

Unsurprisingly, it looks nothing like what I want it to. I can’t evoke the same feeling, I can’t create the same personality, I can’t draw the same thing. So I crumble. I grow despondent. I get sad and dejected at the idea that something I love so much, that fills my heart with such joy, that makes me so deeply happy, won’t come out of my own fingers. I curse my hands for their lack of skill and resign myself to appreciating the ability in others, always secretly yearning to make the thing myself.

But I’m learning something. It isn’t about making the thing that other people make. It isn’t even about making the thing that I picture in my mind beforehand. It’s about putting the pen on the paper and letting it do what it wants. Laughing at the turns it takes. Smiling at the colors it puts together. Allowing it to make what it wants out of the page. It’s about letting the image make itself, and not judging or censoring it along the way. It’s a really hard thing to do, which is why I am going to force myself to do a whole lot more of it – publicly, which is even harder.

I’ve been putting up images of my doodles on Instagram the last few days, if you want to check in and see what I’m up to. And for those of you who like postcards (who doesn’t!) for the next month (maybe longer), I will make all the postcards I send out (sign up to get one here!).

I am new to this. I am just getting started. I feel behind. I feel set back by my own mental blocks, my own definitions of what my expressions should look like, of what they should represent, of what they should embody. I am walking out into a completely blank space, and I am touching my pen to the page…