Freehand sketch

Big Magic part II

S
o where were we? Yes, Freedom and the Internet.

Where I lived there were no bookstores or libraries. It is crazy to imagine that in a city of 400,000 people the only books available were textbooks.

By 2006 my only means of contact with the outside world was the Internet. I had a blog with a nice following and I had a music podcast. All my cultural references came through the web and the few foreign magazines I could get my hands on.

From Monday to Friday, a full time job kept me busy, but starting Friday afternoon until Sunday evening, my creativity had free reign.

In August 2006 I moved to Montreal. My childhood dream came true: within walking distance, a huge library stood with thousands of volumes, comfy chairs and great lighting. Suddenly, knowledge, all of it, was at my fingertips and I started learning frantically.

The problem was that it became compulsive and obsessive. Like when you’re deprived from something for so long, you can never get enough of it.

 

At the same time, I had a lot of freedom.  I lived in the Plateau Mont-Royal and with a part-time job, many afternoons opened up. Pretty soon they filled up with reading, learning and consuming content at a frantic pace. Facing so many choices, I started dabbling and while exploring is great and trying a lot of different things is nourishing (to an extent), I lost my path.

Nine years ago, I lost my old professional self. Changing countries, unless you already have a job offer, usually sets you back a few years and I’ve been on a search that has sent me through many pathways: a Masters Degree in Information Studies at 35, re-learning how to code to build websites at 37 and now learning how to draw, illustrate and paint in my 40’s.

January 4, 2014 I promised to myself I would not fall into the trap of self-punishment while learning how to draw, as I’d done with coding, but just a few months into it, I began a race against myself.

Once upon a time, I wanted to simply document my life through drawing, pretty much like an Urban Sketcher, but soon, I found myself aspiring to so much more, without knowing why. And that why is so important.

I must repeat that: The why is very important.

My desperation grew, my passion for drawing and painting grew and so did my misery. There were moments in which I’d say to myself: back down, just do it for the joy. But then my mind would race: you started too late, you will never catch up, you are not that good, it will take you years to get better, etc. etc.

I did what Elizabeth Gilbert says NOT to do: I put pressure on my creativity. I clogged it with expectations, demands, and requests, not leaving any space for delight.

Not knowing why you do something is thwarting.
There have been months where I’ve felt like such a farse, like trying to find an elusive treasure.

All this not without the usual first world pains, questions about privilege (because let’s face it, not everyone can test the waters without risk), too many projects at once and in the midst of all this, redefining what it means to work.

There are many people enjoying their professions, finding purpose, ending the day with a completed to-do list, even if the to-do list was only three items long. I continue struggling with mixed signals and messages. On one hand, the North American culture of performance, of working oneself to the ground: if you work hard enough, you’ll get what you want. On the other, why not simply take a job that you don’t hate and devote your free time to the things that really bring you joy?

Big Magic is helping me to release the “work hard” belief. Which is tricky because one does not want to become a slacker either.

I recently did an entrepreneur potential test. I am below the desired profile. A question in the test was:
I believe that anything is possible If I feel I can do it.

I’ve held onto this belief for so long, as well as the myth of the 10,000 hours, always believing that if I put in the time and the work, I will always see positive results.

Well, as Elizabeth says, you may not. But would you do it again?

Indeed.

This is the biggest gift I got from the book: accepting that you have to do what you have to do and being open to success or failure.

The book is about creativity, but for me it is more about being open and flexible. Something I’ve had a lot of difficulty with.

The funny thing is that I might have lived my whole life thinking I had an open spirit, when actually, not so much. I’ve clung to certain ideas installed by figures of authority or by external influence. My commencement speech was not motivational, it was dictatorial, go out, create jobs, build companies!

I’ve tried to follow those instructions for so long while wanting to do something completely different (my own fault).

Right now I’m taking everything I’ve learned about drawing and writing to create my first comic strip. What will emerge?

I’m not worried.

I began the comic strip pre-Big Magic, then as I slowly read it, I felt a tiny shift, and suddenly the panels were done. Inking and adding dialog now and then, who knows, I might do another one, I might tackle my long-talked-about Anita Brookner project.

comic-book-first draft
Comic strip first draft

Then, it becomes a matter of method and discipline.

And for this, I turn to Jessica Abel.