“Today’s agenda,” I told myself as I curled up into a ball of miserable pre-menstrual cramps this cold rainy morning, “is to be kind to myself because OW PAIN, and also a Patreon post.” This is that post.
I always want to get better. As an artist, as a person — that’s without question. Better implies, naturally, some measure of comparison, and this is where my problems begin. I look at the awesome people around me — family, friends, former classmates and colleagues, members of the wider social networks of which I’m part — and I’m staggered by the sheer difference between my shriveled inadequate little self and all these shining lights: brilliant writers and creatives, driven entrepreneurs, dedicated scientists, fighters for justice and the rule of law, passionate workers for social change — there are a fair few potential Nobel awardees among my networks, I’m sure!
Any comparison I make inevitably ends with me falling short, and it’s something that has caused me — still causes me, to be honest — a great deal of pain. This turns into self-flagellation, and familiar destructive patterns of doubt and despair: there really is no way I’ll ever become like Dr X (I don’t have a PhD) or Atty Y (I don’t have an LlM) or Ms Z (I’m not, in fact, involved in social outreach or making a difference in anyone’s lives).
What is one to do? The most obvious answer (not to compete or compare, period) is also the most difficult. I’m an inherently competitive person. I grew up pushing myself to get better, surpass, exceed, and I have to have some benchmark on which to focus. What point of comparison remains to me if comparing myself to everyone around me will just cause me to self-destruct?
O. Ez. Lyk dis.
The painting on the left is an unfinished gouache on watercolor piece I did in early 2015 (February or March, I think). I abandoned it because there was something wrong with it, and I couldn’t quite figure out how to fix it. The painting on the right is an in-progress gouache on watercolor, from June 2016.
Let’s do another!
The top painting is, again, my June 2016 in-progress piece; the bottom painting is its previous incarnation, which I scrapped because I got stuck (so, an April or May piece). The photo’s soft focus isn’t doing it any favors (oops!) but even then, I think the difference is clear. I had stronger fundamental lines and elements for the June 2016 piece, and the background was rendered with better technique.
I could go on and on (or maybe not; looking at my old pieces makes me cringe either with embarrassment or “wow I can’t believe I did that I’ll never be able to do it again“) but I think the solution is clear. As a goal, getting better is fine. I just have to ensure that, instead of engaging in a pointless competition against people who are 1) doing different things than I am, and 2) not me, I take it as a mark of progress, a surpassing of the old self, an exceeding of the capacity of the past.
I think you could almost call it growth.
The finished piece:
Notes: This post was written through the incredibly vital support of my Patreon patrons. The piece is an as-yet untitled painting of a genderqueer sea deity as cover art for a GlitterShip anthology. The title of this post is from The Wizard’s Oath from the Young Wizards series by Diane Duane.