Monday, 13 March 2017

The Perils of Being Me

If you have seen my Facebook page, you have seen that I spent a lovely day making kiln fired glass with some friends.
Image may contain: 7 people, people smiling, people standing and indoor
I am a creative person. I love to make things. I sew, I do paper crafts. I re-purpose rubbish and turn it into art. I love to make. I love how it feels to create things with my hands. It brings me great joy...unless something goes wrong.

Then I am *very* self critical.

This has gotten better over the years, with the help of Spiderman and the reminder that I would never talk this way to anyone else.

But I can be VERY mean.

It is just one of the perils of being me.

As I child I made many things. Some good, some not so good. But I loved the process of making and I wasn't as concerned about the product. There was this paint-your-own-pottery shop called The Sunshine Shop that I visited nearly every weekend. I painted boatloads of stuff. Often messily, but with great joie de vivre. Everything I made had a story behind it. Two sloppily painted ballet slippers-one pink, one gold? A tale of a ballerina who lost a shoe before a crucial audition and a good fairy came and gave her a gold slipper to replace the lost one as the ballerina had been so kindhearted. The good fairy had disguised herself as a homeless bag lady and the little ballerina had shared her last piece of bread with her. Then the fairy knew the little ballerina deserved to make that audition.

So where did things start to go wrong for me? What caused this evil self critical monster to grow to such an enormous size?

How did I develop this perfectionist streak? When did I become so cautious of trying something where I might be a failure? I seem to only be a perfectionist when it comes to something I *should* be good at.

Like art.

I think what happened was this:
Other people I cared about began to make critical remarks. My Mum was exasperated at my careless painting. Probably she was tired of forking over money for me to half-ass paint stuff, but I started to hear that voice in my head. You should stop painting if you can't do it properly. 

This is one of the perils of being me.

Many years later at summer camp in North Carolina I made my Mum a copper engraving because she LOVED copper. I remember it was really awkward to etch the acid on the copper to do the engraving. You had to do it on the back and in reverse of the design that you intended on the front. My dyscalculia kicked in and it went wrong. The camp counsellor in charge of arts and crafts let me have one more go, but only if I wouldn't "waste it" like I did the other one because materials weren't cheap. I should have listened to the voice, but I tried again. It wasn't brilliant, but I made it for her with great love. She was really critical of it. I think she had no idea how hard it was to do and I how my hands shook like I had Parkinson's disease as I made it for fear of doing it wrong. She made comments the whole rest of the vacation about how Michelle had made a much nicer one for her mother with a better picture and Michelle was younger than me. Why couldn't I have made a lovely waterfall scene with a deer like that? I am not sure at this point, how much of this criticism was from my mother and how much was in my head. I know she did say those things abut Michelle's being nicer. I know the voice in my head called me an idiot for choosing something that had to be done backwards. A waterfall scene would look the same in reverse, dumbass. I never worked in copper again.

This is one of the perils of being me.

When we were exchange students in London, something occurred which we call the "Brass Rubbing Incident of 1990." At Westminster Abbey, you could do a brass rubbing. Basically you have a textured metal plate based on something in the church/crypt and you use an oil pastel to rub a design
onto black paper. You with me so far? I had been *dying* to do one. I had even selected my design. Margaret Peyton, the lace lady.

Large Vintage Brass Rubbing of Margaret Bernard Peyton:
NOT my brass rubbing, this is someone who did theirs better than me and is selling it on ETSY

I chose the design because I knew from having a Fashion Plates toy as a girl (which was basically the Barbie version of brass rubbing), that textured designs came out the best.
Image result for fashion plates
 I chose carefully so that I would be successful. And then something happened.

There are two versions to this:
My view is that it did NOT go well. The textured lace came out perfect but the smoothness of her face gave me trouble and it was streaky. I was so upset that was going to tear it up then and there, but it seemed inappropriate to go quite mad in Westminster Abbey and tear it to shreds. So I just sat there are cried. Fat tears plip-plopped down my face and I felt so ASHAMED that I had failed at this artistic endeavour. I am sad to say that SHAME was really the emotion I was feeling. It really was a misplaced feeling in this instance, but I couldn't see that back then.

Spiderman's version:
"It was all going well and was seemingly normal and then for no reason I could understand you started crying and wouldn't tell me why. You just kept saying you felt sick and ashamed. I had no earthly idea what had gone wrong." (Editor's note: he married me anyway in spite of this many other similar incidents. At least he knew what he was getting into)

Years later he found it in a poster tube (I was sure I had destroyed it) and hung it up as a surprise. Let me tell ya, it was a surprise all right, but not the one he was expecting.

This is one of the perils of being me.

There was a time in my life when I would spend all day in the summer holidays making artwork for my classroom when I was teacher. Seriously, I would go to LC with Spiderman when he worked there and I would bring all my art materials to Government Documents in the basement. I would make and make and make things for classroom.

I would work nonstop for eight hours and then if I perceived the tiniest flaw in the finished product, I would have to destroy the work and begin again. Spiderman would say that it was fine. More than fine. Really good. He would tell me to sleep on it before doing anything rash like destroying it. But I just couldn't. The flaw, however minor, leapt out at me and shouted that it was
 A Failure
That meant that I was Garbage/Shit/A Failure and it must be destroyed. This sort of perfectionism led to the nervous breakdown I had after my dad died where I had to quit teaching.

This is one of the perils of being me.

With hard work, I have (mostly) overcome this inner voice. But in new situations like Sunday where I was working on the kiln fired glass, I could hear it whisper.

These days all it does is whisper and I tell it where to go and (mostly) bugs off. Mostly.

I think the problem was:
1. the materials were not mine. I don't mind experimenting with my own things, but I did not want to waste someone else's materials.
2. the materials were expensive. I sure as hell didn't want to waste someone else's expensive materials.
3. I was unfamiliar with the art form. This can be a trigger for me because there is a chance it can fail.
4. I felt paralysed by the fear of the product not coming out well. I have worked hard to be free in my own artwork to try different techniques and be more about the "process than the product," but I did not feel I could just cut up lots of someone else's expensive glass and then decide not to use it.

How did I overcome this:
By not taking too much of a risk. I wanted to try new techniques and make it more abstract, but the fear of hating the end product and then associating that feeling of hate with the day would mean I would have it ruined twice for myself. I would remember the experience as bad and I would have been very self critical about the product and wanted to smash it. I am too old and too tired to have to put up with bad memories of my own making.

So I made something simple. Something a bit plain. Something I knew I would be happy with and had a reasonable chance of it coming out well. I wanted a colour background, but the powder to colour it was expensive and you had to set it with asthma inducing aerosol hairspray. I had to leave the room every time someone sprayed their glass, so in the end I decided to Keep It Simple and just leave it clear and let the simple design speak for itself. I think I succeeded.

I only had a few moments of angst where I felt everything going wrong. At those moments I popped into the loo and gave myself a good talking to whilst taking some deep breaths.

I genuinely had a good day.

It was fun.

It was with friends.

I learned something new.

I created something beautiful.

But when I came home, Spiderman and I talked about the perils of being me.

At least it is better than it used to be. At least I am better than I used to be.

I wish it wasn't so bloody hard to be me. But it is.

That is the peril of being me.


  1. You invited me to the Sunshine Shop in junior high and I will always remember that. What a fun day! There is no "right" way to make art! Art that is from the heart is beautiful in any form. I always admired your acting ability, especially your performance in The Miracle Worker in high school. THAT is art my friend!

  2. I like the piece you made, spidergrrl. But apart from that, how to judge? Better? Worse? IDK. I make some pieces hoping that I will like them, and I make less complicated pieces so that other people might like them. Apart from that, I simply don't know good from bad.

    Glad you had fun, and you made it through. Sorry about the hairspray, but it seems you survived it.

  3. Tears in my eyes reading this.
    I still have the basket of strawberries you painted from the Sunshine Shop.
    I love you so much.