Friday, April 11, 2014

Illustration Friday: Survival

I have always been a messy person. I've always had trouble organizing and managing things outside of my head. When I was a little kid in school, my desk, bookbag, cubbyhole were always the messiest of the girls' in my class of thirty, though there were always boys who were worse than me. I would lose crayons, pencils and erasers and have to scrounge supplies from I don't remember where. I just remember the motley stuff I ended up with--random broken crayons, pencils disgustingly full of someone else's tooth marks. My nice cap erasers would be long gone, so I would bite the metal ring around the worn down pencil eraser to make it stick out enough to erase a little. I would look at other kids' tidy, full boxes of supplies and wonder how they managed to keep them so nice, how they managed to keep them at all.

As I grew older I would go on cleaning binges, resolving that I would never be messy again. I loved the sensation of peace and clarity that came with a clean bookbag, a clean room, but I could never maintain it. I didn't know why. As a grownup, a mother of four no less, I continue to struggle, sometimes sinking beneath a deluge of mess, sometimes feeling more in control. Sometimes I have maintained a consistently ordered home by giving it my undivided emotional and mental attention, while squelching or derailing dominant aspects of my personality--dreaminess, prayerful contemplation, making pretty things with my hands. I now consider such complete attentiveness to maintaining outward order dangerous and self-destructive for me, so usually I clumsily juggle my responsibilities and aspirations, trying not to neglect either my inner or outer world too much but not doing anything as well as I want to.

Until the last few weeks. Perhaps I speak too soon, but I feel that I am finally figuring out how to maintain a consistently ordered outward life that does not suppress but enhances the inner life and creativity that is core to my identity. It's very simple, so simple it's a little embarrassing. Several times a day, I set a timer for ten minutes and work nice and fast on a category of mess. When the timer goes off, I set it again and work on something else. With the time limit, I don't get swallowed up in a single cleaning project that I complete but don't maintain. I have put boundaries around the cleaning and ordering part of my day, to make sure it doesn't overtake the creating part of my day, and I am happy to say I am getting more time in the studio without feeling so burdened by outer chaos, and I'm getting some parts of my life in order without the frustration and sadness I feel when I neglect my art.

From my kraft paper sketchbook:


  1. I was the kid with a box of pristine supplies that I didn't want to "mess up" by actually using them. Sigh. Hooray for balance and finding the right middle ground!

  2. I would have envied you. Actually, I can understand that feeling. Sometimes I feel that way about paper--a little scared of it. Maybe that's not quite the same, though.

  3. What lovely flow and softness your drawings have, they're happy and uplifting! :)
    I was actually quite neat as a child, but only because I liked pretty things and so I was always handling them and sorting them (as a child everything was pretty!;). These days I'm nothing but messy. But interesting trick that with the ten mins, I might have to try it myself! :D

  4. I'm kind of glad to hear of other messy artists--makes me feel less of an oddball. I know what a burden and stresser mess can be, though, when making order doesn't just naturally flow. It's interesting to me that you were neat as a child but messy now. A great thing about the ten minute trick is if a mess feels really confusing and overwhelming, I figure I can do anything for ten minutes, and then ten minutes later I see I've actually made progress.

    What nice things to say about my drawings. Thank you.

  5. Thank you for this post! I may just try that timer idea myself!

  6. Your welcome, Father Rand. Let me know how if the timer helps!