Food Revolutionaries
The dialogue of flowers

When you fear you're just no good....

Myrtle street waltz

“Nobody tells this to people who are beginners, I wish someone told me. All of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste. But there is this gap. For the first couple years you make stuff, it’s just not that good. It’s trying to be good, it has potential, but it’s not. But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer. And your taste is why your work disappoints you.

"A lot of people never get past this phase, they quit. Most people I know who do interesting, creative work went through years of this. We know our work doesn’t have this special thing that we want it to have. We all go through this. And if you are just starting out or you are still in this phase, you gotta know its normal and the most important thing you can do is do a lot of work. Put yourself on a deadline so that every week you will finish one story. It is only by going through a volume of work that you will close that gap, and your work will be as good as your ambitions. And I took longer to figure out how to do this than anyone I’ve ever met. It’s gonna take awhile. It’s normal to take awhile. You’ve just gotta fight your way through.” - Ira Glass

These are very true words, and I certainly wish someone had said them to me. I would have agonised less about the huge distance between the complex visions in my imagination and what I was able to put on the page in drawings and text. That distance never completely goes away...but it does get steadily smaller with time, hard work, and experience. In a youth-obsessed culture that over-emphasises early genius and the glamor of overnight success, it's good to remind young people beginning their artistic lives that you don't have to show up at the table as the artist you're going to be, you grow and work yourself into that artist. You unfold into that artist over years and decades.

If you could go back and speak to your younger self, or your beginning self, what would your advice be...?

Picture above: a drawing from my early days of  making art, back in Boston in the 1980s


Inspiring words this morning Terri.
If I could go back to my younger/beginning self, I would tell me not to quit! Not to listen to the oh-so-practical advice about earning a solid living. And to follow my bliss above all.

I'll keep my eyes fixed on your words of this morning, they're an inspiring fuel to my creative fire until that day when my work will be as good as my ambitions. I think I'd tell my younger self to be kind to his own muse, to pass all self judgment and embrace he's own creativity, to stay true to him himself and his art, to not be afraid of that first stroke on a blank sheet of paper and approach that spark of inspiration with kindness and reverence.

Beautiful words Terri!
My advice to my younger self would be don't listen to your secondary school teachers they hvae no idea what they are talking about, you can make a living through cartoons and illustration, it's ok to draw and create imaginary pictures, not everything has to be still life or real life, this would have stopped me trying to be something that i am not for 3years before i went to art college.

I've always remembered what my art tutor told me at college:
'Art is one percent inspiration: nintey nine percent perspiration!'
It's an old saying, but it's as true now as it ever was.

As with many of your earlier posts, this one could not have come at a better time for me. Starting so late in life to follow my dreams makes me want to hurry the intangible vision to tangible paper process; I would tell my younger self to be brave and to spend some time every week drawing, painting, and writing. And don't fill your free time with side pursuits with which you can achieve faster results - get your hands dirty, remember that it is just a piece of paper and that it has two sides, and just do it. Take your sketchbook everywhere - just last night I read "A Writer's Paris" by Eric Maisel (a wonderful book for artists and writers at any level) and these words really resonated with me: "If you fear that you are unequal to the writing need to forgive yourself for your past failures and draw on the well of courage that you indubitably possess...You must believe that good writing awaits you, and then you must make your arrangements." and "Leonardo said,'Always carry your little pad.'"
Thanks again for sharing your thoughts.

Thank you Terri! I would tell my younger self to lighten up. Spend less time worrying about the future, or the past; simply enjoy the ride you are on.

I've began working with a group of young women from the university this spring... I found myself sharing things that I now know I needed to hear when I was about to leave college... this especially became something we talked about a lot:

A myth of our culture is that a straight trajecotry and solid "plan" that leads from graduating college through the rest of our lives is what makes for a successful journey. For creative people (which I think truly includes EVERYONE) a meandering path is more useful - we need to follow inklings, keep experiencing many, many ways, things, people, techniques, and places. When we start to weave them together - all of the stories we have gathered along the meandering path, and all of our gathered skills - there is powerful, creative alchemy. Our lives are rich. True work requires maturity, and creative maturity is born from many years of gathering, hard work, an open mind and an open heart.

It would have been useful to hear this when I was younger... and I would have told myself to seek out
elders who tell the truth - about art and life - those that are willing to be vulnerable and especially, those that don't fear the genius of others. This would have been useful... but would I have known what it meant then?

I would have to say to younger self to follow my dreams, and not listen to nay-sayers. I have packed my daughter off to art school not drowning her dreams in practicalities and potential disasters.

Just borrowed "The Creative Habit" from my public library, making my way through chapter one... L

Perfectly timed.

All too often I feel the pull of my practical suburban upbringing and I hear the conflicting echo of my Italian immigrant side pushing me to Succeed garbled with my mother's modest family admonishing me for trying to overreach my place.

Whether I'm talking to my younger self or my tomorrow self, I have to remember that life is not about checking accomplishments off of a list, and that I don't have to justify why I write. I just have to write.

I would tell my younger self to show more gratitude to the people who encouraged and supported me. At the time I didn't realize what a rare gift they were.

I would tell my younger self to spend much less time in the manufactured world and much more time in the natural world, to learn from the source of creativity. And I'd tell myself to go forth without expectations -- to go in joy, and take whatever nature gives you, and make whatever gifts you can in return.

I would tell my younger self the same thing I still try to tell myself today, because I'm still learning...don't let fear or lack of self esteem or courage, or worry about failure, stop you from giving your dreams a go. Answer one of those ads you keep looking at in the music papers from some teenage garage band looking for a singer. Go camping by yourself. Tell that boy you like him. Draw and draw and draw some more. Keep writing. Listen more carefully to your grandmother's stories. Learn to play guitar (but better late than never!). Don't worry about it, just do it. I sometimes wonder who I'd be now, if I'd done all those things I longed to do back then.

"Everything will be alright in the end, If it's not alright it's because it's not the end yet" from "The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel" movie quoted to me last week by my mother who is all packed up & driving right now in her little red Beetle away from her old life in Houston to start a new life in North Carolina at 83, she is very brave!

Mine would be to give myself this very advice and not waste time wishing I could do 'this' or 'that' but instead invest the time doing it. Doing it poorly and sloppily and frustratingly but at the same time doing it consistently while learning to recognize and be happy with small increments of progress. I've wasted a lot of years dreaming instead of doing.

Terri, I love that drawing from all those years ago, you have such a graceful whimsical line.

I would tell me (it took me about twenty years to tell myself this), so I was in my 40s when I figured it out: Value the process and not the product.

Seven words.

Changed my life.


I would say," don't borrow trouble" and live in the moment and be grateful.

The best advice I've ever received, I came up with myself: "Write, and let go". Once I've hit the publish button on my blog, or sent off a manuscript, I move on immediately to the next thing.

Pondering what "is", at that point, is dangerous. If it's good, I'll spend two weeks patting myself on the back. If it's bad, I'll tear myself up for two weeks or longer.

I work like crazy until a piece is done, and then forget it. There's much more to be done, after all.

If I could go back in time I would tell myself this: girl, these people who are telling you how good and rare you are, are not doing it to make themselves feel good. They see you for who you are and for who tou can become. Yes, you are good but your potential to be great is massive. Being shy and afraid of attention will keep you in the dark. Get some help. Step out into the light and shine. All this talent is YOURS! Come on now. Take one step at a time. Look the world in the eye--you can-'cause, sister, they are as uncertain and as shaky as you are. Come on now. That's it. Just keep on creating and the work will speak for you. Soon enough, you will speak with it. Go on and simply be yourself. Create!

I would go back and say, "Don't poo-poo things you don't like to draw now, because eventually you'll love them. Don't discard the thought of ever enjoying them, because some day you might find they're what you want to do with your life. Oh, and keep on trying to succeed despite what others think of you. Your willingness to succeed despite what they say is one of your greatest strengths."

That's what they always said in art school. I genuinely don't understand it. I have always hated the process, so so much, like I mean guaranteed to be in tears somewhere in making a piece. The only thing that has ever made it worthwhile for me to go through all that frustration and impossibility is that the product is beautiful and I love the finished result.

And now I am still in the middle of this huge, huge block and I look at how much I hate the process and begin to wonder if I even want to be an artist any more. Something is transforming, on a deep level, and I can even envision a kind of art I'd like to make, but I don't know if I have the patience/hardheadedness/unkindness of self to make myself make it any more.

I'm really lost.

Thalia, is it possible to give yourself a break from your usual kind of work, and either channel your creativity in another direction for a while, or simply take some time where you don't worry about output but instead focus on "input"? For me, when I'm blocked, it can be a reminder that I periodically need to stop and "fill the creative well" ... which is done by nourishing yourself with whatever pleases and inspires you most: music, books, walks, gardening, friends, whatever it is that makes you feel good and alive and connected to the world in a rich way. Blocks can feel quite horrible...but sometimes they are necessary, when the "well" has run dry...or when things are changing deep inside, but the change hasn't quite worked its way up to the surface of your consciousness yet.

It might help to give yourself permission to stop for a little while, without thinking that's a failure, but, rather, considering it all to be part of the creative process, part of the cycle.(I realize this is tricky if the art you are making is also the primary way that you earn your living.) If you *are* able to take a break, and to take the time off for some well-filling, then the desire to make art generally *does* come back, usually quicker than you'd expect. And when you start to feel ready to make art again, it helps (in my experience, anyway) to start up again gently, with kindness toward yourself, approaching the work, or choice of materials, or subject matter, in some way that's different than before...always asking yourself as you take each step: Am I doing it this way because I think I *have to*, or am I following my heart and muse where they want to go, even if the lead me into the scary unknown...?

Also, it's okay to decide *not* to come back to your regular form of art, if that's what your soul is truly telling you (rather than simply telling you it's tired and needs a break). As a creative person, there a million ways to express the artist within you, and it doesn't necessarily need to be in the way you've been doing it until now. We have this idea of life that it should always be a steady progression, from point A to B to C to "wordly success" ... but often (and particular for creative folks) the true "art" of life is allowing ourselves to change.

My stepdaughter, for example, is a very good actress, born into a theatrical family, and she spent her school years preparing for a life in theatre--at first with excitement, but over time with something that began to seem more like stubborness and grim determination...all the while ignoring a quiet little voice deep inside her saying, "Actually, what I really *love* to do is cook." She was so invested in the idea of herself as an actress, and in all the work she'd done preparing to be an actress, and in the fact that this is how friends and family saw her, that a change seemed impossible. Today, she is working under a Michelin-star chef at one of London's top restaurants; she's on the right path (if a totally unexpected one); and she's enormously happy. (It was the fact that she no longer seemed *happy* doing the daily work of theatre, despite her great talent for it, that made Howard finally sit her down and ask her hard questions about whether she was on the right career path.)

So I guess what I'm trying to say is, your block could be telling you:
a.) You're tired and you need a break, and some well-filling;
b.) You're forcing yourself to work in a way that's productive, yes, but not comfortable/natural for you, and there may be a better working method with which you can reach your art goals;
c.) It's time to sit down and ask yourself some hard questions about what you really want to be doing with this all-to-brief, precious life we've been given.

'Don't know if any of this helps, since I don't really know your situation, but those are my long, rambling thoughts on a cloud Devon morning. Sending you a big hug from Bumblehill.

I would tell myself that people lie. That sometimes, when they say you're no good, what it really means is that you're TOO good, and they're afraid you'll get even better. I would share with my younger self the tells that separate honest critique from artistic sabotage, and how to see the motivational man behind the verbal curtain the nay-sayers loved to wave about.

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