Watercolor for the Anxious Mind
A process diary.
Because he’s the best, my boyfriend bought me a fancy paint set for Valentine’s Day. Because I’m anxious, I’ve been staring at the set ever since. I’ve kept it on the floor next to my desk, waiting for permission that of course can only come from myself.
I don’t know how to paint; I have not formally studied this craft; I’ve been educated by nothing but my want. But I know what my want has made possible for me in the past.
Last week, I led a poetry workshop with a group of students at Ohio State University. I expressed to them that I think poets are an especially brave breed of writer because we have to face the blank page much more often than fiction and nonfiction writers. Our work is fierce but compact. We’re always starting over from scratch. The freedom of creating something from nothing can be overwhelming. For the emerging poet, “success” isn’t the poem you’re writing today; it’s the next poem and the poem after that. “Success” is all the blank pages you will stare down over the course of your life.
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I tried to keep that in mind as I picked up my brush. I felt ridiculous. Was I even using the right brush? I haven’t worked with watercolor since I was in grade school. Sitting at my coffee table, trying to decide which green to dab first, I felt childish.
The prospect of making visual art makes me nervous. The prospect makes me stop before I even start. I’m afraid to mess up; I’m afraid I’ll embarrass myself; I’m afraid I’ll squander my fortune. A line from Margo Jefferson’s new memoir Constructing A Nervous System feels applicable here: “You were always calculating—not always well—how to achieve; succeed as a symbol, and a self.”
But once I barrel right through the brick wall of that “prospect” and actually get to work, the anxiety transforms into a feeling of liberation.
Using watercolor is a perfect challenge for an anxious, calculating perfectionist. You can’t will water to answer for your anxieties. The color flows and drips and curves and bleeds. A life of its own. It’s not entirely about what you want.
A monologue from A24’s “The Green Knight” — a movie about a poem, as it turns out — has been on my mind for months. It has lingered and persisted just like the color.