Outside the lines

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

When I was 6, my mom bought me a Barbie coloring book. I was elated, and not just because I had an unhealthy obsession with all things Barbie. I desperately wanted to color the entire book on my own, from cover to cover, as perfectly as possible.

My friends at daycare asked to take a page from the coloring book, and I adamantly refused. I told them it was my book and I was going to make sure it was the best Barbie coloring book anybody had ever colored. If you're wondering, yes, I do still have incredibly unrealistic expectations for myself. That has never been more clear than when I try to do something artistic.

My mom didn't exactly pass down artistic talent to me. She's not the most talented artist, either, but she can draw a mean Santa Claus head. I remember watching in awe when she would draw Santa, asking her to teach me how to do it. She tried. I failed. Luckily, I did well in school, so she didn't focus too much on how disappointing my "art" was.

Of course, I have always been super aware of my shortcomings. That's a byproduct of balancing a Type A personality with a chronic anxiety disorder. It's not as bad as it sounds; I'm very organized and always timely. But when it comes to anything creative, I certainly don't match up to even amateur artists.

I've joked to some of my more artistic friends that I can barely draw stick figures. This is one of those jokes that's really the truth but seems funny if you have a self-deprecating personality. It helps if you laugh a lot after saying it, so that people understand you're aware of how terrible you are but cool enough to find humor in it.

Unlike those of you who actually are cool about your flaws, I've never been able to handle the idea of performing poorly at something. I envy people who can draw for fun, even if they aren't particularly good at it. I couldn't even own a coloring book as a child without wanting every page in that book to be perfect.

Just so you know, I did finish that coloring book and it was about as close to perfect as a 6-year-old's coloring book could be. I still felt apprehensive about showing it to people, though, because I had colored outside the lines a couple of times. Thinking back on it, I don't understand how I managed to take the fun out of coloring. Why couldn't I just enjoy it? Why did I worry so much about whether or not it was perfect?

This weekend, I spent some time with some close friends. One of my friends suggested that we carve pumpkins, and I suddenly remembered that Barbie coloring book. Before I could say anything about how terrible I am at art, my friend said something to change my perspective. "I'm going to make a really bad pumpkin," she said. "The worst pumpkin ever."

It never occurred to me that I could create something just for the sake of creating. So I picked up a carving knife and created a really bad Jack O' Lantern. It had uneven eyes, a trapezoid for a nose and two massive eyebrows. It wasn't good by any means, but it sure was fun to create.

When I got home that night, I pulled a coloring book from the bookshelf. Gideon bought the book for me a few months ago, but I hadn't really used it that much. I turned to a page, ripped it out and pulled out my coloring pencils.

And then, with glee, I colored outside the lines.

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Samantha Jones is associate editor for Carroll County Newspapers. Her email address is Citizen.Editor.Eureka@gmail.com