Compare and Despair became my companions early on in my life and I have yet to figure out how to get them to quit hanging out with me. They have over stayed their welcome even though I don’t remember inviting them to my house. A Dynamic Duo. Always together. Sometimes they are lounging on the couch, often they are hanging out in my closet when I get dressed for the day, and they absolutely LOVE looking at my social media accounts with me. They even accompany me when I leave the house. They are in my car, on my walks with my dogs, when I go to the theatre to see a show and almost every time I go out to dinner with friends. Their Super Power is taking my good mood and changing it to bad in a nanosecond.
So it’s no surprise that they hopped in the car and went with me to my first ever painting class! I didn’t realize they were with me at first, but they made their presence known about an hour in. It went something like this.
Arrival at class.
It’s a beautiful Saturday morning as I walk into the class space. I walk past flowers, refreshments and a painted splattered easel set up at the front of the class. “Oh this is precious!” I think to myself. “Why was I even nervous about this? This is going to be fun!”
I pick my spot.
It looks so beautiful the way it is laid out. And we even get a button with a painted flower on it! What?!??! I love flowers. I’m thinking this is perfect! AND the watercolor paints are wrapped in white paper and tied up with a string. (I just started humming My Favorite Things when I wrote that sentence!) At this point in this experience, I’m even loving the small plastic cup filled with clear water. It’s like I can see my potential in the reflection!
We unwrap our paint sets, grab our brushes and face the empty page. So far, I’m still doing okay.
Then it’s time to start mixing some of that reflective water with a little paint. Nothing too challenging but I’m starting to feel anxious. I’m keeping it at bay, but ‘feeling anxious’ is the phrase that is on a soft, low repeat in my brain.
Try some lines or shapes the teacher suggested.
Uncomfortable! Uncomfortable! My brain began to shout! “You can do this!” I told myself and forced my paint brush into the water that was beginning to look muddled and gray, into the paint and onto my innocent paper. (I had begun to feel sorry for my paper and was viewing it as a victim of my desire to paint and my lack of skill in getting a few hair like fibers at the end of a wooden handle to cooperate.)
I got out of my seat.
I couldn’t handle it anymore. I grabbed the camera I had brought with me to document the experience and left my chair. After all, if I was going to write about this, then I knew I would need pictures. AND, I had told my lovely teacher that I would take photos and share them with her if she was interested. She was. Permission granted.
I took pictures of the snack table and flowers that you saw above. I took pictures of her easel. I took a few action shots of her.
Time to see what my classmates are creating.
In my comfort zone holding my camera, I then asked a few classmates if I could photograph their art so far. Snap. Snap. Snap. And in one, two, three shots, I looked up and realized Compare and Despair were with me.
Back at my spot.
The three of us quickly had a group meeting and decided to paint a blob but try and make the colors like artsy. It was awful and getting more awful with each suggestion from Compare and Despair. I kept at it and added lines around the blob thinking it would give it dimension. Then I surveyed my work. To my horror, I realized we had worked together to paint an amoeba. (Don’t believe me? Look and tell me what you see.)
The Teacher then started walking around to see our work!
Panic! Pure panic set in and I wanted to hide my paper but I also realized that I am a 54- year-old woman and I need to calm down. The teacher approached me and found something positive to say. She was gracious and encouraging. I confessed to her that “I’m not an artist. My brother is the artist.” I got a little teary when I told her.
It’s always been interesting to me how we so quickly fall into our family roles. Oldest, middle, or youngest child… baby of the family. The smart one, the athlete, the artist, the musician, the one who’s not really good at anything. The troublemaker, the peacemaker the one who doesn’t get involved. Mom’s favorite, Dad’s favorite, no one’s favorite. Golden child, black sheep, sensitive one of the family. Roles we never know we are auditioning for. Just parts that are handed out. Often played and perfected over a lifetime.
In my family, I am not the artist. That role was given to one of my brothers. He’s the talented one that is creative. His ability to draw, paint, or create anything with his hands was remarkable at a very early age. Only 18 months younger than him, we were best friends. Of course, I was right beside him drawing, coloring, painting when we were young. But by the time I was 6 or 7 years old, I could see the difference in our creations. Compare and Despair were hanging out with me even back then. They took the joy out of art for me. By the time I was 10 or 12, I quit trying to make art at all.
Another sheet of paper.
Mercifully, the teacher handed out fresh paper and we moved on to painting trees. Evergreens. My favorite trees. And something about painting my beloved pine tree calmed me down. I vowed to stay in my seat and quit looking around. Concentrate. Believe. And then a miracle happened. I painted a tree!
Compare and Despair grew silent. They could tell I was in no mood to hear any criticism from them. That’s what so interesting about those two. When I set a limit, they honor it.
My class finished on a high note with our teacher showing us how to paint a landscape backdrop that we could use to create our own watercolor world. I was happy. It had been over 40 years in coming, but I had found joy again in creating art.
The rest of the story.
I left that day feeling very proud of myself. I vowed to paint. Just for myself. Alone. I’ve been somewhat successful so far.
I have found that it requires courage for me to paint on my own. The first time I tried, I set everything up and then never painted. My supplies sat beautifully arranged on my kitchen table for two hours and then I packed them up. Compare and Despair had been sitting at the table for the entire two hours and I couldn’t bear painting with them watching.
But the second time I met with success. The third time too. And I came up with a clever idea to get Compare and Despair on my side in writing this post. I told them that I would paint their initials and use them as the featured image if they would keep quite and set their fears aside while I was writing. That seemed to do the trick. As I said before, when I set a limit, they honor it.
I think the paintings turned out nice if I do say so myself. And I’m confident my brother will love them when I get brave enough to tell him that I took a painting class 🙂
One more thing before you go…
I first heard the catchy phrase “compare and despair” from the lovely Martha Beck. She is a life coach extraordinaire, New York Times bestselling author and all around brilliant human being. So if you think I’m super smart for coining the phrase and sentiment, all credit goes to Martha 🙂
And one more thing before you go…
I took my painting class with Leana Fischer in Fayetteville, Arkansas. She is a patient and kind teacher. But above everything else, she is a beautiful soul. You can check out her classes, work and the delightful creations she sells on her website May We Fly
Did you like this story? If you did, I have a feeling you’d like this one too. It’s all about the The Elusive Search for Belonging. Go here to read my most popular blog post. Curious about the post that started it all? You can find it here. Want to read them all? Start at the top right here and work your way down.
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