Assignment – Day 8 – Reinvent the Letter Format
Drawing is a skill that I used to have. I would doodle and draw all the time when I was in elementary and middle school. Over the years, I stopped and now I can’t draw a simple cartoon character to save my life (you should see my storyboards…stick figures would be a step up). When I was six, I got my first drawing assignment from Mrs. Smith at Andy Woods Elementary School. We were all given animal cards at random and asked to draw the animal on the card (you remember the square cards with an animals picture on one side and a description of it on the other?). Well it just so happens that I got the ant lion card. “What in the world is an ant lion?”, you ask. Exactly! My first ever drawing project and I get an amorphous, prehistoric, parasitic, alien looking dinosaur thing. On a six year old’ difficulty scale, 1 to 10 (1 being easy) this was an 11! How could I be so unlucky? Who is the slacker at the school district that shirked their duties and failed to weed out the ant lion from the deck. I was in denial. Why me?
I went home that night, pulled out the drawing supplies and sat at the table by the kitchen where my mom was working on her after dinner activities (probably cleaning the kitchen) and stared at it for several minutes looking completely perplexed. Then the level of frustration and anxiety rose to such heights that I started bawling right there in front of her. “I caaaan’t dooooo iiiiiit”, I cried. My mom stopped cleaning and came over to the table to assure me that it wasn’t that hard and all I needed to do was try. Her first effort was the reply, “Yes you can”. I immediately came back, “No I caaaaaaan’t”. After a few bouts of positive reinforcement with no luck, she eventually showed me the shortcut of tracing. At this point, I had the paper on top of the card and, holy cow, it does show through a little. I’d never traced anything before so I considered this technique while my mom wen’t back to work……After a minute or two more of staring………. “Aaaaaaahhhhhhhhhh, I can’t dooooo iiiiiiiit.” I know, I know. I was a cry baby. It’s just the way I looked at tasks back then. Come on, I was six! I don’t know if I was afraid of ridicule from others who might think my work was bad, or what the deal was, but I must have been self conscious for some reason. I’m sure you can guess the outcome. Eventually I started tracing the hardest animal image on the planet, and when I was done, because I tried, I was finished. All the anxiety was gone. I went to school the next day and turned it in. Probably got a good grade on it although, I doubt Mrs. Smith graded on a curve based on difficulty. In my mind, If she did, I would’ve had so much extra credit on the books, I could have skipped all assignments for the rest of the year and still passed on to second grade!
The ant lion incident is one that I remember every time I have to sit down and write a new blog post, or do any other creative work, and I have no idea how to start. So I decided, for this assignment, to write a letter to my six year old self and hand down some wisdom that I’ve learned over the years about doing stuff that’s hard.
You don’t know me but I’m a family friend. Your mom tells me that you’re quite the creative kid and have some mean art skills. I also have a knack for art. I like to draw and write and do tough assignments. I wasn’t always so excited about the hard ones. I used to think that easier was better because I could finish fast and then go outside to play. What I found out was that getting really good at anything takes a lot of practice. When I first started out, I wasn’t very good and sometimes people in my class laughed at my pictures that I drew or stories that I wrote. One time, in the fourth grade, we had a substitute teacher in gym class. That day, it just so happens that I had written a creative letter and gave it to a friend who passed it around. Before I knew it, it had been passed around to almost the entire class. In my world we say that, it had “gone viral”. Later in the day, in gym class, kids were still passing it around and the substitute coach saw it and made the kid passing it bring it to the front of the class where he read part of it out loud and said something pretty mean in order to embarrass me because he though I was passing notes in his class, even though that wasn’t really true. The entire class laughed and it made me cry. But after he gave the letter back, the class saw how upset I was and passed it back to me because they felt bad that they had made me feel bad. It sounds like a terrible thing to go through but, the next day, the mean teacher was gone and the other kids were as friendly as they always were and everything was back to normal. The experience was good because it taught me a lesson. I’m actually tougher than I thought. Some of the kids that laughed were in this fancy program for creative kids. It was “exclusive”, which means that I was not invited to be in it. I guess they thought I was not creative enough. Many years later, in college, I found out about a program even fancier than the one they had in the 4th grade. I really wanted to be in it so, I decided to try, and guess what? I made it! So don’t feel embarrassed when other people don’t understand what you’re making. Sometimes, even the kids who get to sit in the fancy class with their fancy program can’t tell the difference between what’s good or bad. Trust me, you’ve got what it takes! If you get frustrated (I do too), then just take a break and go play with your gerbil for a half hour or go for a walk down to your treehouse…oh wait you don’t have a treehouse. If you do get a treehouse, it’ll probably be the coolest ever made, designed by you and your friends (no girls or grownups invited), will be a product of pure creativity, and that’s impressive. But, watch out. If the treehouse is on a hill, made out of carpet, and the exit is actually a rusty old mattress lying under the tree, don’t hit the springs sticking out when you jump, do tuck and roll (that’s the fun part), and don’t stay away from home for too long. There’s always more to practice (Unless it’s Saturday!)
Most importantly, always keep in mind that practice does make perfect. Some people will pretend that they were born with talent but it’s a myth. It’s ok to let them believe it while you rest easy knowing that the real talent comes from hard work doing hard stuff. The most talented people finish one hard thing and then look for the next thing that’s just as hard as the last. That’s how you get good. So, the key is, believe in yourself, don’t give up, and last but not least…never forget that your mom is really good at helping. All you have to do is ask.
Follow this advice, and I promise, you’ll eventually get into a fancy creative program yourself, even if getting there means drawing one stupid, ant lion after another after another. In the mean time…practice your tuck and roll. You’re going to need that.