Thursday, October 28, 2010

A true story...which explains a lot

Yesterday, my crit partner mentioned one underlying problem we all have now and then when trying to create: the bad mix of trying to "fit our work in a box" versus trying to truly write what's in our heart, the story that begs to be told, and then worry about the "box" it'll fit in afterward. She finished up with hoping I wouldn't "hem myself in" with "Must color inside the lines...must color inside the lines..."

Little does she know how accurate that is.

True story. 

Little Janny, as a first-grader,  is assigned to color something (you're always assigned to color something in first grade. Like they have to persuade you to color?). She colors it. 

Now, Little Janny LIKES crayons. She does bold strokes. She tends to stray over lines. She tends to use intense sorts of coloring, and it's not a neat product when she's done.

Sister Rosemary, in conference with parents, expresses Grave Concern about this.
"Little Janny's coloring is very sloppy," Sister says. "Does she have fine motor control issues?"
Parents, to whom fine motor control is something you find in a Cadillac (which may as well be a DeLorean, for the likelihood of them having one), are puzzled.

Sister Rosemary explains further.
"See, she's pushing way too hard on these crayons, and the movements are jerky. She goes outside the lines. Does she have problems seeing?"
Parents, who understand word "seeing," say, "Nope."

Sister Rosemary  goes on.
"Well, to color properly, she needs to put way less pressure on her crayons." Sister holds up exemplary picture from classmate, colored in careful pastels. It's a thing of beauty. Looks like it was professionally printed.
"Like this. See? She doesn't need to press down so hard to get color out. If she presses lightly, she'll be able to stop short of the lines, and then just fill in the edges, and her work will be neater."
Parents, who think Little Janny is already pretty neat for a six-year-old (they remember her careful arrangements of stuffed toys and toy animals on the bed), are still a little puzzled. Is neatness so important for coloring at this point? She got the "right" colors on the sky and the trees and the apples, so that was good, wasn't it?

The nun smiles indulgently.
"Of course, that part's excellent. But she'll have to be neater. This sloppiness is unacceptable. These scribbles at the edges of things--does she have some kind of problem? Maybe self-control?"
Parents, who are constantly urging her to be less shy, don't think so.
"Okay. So we don't have to worry yet. But just tell her...color lightly. Not so hard on the crayons. She'll break them and wear them out too soon that way, anyway. And when she colors lightly, she'll stay within the lines, and her work will be so much better."

Parents, who attribute wisdom to Sister, go home and tell Little Janny what Sister said.
Little Janny frowns for a second. "But that'll make my pictures too light. I like the colors darker."
Parents sigh, and tell her apparently what Sister wants is light colors and within the lines. Maybe she ought to color that way. That's the "right" way to color, after all. It'll make Sister happy.
Little Janny wants to make Sister happy.

So she internalizes this...until seventh grade.
Then Sister Carmen comes along and says, in art class: "Enough of this mamby-pamby pastel stuff. That's not what these crayons were made for. Crayons were made to put COLOR on the page. If you're not pressing hard enough that I can smell the wax on the paper, and if you're not wearing out a box a semester, you're not doing it right."

By then, it might well have been a little late.
Because in many ways Little Janny's still remembering Sister telling her the "right way" to color when she was six.

On the other hand, it's probably no coincidence that Sister Carmen, who turned me loose both to speak up and be heard (a whole other story in itself) AND color outside the lines and PRESS DOWN HARD ON THOSE THINGS...had a given baptismal name of Janet.

Sister Janet, wherever you are, when this book of my heart is done...I hope you can smell the wax on the paper.


1 comment:

Donna Alice said...

How true, how true. I have a lot of papers from 1st grade with the Sloppy Angel crying stamp on mine -phrases such as 'stay within lines,' 'write neater.' It took me years to force myself out of the box of 'doing it right' and learning to do it 'my way.' Wonder if God made us different so we'd all do it our way?
Gotta watch those Sister Janet's! I have a friend who was a Sister Janet too!