Recently I was shopping at my local art store.
Now when I go shopping for art supplies I buy LOTS of stuff because I have the excuse that I am buying all these great things for my students and classes. It's actually one of the best parts about being an intuitve painting teacher.
So this one day I was pushing my shopping cart around and it was practically filled to the brim with all kinds of goodies. And most of it was tempera paint, which is the kids paint that I use in my workshops.
I was standing in line waiting to check out when for some reason I turned around and saw this adorable little girl, maybe 6 years old, clutching, and I mean white knuckle clutching these two bottles of tempera paint. She was also looking up at me with the most wide eyed, plaintive, almost pleading look. I was actually a little taken aback by the intensity of her gaze and not sure what it meant. She didn't say anything, she just stared at me.
Her mother then appeared behind her. She was an attractive, well dressed woman in her mid thirties, and she said to me "Oh, excuse me but I noticed that you were buying a lot of that tempera paint and I have a question to ask you. My daughter wants me to get her some, but I need to know first if it will wash out of her clothes if she gets paint on them?"
Now it's all beginning to making sense.
The poor kids knuckles are getting whiter and her eyes are getting wider, if that's even possible, as she looks at me, this other adult who is going to be the final arbiter of whether or not she gets to take home this treasure that she has found. This enchanted liquid she holds in her hands.
This wasn't a kid who was just wanting the next bright and shiny thing, a toy or video game that she would soon be bored by and then move on to something new. This kid was SERIOUS. She wanted to paint and she wanted it bad. Her tiny, little girl soul was just so hungry for the chance to create and she wanted to do that with paint.
Now my first impulse was to grab her neatly coiffed mother by her unwrinkled lapels and shake her while saying something along the lines of " What is the matter with you, lady? You have a daughter who is so impassioned to paint and create that she is in danger of having her eyes pop right out of her head and you are worried about besmirching her clothes? Do you have no sense of what is important? Who cares about stains when you could feed your daughter's heart so simply with a little color and some cheap paint."
Of course I was able to rein myself in and pull off my ability to impersonate an adult and say something reasonable like " Oh no. There's no need to worry about that. This stuff is waterbased and comes right out of clothing. And if you are at all concerned, just use a little prewash on whatever fabric has been stained and you'll never even know any paint was there."
Which is not totally the truth. Because if you get some of the red paint on white fabric, no amount of spray and wash is going to return that piece of clothing to it's virginal pre- paint state.
But hey, that's why God invented lying. And I'll be darned if I was going to betray that passionate little creator standing there in front of me with her creative life in the balance over the issue of clean clothes!
I was also trusting that when the reality of irrevocable stains became perfectly clear the mother's love for her daughter would gain the upper hand over her fear.
And yes. The mother did buy the paint. And her daughter, now shyly smiling in the check out line, did not for one second relinquish her fierce grasp on those magical plastic containers!
We all have some version of this dilemma existing within our psyches.
We often find ourselves reenacting the drama of the hungry child, aching to be creative, in conflict with the uptight, fearful, over controlled parent when we won't make room in our lives for a corner of creativity to thrive.
We won't give ourselves the greenlight around our self expression because on some level we understand that being creative involves letting go of restraint and allowing things to be disorderly and even, god forbid, chaotic.
We know instinctively that paint is messy. Creativity is messy. And that ultimately, LIFE is messy.
Many of us have had the experience of growing up in an unpredictable situation that was dangerous and painful. We almost always associate chaos and lack of control with something bad, unpleasant and scary. We want to keep any hint of disorganization or untidiness at bay. But in doing so, we often go to extremes. If we have one crumb on the floor we are convinced that we are inviting the forces of total havoc and pandemomium into our lives.
But, as the saying goes, you can't make an omelet without breaking some eggs.
Opening up to the forces of creative change always involves some level of uproar and hullaballoo. But without that willingness to embrace those changes, our lives can become very sterile, static and empty.
What if you literally gave that inner child a place to create? What if you devoted a table or a corner of your home to a place where you could play with paint and crayons, glue and paper, a place where you could go to "mess around", have fun, experiment and explore?
If you make a committment to a physical space devoted to your creative self expression, you can think of it as an altar to the goddess of creativity. Who is also the goddess of chaos and mess.
This creative haven can be seen as a holy place where you are doing the sacred work of learning to live with what is not in your control. Where you are consciously inviting into your life the forces of disintegration and dissolution that are always part of the journey into the mysterious unknown that is the ground underlying our lives at all times.
By creating this space you are honoring yourself as an artist and a creative being and you are also feeding and loving that child in you who is so hungry to express themselves.
You are providing a strong container of creative support for that wide eyed little girl or boy who has not yet been co-opted by the forces of fear or propriety, and who doesn't care if they get paint on their clothes.
Who knows in their bones that mess is not a bad thing and in fact can be a joyful part of the creative process and is fiercely determined to claim their creativity no matter who or what might be standing in their way.
Copyright © Chris Zydel 2008