Recently, I was reminded of a much loved quote by one of my favourite authors, Neil Gaiman.
I make them often.
But, I’m afraid of making them.
This is strongly ingrained from childhood.
My mother would threaten me if I ever came home with low school grades - especially in maths. Mistakes meant shame. To her.
The pressure felt enormous. So much so that when it came to mathematics exams, my mind would go blank.
I would stare at the paper, eyes blurring as numbers peeled off the pages and tormented me with their incomprehensible juxtaposed angles. Alien hieroglyphs morphing and contorting into angry, angular fingers, pointing condemningly, as the clock ticked ominously onward until, “pens down” was called by the teacher/examiner.
I would inevitably fail.
Yet, I loved English, biology, human biology, history and of course, art subjects.
But, they mattered not to my fixated mother. Especially art, which rated very low in her esteem.
It isn’t that I’m bad at arithmetic. Not these days anyway - thankfully, the need for a calculator on busy market days is rare indeed.
It was the psychological burden placed on me that caused my brain to withdraw into dusty, cobwebbed corners in math class.
As a result, my imagination took over and I drew flowers, trees, fairytale cottages and woodland animals in the margins of exam papers – even allowing them to spill out further onto the otherwise empty page. Much to my teachers’ consternation, judging by the comments scrawled across the pages in red ink - their harsh marks stabbing intrusively into my softly sketched characters.
Upon seeing the results, my mother would equally see red, and I would be punished severely.
I lived with fear and insecurity as I strived for perfection – never attaining it. Never good enough.
A loser in her, and my, eyes.
I didn't have the presence of (a child’s) mind to take a long, objective look at my mother and see the many, many mistakes she made as a parent, but refused to own up to.
All too obvious now.
But, the damage is done.
For so long, I lived with fear of failure. And, if it looked like I might fail at something, I wouldn’t take it on.
The (self) recriminations – and haunting words from the past – were crippling. Better not to try, than to “go there”.
Self doubt nibbles tentatively but insistently, at the edges, and I resemble a frayed rag doll.
I live with it constantly.
And I procrastinate.
So, it came as a surprise then, a few short weeks ago, that I confidently decided to try a new venture as I take a short break from clay.
Something that has tugged at my creative spirit for so long...
I love textiles. Especially the rougher, raw, nubby textures of linen, hemp, old grain sacks, unbleached, brown flecked cotton calico.
And the sensual feel of threadbare, vintage velvet.
Bolts of fabrics made in another era on looms in mills, now abandoned.
Intricate, gossamer laces, deftly tatted and hooked by weathered, yet expert, hands.
Linen woven from the humble, tiny blue flowered flax plant. An honest fibre of quality, strength and beauty dating back to antiquity.
Pre-loved, finger-worn wooden discs that securely fastened garments long before the zipper came along.
Practical, yet so charming.
What is it about old wooden buttons and homespun fabrics that tug at my heart?
Was I a tailor in a past life? Head bowed, round spectacles resting at the end of my nose, busy gnarled fingers - one topped with an old silver thimble - baste, tack and embroider myriad stitches into woven fibre by flickering candlelight long into the night.
The Village Tailor by Albert Anker (1894)
I feel very comfortable with that image.
Yet today, in this life, the mechanics of making confound me.
I’m not an expert sewer.
I know the basics to get the “blown out” crotches of hubby and sons’ jeans acceptably mended.
To sit at my forgiving machine and whip up sweet scented lavender bags.
I’m self taught.
Once, I read a word to describe it - “autodidactic”. Huh, so it has a place in etymology. No need to feel ashamed for the lack of formal qualifications.
There is a place for those like me, in a world of learned scholars, surely.
Yet still, I fear the mistakes I’ll make.
And worse, I fear the defeat that I might feel… and give up all too easily before I even truly begin.
But, I’m determined to try, even as I stare into the face of doubt when it leers at me with my mother’s features. Knitted eyebrows of derision dousing the flame of enthusiasm.
This week, I began a project, no, an experiment. Perhaps project requires the committment of completion to satisfaction.
Here, you can see the beginnings of a long eared, tea dyed, mysterious, anthropomorphic creature of forested day-dreams.
Just a hint… for now.
I don’t know how he’ll turn out when I fill his hollow, lifeless body with puffy soft dreams of hope.
"What’s it for?", you ask.
You're not alone. Hubby and son have asked the same :)
No particular - or practical - reason, but to just be.
And here, to keep me company, my own dear, faithful, near-blind and deaf real creature, ever by my side, happily content to lie among the strewn threads and scraps - the chaos of my fevered creativity.
To him, I can do no wrong.
There's something very right, and comforting, in that.
What drives me?
Well, my muse does.
She, who has been by my side, coaxing and cajoling for as long as I can remember.
She who resides deep within and refuses to leave, even when she has been scolded and scalded with scathing comments.
Who whispered gently on tearful nights to keep the fire inside burning bright, when it seemed there was nothing but a lone ember, struggling to glow.
She waits patiently.
Coercing me to conquer fear.
To make mistakes.
To go on when I'm disheartened.
To create more - even when the last two, three, four creations end up deformed and disfigured, representing anything but what I envisaged.
Freaks of my mind.
When I am ready, and if I’m feeling brave - for the world can be so cruel sometimes, I’ll draw back the worn, moth-eaten curtain, perhaps just a little, to reveal an ephemeral creature - not borne of perfection, but of hope, triumph and importantly… permission - to make mistakes.
A centuries old aesthetic, which has become a catch-cry philosophy today.
Like life itself.