Saturday, 17 January 2015

glorious mistakes

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.

And, buttons.

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 learn.

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.

Wabi Sabi.
A centuries old aesthetic, which has become a catch-cry philosophy today. 

Perfectly flawed.

Like life itself.



  1. Neil Gaiman is one of my heroes.
    And you are nudging his place on the podium. Brave, creative, caring and perservering.
    I grew up in a family where only maths/science brains were valued. As a result, I was in my thirties before I realised I was not stupid. And still, when I am tired or discouraged I accept their judgement.
    As I have no doubt you do.
    But you are more than that. So much more than that. As am I.

    1. That we are, dear EC. So much more than that.

    2. And, I just found out that NG is in Tasmania at the moment. Synchronicity...

    3. I soooooo wish I was down at MONA at the moment. I entered a comp to win tix to go and had a fervent belief that I was going to win. Alas ...

    4. I know! Me too. And, I would've loved the chance to see the glorious Mr G read his new book, The Sleeper and the Spindle, in person.

  2. You know that I so get this. I have the exact same issues with math, but I never had expectations for grades from my parents. I made good grades except for all the failures in math. To her credit, my mom understood and tried to find tutors for me. I never got it, even with all the help. To this day, math is a burden for me. Its like I have math dyslexia.You are not alone!
    I would think working in clay would be good therapy for embracing mistakes. It brings with it so many failures! At least it did for me :)
    I share your love for all those textiles and have left clay for awhile to visit with yarn, fabric, sewing, weaving, knitting. Just for me. Not for the selling and it has been a tremendous relief from struggling with selling art. Nice to see you taking care of self. Those of us with the crazy parents have to remember to do that!! Hugs and more hugs to you,

    1. I'm now comfortable with the basic fundamentals of math - just. And, only on a good day. Something must have sunk in all those years ago while I doodled my way through class :D
      But, present me with algebra, trig, calculus, percentages and fractions and I'll run away screaming, lol.

      I think you do an amazing job calculating for your beautifully woven creations, Tracey. Not something I could do easily.
      Enjoy visiting with textiles - immerse yourself in textural goodness.

      I agree, clay does give one many opportunities to make mistakes - I've made plenty, especially with glazes.
      And, it can have a frustratingly "warped" sense of humour :)

      Hugs to you too, at this emotional time.

  3. oh my vicki.
    how i relate to this post. i'd like to tell every little child who just doesn't 'get math' that there can really be a wonderful life without it.
    learn to use a calculator. do not be lessened by ANYONE mother or teacher or friend who ridicules you because you do not think in math terms.
    i was made to stand in front of a classroom of children at the board until i solved the problem. all i saw was black before me. a blank. nothing made sense.
    the teacher said nobody got to go to recess until i solved the problem. now they HATED me of course. then she slapped the back of my legs with a ruler.
    good lord. something right out of charles dickens novels.
    i'm glad you're doing this. i never thought of you as one to shy from anything! especially anything creative. it just flows from your spirit!!!
    i cannot wait to see the fun you'll have! and now. this is way too long again. good grief. XOXO♥ and the face of that beloved blue boy. oh god. tears.
    love. longing to touch him. i could not love him more. give him my hugs too dear one. xoxo

    1. I wish I could too, Tam. That there can be a wonderful life out there, after school. And that there is a place for them in the world - if they work hard at what they love to do.
      That, fundamental maths will sink in, eventually, and will be enough to get them through while they focus on what their heart aspires to.

      I know many won't agree with me, and they think that complex math is essential in life, but I don't believe so. Not if it causes emotional damage that burdens ones future, and importantly, self esteem.

      Some teachers were truly dreadful weren't they? Not all mind you, but some got away with appalling things - as your poor wee self experienced. Dickensian indeed.
      We had the odd teacher or two who took their personal lives and problems out on us kids.

      Oh, I shy away alright. But, my muse is strong, and she continues to coax me. I'm sure she shakes her head when I give up easily though :)

      Dear Jack. He spends much of his days sleeping now. He stares into clouded darkness with wide eyes, desperately trying to focus on dimming shapes. My heart goes out to him when he bumps into things. I'm forever trying to catch him before he does, but can't always get there in time.
      Darling boy, he's doing so very well. Still loves his food and his happy disposition never wanes.
      His hug is delivered - and he knows who it's from. His spirit will always know...

  4. Glorious mistakes ... ahh, it must be glorious to create fearlessly, mustn't it. Imagine having your insides full with yourself and your Self and not with a grinding, grinching, incredibly imperfect parent. It's such a sad thing that children are unable to see the relentlessly huge faults of their own parents. I get why, but it does fuel my desire for all people who are not able to own their own shit to sterilise themselves.

    Ooh, that's a little harsh, isn't it! Oops! But nevertheless it's a true feeling.

    I love that you bravely face that feeling and yet do it anyway. It truly is one of the very best acts of bravery.

    1. Yes, I do envy those who can create without the cloud of self doubt and recrimination glowering overhead.
      So often, epiphany gives way to defeat.
      But, every artist has a muse who goads us on. They can be gloriously hard task masters, and I'm glad we have them within us :)

      So many parents can do so much damage to their children. Some without knowing it. Some refuse to own up to it. And frighteningly, some know exactly what they do - they are monsters and don't deserve the right (and the honour) to be parents.

      For the others, I would like to give them the chance to "own their shit" and make amends. It's never too late... as long as they do so.
      Some bridges can be mended - wonky as they may be.
      But those who go to their grave denying what they've done - like my own mother - leave a trail of tears and destruction that can take a lifetime to sort through.

      I'm not brave. I wish I were. But, if I don't feed the creative fire within and keep it burning to warm my spirit, I fear the cold withering of the soul that might result.

  5. That question. "What is it for?" I got that question repeatedly from my mother and still get it today from others. But now I have the strength to answer, "Why does it have to be FOR anything? It just IS." But I'm in my 60's and it's just in the last several years that I've been able to say that!

    Complex math is only important if one uses it in one's work. I never did. All that struggle...for what? So my parents could have bragging rights. I don't think they knew the harm they caused, although right before she passed away my mom did say to me, "I know I wasn't a very good mother. I'm sorry." That helped tremendously. In her own way, though, and for a person her age, she was a good mother. She was a great caretaker, which was what was expected of mother's in those days. But emotional support, accepting me for who I was and wanted to be? Forget it. She never did come to terms with me being an artist and an introvert, so unlike my siblings and herself. It would have meant so much to me to hear her say, just once, "I'm proud of you."

    But animals...aren't we lucky that we love them and they love us? Saviors, that's what they are! Give that precious Jack lots of hugs and kisses from me, please.



    1. I know, Victoria. It takes such a long time to be able to say, "just because it is", when we feel the need to create something, anything, for no particular reason.
      Only we know, deep down. And, sometimes, it's no one else's business why :)

      Ugh, don't get me started on parents' bragging rights... Why are children something to compete with? I know there is pride in their babies, I get that. But, just for children to be happy, healthy and good, caring human beings is worthy enough in my book. They'll find their way in life without being put up on pedestals and/or judged for their abilities.
      Even though I do understand societal expectations of those days. So much pressure to conform and keep up appearances, often at all costs. So sad.
      But, that's me. I feel strongly about these subjects.

      You are so fortunate that your mother was able to tell you that from her heart. Such words can go a long way to help heal a child, no matter how old they are.
      I too craved to hear those simple words, "I'm proud of you". Yet, I never did. Ever.
      I means so much to a child. So much.

      And yes, animals can save us and mend our broken hearts with their undying love. Such giving creatures. No ego. No expectations. No recriminations.
      Just unconditional love, forever and a day.
      Bless them all.

      And, Jack says "thank you" for his hugs and kisses :)

  6. I had a similar 'fear?' of failure, if I didn't immediately know how to do something, often I would give up and not care about it. I only ever put in the real efforts when it was something I really, really wanted to learn. There was no fear of punishment, rather I didn't want others laughing at me when they could do something after one or two tries while I couldn't.
    With schoolwork I had no problems, things came too easily to me, so that I didn't need to try hard and got a rude shock when high school proved much harder and I had no learned study habits to help me along. I wish I'd seen the value in education and staying at school, but I was raised by my dad who saw only the value in working and earning money.
    I see the value now in making mistakes, that's a wonderful passage you have there by Neil Gaiman, but many times now, I'm still wary of trying something I don't really need to.
    I love that you're trying something new now, textiles are wonderful to play around with, (I love silk), I sewed quite a bit when the kids were babies and toddlers, for myself and them, never made stuffed toys though, there just wasn't the need, the kids had so many older cousins who handed down their toys.
    Give Jack a cuddle from me.
    I do love buttons though, old wooden buttons that have such a great feel to them, it's been a long time since I even saw any.

    1. True. We often can put ourselves under pressure and fear of failure in life. It's a shame that so much of society regards mistakes with disdain in the pursuit of perfection.
      I'm far more comfortable with embracing mistakes as I grow older - which is just as well, seeing as I make enough of them :)

      Lovely to know that you are a sewer. I admire those who can sew clothes - I see that as a fine accomplishment.
      Wooden buttons are a delight, aren't they?

      Jack is quite chuffed with the wonderful cuddles he's getting from blogland - yours included, thank you :)


  7. Oh, Vicki... ((BIG HUGS)) I think we all have some experience with failure--small or big--and with fear connected to it. It makes my heart sad to know you suffered much at the hands of your mother. I'm not sure why there are parents who put so much burden on their children. My Dad was--still can be!--a difficult person to get on with. Doing wrong was not good in his eyes. This and church rules... I think I've always had a fear of failure too. And feel terrible for long when I have done something wrong. I still have a hard time doing wrong. I try not to. ;o) I was never good at math--never... still not... LOL! But some mistakes do help us grown. And the creative mistakes are some of the best. :o) VERY, very exciting is your new adventure into textiles. I'll be so happy to see how this goes for you, and what you'll create! For now, just have fun. Be kind to yourself and give your heart some extra wings to fly with all this. And pets are the best companionship--they love us no matter what! Can't wait to see what you're making... looks like a bunny! ((LOVE & HUGS))

    1. Ah, there are so many of us that claim to never have been good at math... yet, look at us all now. We're okay!! Lol.
      And, look at the beautiful work you create, Tracy. Your crochet work alone requires a degree of mathematical thought, so you do very well indeed :)
      Hugs to sweet Charlie.

  8. Oh my. I have so many thoughts, I hope I don't forget all that I want to say.
    First, Love Neil Gaiman. I printed out one of his quotes, year before last and framed it and gave it as a Xmas gift to my eldest niece.

    I know that part of my problem with procrastination is my fear of making a mistake. That fear I'm sure comes from having a father who didn't believe in waste. I was told not to waste paper so I would be afraid to draw freely. I would never just toss away a piece of paper. No, I'd be busy erasing. Truly that takes the fun out sketching anything.
    Maybe that's why I still have four stripes of paint color on my kitchen wall. It's been like that since... I can't remember. All random mis-tinted gallons of paint that were only $5.00 a gallon. I get so mad at myself, trying to save money when I should have just picked the color I really wanted and bought that gallon.... I'm rambling.
    Math, oh god I was awful. When I was a kid I was sick all the time and missed a lot of school. So when I went back, I was way behind and could never catch up. then I had a teacher who used me as an example to ridicule so that stifled me for good.
    My dad refused to let me go to college, he even went to my high school and made the Principal change my Spanish class (a requirement for getting into college) into a typing and a shorthand class. He said that I didn't need college. So, I quit trying. He got furious that I was only getting C's and I said that C was average and that's what I was, Average. yeah, parents can really mess us up.
    Oh well, it's in the past.

    Hey! I'm so happy to see that you are pursuing textiles. I love that you are creating for YOU.
    I don't sew. I can't follow a pattern. My mind refuses to go there but I've made a lot of dolls, fairies, rabbits, cats, dogs, wolves and such for my nieces.
    I just drew it out on a piece of cloth and went from there. Sometimes I used a machine but then it would jam on me so most were made by hand. I enjoyed creating gifts for them.
    I'm super excited to see what you are working on!

    and then there's Jack.
    I know that feeling so well. I have a couple of little ones that can't see a thing and one that I think is only seeing shadows because he aims and misses so much. But the one that squeezes my heart is Blue, when I notice how his skin is looser and his muscle mass is less. He's in great health but I still can see that he's not as young as he used to be.

    Finally, thank you so so much for the "nudges". You have perfect timing... you threw me a rope just when I needed it.
    xoxoxo - Cindi

    1. Sigh. Parents. They, who should be the ones to support us the most in this harsh world, can often be the ones that hurt us the most - even many years down the track.
      You are far, far from average, dear Cindi, and don't you forget that. Ever.
      I know how spoken words can pierce the heart and echo across the years, but we have to tell them to get out of our head, because that was "their shit" and we're NOT owning their shit...

      I love that you created fabric creatures without patterns. The free-ness of that is so appealing - and is from the true artist within.
      I have drawn and re-drawn the pattern I've made, and have made some (glorious) mistakes along the way these past few days... but, I'm also learning a lot on how to make patterns, from my mistakes.

      I am ever amazed at how much Jack adapts to his encroaching blindness. I am far more vigilant these days in learning how to live with a dear old blind/deaf boy.
      I'm so happy that he's still a cheeky boy much of the time, when he's not sleeping, which is also much of the time :)
      I know that sinking, heart gripping feeling when we see our babes begin to show those slight, yet perceptible, signs that they are getting older...

      About the nudges - if you ever think I'm being a little too, er, intrusive, then tell me to "back off". I can take it. Because I never know if I might just catch you at a time when you least want it :)
      But, I do think of you often and wonder how your lovely illustrations are going, so, a gentle nudge may come in from time to time, lol.

      Keep well, and hugs to big, beautiful Blue and your sweet furry crew!

  9. about the child abuse you were subjected to, by she-who-birthed-you, I can't say anything coherent. all I could do, is scream

    so I simply wrap you, and that scared little girl inside you, in volumes of gentle hugs... and try to rock away, the terrors.

    and rejoice with you, for the steps you have taken, to kill off the poison... inflicted on/in you, by she-who-birthed-you.

    keep at it!!!!!!!!!! keep at it!!!! keep at it!!!!!!

    1. Thank you, Tessa. Those volumes of gentle hugs can do so much good you know.

      It took a long time to detox my mind, body and soul of the poison within.
      Scars remain - they will never disappear, but, they can fade...

      I intend to keep at it... my muse wouldn't have me do otherwise :D

  10. Wow! That's SO inspiring! One of the reasons I don't try new things (rather than trying & failing) is because that might mean I have to GET HELP! Instead of DOING IT ALL MYSELF!!! It's so unrealistic to expect to do everything right, without assistance, the very first time - so why do I think I should be able to?! Maybe Neil Gaiman deserves a medal!!!

    1. Neil Gaiman is inspirational.
      And, so are YOU, Red! The places you go, the things you do and the stunning photos you take are amazing.
      You take on adventures that many of us dream about...

    2. Thank you Vicki! I'll know I have succeeded when I meet you in one of the places I've written about!!!

  11. Have you ever read Julia Cameron's the Artist's Way? A lot of it is about giving us the courage to stand up to critics who think artistic pursuits are a waste of time.

    And in answer to Cindi's saying she's afraid to waste, Lynda Barry has cured me of that fear with her, "Waste time and material." One of the most liberating lines I have every read.

    The line that cured me of worrying about not being any good is, "Anything worth doing is worth doing poorly." It has the same spirit as Julia Cameron when she says it's her job to do the work. It's God's job to worry about whether or not it's any good. Doing art is a spiritual path.

    1. Thank you for reminding me, Jean! I had heard about Julia Cameron's book some time ago. I thought about getting it, but then promptly forgot, lost in myriad other thoughts.
      So, thank you for that, I'll look it up - must be some second hand copies on Amazon or eBay :)

      And yes, I agree. Wasting time and materials is a learning experience... so that can't possibly be bad.
      Doing art of any kind is indeed deeply spiritual.


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