Friday, April 3, 2015

Back to the Ol' Drawing Board: Rediscovering a Passion

 As a kid, I loved to draw. What kid doesn’t? Well, in my case, I was really good at it. Unfortunately, I don’t think anything from my childhood or adolescence survived the times or numerous moves, but I still have memories of those little art projects. One that comes to mind wasn’t so little: I used to make my own videocassette covers. I don’t mean recreating all that awesome VHS art that adorned video rental shelves back in the 80s. I mean I made boxes for movies I just made up. Covers, back photos, synopsis, credits, the whole thing. The films I dreamed in my head would either be live-action versions of my favorite cartoons (Robotech was a big one) or crazy titles like Slime School (Obviously influenced by all the Nickelodeon I was watching). Those made-up boxes would be displayed on my headboard like a real movie collection. I went through my grade school and high school years drawing monsters, cartoon characters, superheroes, band logos, and quite a bit of Halloween illustrations. I was captivated by pop-culture visuals, and I had fun letting it all fire my imaginative spirit.

At some point during my college career, I stopped. Honestly, it ended up like everything else I was told I was good at: I reached a point where I gave up rather than try to make myself better. I lacked discipline. Why? Because I was convinced no matter how hard I worked, it would not be good enough, so what’s the point?

It’s something I’ve struggled with my entire life. Yes, self-esteem issues. As quickly as I would throw myself into a new creative outlet, I’d lose focus, then my resolve. I’ve hardly sang since junior college. I’ve had a guitar for almost twenty years. I still don’t know how to read music. I tried my hand at stand-up comedy. I walked away after two open mics. Hell, just look how often I’ve posted on this blog the past five years. I allowed it to interfere with not only my talents, but other aspects of my life, as well. Truth is, I have gone through my adulthood acting such a coward. I never took chances. Risks. Adventure. Christ, I’ve never even been out of the country. The worst part is, I had built up this really arrogant front so people couldn’t see how I saw myself. And whenever anyone would see past that and try to help me, I would react very defensively and/or shut them out.

As a result, I lost the greatest romance I ever had.

Jenn is the most special person I have ever met. An incredible soul, a great thinker, an excellent writer, and a brilliant sense of humor. She understood me better than anyone. Right off the bat, we knew we were meant for each other. We were a team. Both with an enormous love for the horror genre. She saw the best in me and continuously tried to bring it out. After watching me draw a picture of Jim Aparo-era Batman, she bought me a drawing pad, sketchbook, and a set of pencils for my birthday one year.

So, what happened? Just like clockwork, I stopped trying. I stopped growing. Couldn’t shut up the voices of self-doubt in my head. Eventually, I wasn’t able to communicate with her out of fear she would look down on me, even when I fucking knew better. And she couldn’t communicate with me because I would shut down and make her feel like she didn’t know what she was talking about. We stopped being a team. I let that arrogant front get in the way, too. I made her feel like she was the lesser of the two of us, in private and in public. I had no consideration for her feelings at all. I admit it: I was a jerk.

Jenn stood up for herself. Just like Gwen in The Amazing Spider-Man 2. “I break up with you.” Despite the fact that I felt in my heart the best thing for us was to be just friends for awhile, once again, I lost my focus and my resolve. The whole time we were stuck under the same roof after we split, I tried to “fix” the relationship. All our conversations ended up going around in circles, because I could not admit to her or myself my faults. I knew I needed the time and effort to figure out who I was, but all I did was sit around feeling hurt. It's clear I was too scared of the change, and all my actions suggested I only wanted to restore the status quo of our relationship. Extremely selfish on my part. I did nothing to make her feel like I was her best friend. She moved out and I, too, had to vacate the apartment we shared. I haven’t spoken to her since. Not because I'm mad at her. Not at all. She had every right to leave. I figured I was the last person she wanted to talk to now that she has own own place and independence. I forced myself to be able to be with myself.

I took my belonging back with me to my folks’ house so I can save the money I have while I look for a new job and place. I used the opportunity to do some real soul-searching. The only way I was ever going to grow as a human being was to finally admit to myself how childish I had been acting and why. Somewhere along the way, I got too caught up in how people thought of me. The reality is I gave up on things not because I thought that no matter how hard I worked it wouldn’t be good enough for me, but because I was afraid it would not be good enough for other people. As soon as I fully realized that- and how pathetic the course of my life had been- it became easier to see myself differently. I started thinking more positively about my own worth.

Out of that, something unexpected happened. I pulled out the drawing pad, sketchbook, and pencils Jenn bought for me. I found a drawing I did five years ago. The only time I ever put to use one of the most thoughtful gifts anyone ever gave me.

I still can’t remember what motivated me to draw this in the first place. It had been so long since I did anything substantial, I believed I had lost the ability. One look at The Incredible Hulk, created by my own hand, was all it took. Without a second thought, I started drawing again. I didn’t just start doodling a bunch of bullshit. I immediately gave myself a challenge and went for it. In all the time I spent with pen and paper as a kid, I never once tried to draw a real person. I researched some tips on the Internet, practiced a few times on the pad, and then went to work in the sketchbook. All that was going through my mind while I was working was how much I was really getting a kick out of what I was doing. It wasn’t like other artistic endeavors I blindly dived into, where it was a constant struggle that ultimately felt unrewarding. The real shock came when I was finished. I had done it. The person I wanted to draw was right there on the paper. For the first time in a good long while, I was proud of what I had accomplished. From that point on, I didn’t stop. I couldn't. All those years trying to find something fulfilling, drawing was there the whole time. It has restored my confidence, renewed a sense of discipline, and is re-teaching me the value of patience. That's because this is a talent that I have always had and I truly love doing. And there’s no way in hell I’m ever letting this go to waste again.

Here’s the first gruesome batch of practice sketches:

 This week's worth of work has shown that I haven't lost my touch at all. In fact, it's shown that I'm already getting better. Because I tried. I took a chance. I pushed myself without any stress or worry about what anybody would think. Being able to look at what I've done with a smile on my face is rewarding enough, but I'm also aware of the therapeutic value of drawing. It's helped me give me a new outlook on myself and my future. I'm heading back to Los Angeles a braver, more patient, more humble person. I'm finally ready to forge a destiny all my own.

Oh, and that first real person I chose to draw? Yep, it's Jenn. Drawing her picture was a way for me to channel how much I miss her. Only time and effort will tell if we can be best friends again, but this is my tribute. A small thank you from the bottom of my heart for all the gifts she's given me and how they continue to inspire me.

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