What I Can Do

Me, drawing

When I am upset or feeling angry, I start drawing circles on whatever piece of paper is in front of me. Sometimes I can cover an entire sheet of newspaper with insistent little spheres that magically take the edge off my emotions and turn themselves into faces, bodies, people, entire universes that sometime pop up on my Instagram. I take a few deep breaths and feel better immediately.

I like knowing I can make something with my hands, something that is my response, my giving back in a way, to the world I am in. A call and response which feels like a kind of conversation where there is an exchange: angst for art.

This happens to me every day I sit down at my desk to make something. I get upset with myself for not knowing what I am doing and I get angry for not making better stuff. Now, with seemingly endless amounts of time on our hands due to the pandemic reshuffling the rhythms of our former lives, there is more time and more opportunity to torment myself over this.

I look around me and I see the rest of the world has finally arrived. Dishevelled, confused, out of breath, wild eyed and indignant about it, in great need of a chair to sink into, looking frantically for a drink to console themselves with, everyone is now facing the daunting question of artists: what to make of my life.

I picture Zadie Smith , the unapologetic author of Intimations, a wonderful collection of 6 essays, leaning back on a bench watching the bewildered crowd with amusement as they stumble over each other in their quest to create The Next Really Big Important Work in order to make something of their lives.

Zadie Smith in New York.

“There is no great difference between novels and banana bread. They are both just something to do,” she writes. For Smith, why she writes is very simple. “It’s something to do.”

Really?

A banana bread and her gorgeous writing?

I think back to my sheets of circles and suddenly I remember that it feels good to have a pen in my hand and watch it move over paper leaving slow and thoughtful marks. And if I keep drawing, the next things I draw are not born of frustration or anger, but of joyful curiosity. What else can I draw? What words can I put with it? What, 4 hours have passed already?

Perhaps that is the best thing we can do with our time. What we need to do with our time. Make something good, no matter how simple or humble, and let it exist in the world.

Zadie Smith also says that writing is something she needs to do to stay alive. For me, it feels like a little death every day I don’t give myself the space to make something, or to make something happen. Whether I am drawing odd shaped people or writing a story about the odd shaped people or making coffee ice cream for a friend, I am grateful to be gloriously alive doing it.

As she puts it: “I just do the thing I can do.”

Works for me.

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