Reflect on a time when you challenged a belief or idea. What prompted you to act? Would you make the same decision again?
Tightening my grip on the thin paintbrush, I squinted my eyes as I carefully traced the flawless face. My hand shook and the paint bled outside of the brow. In frustration, I set down the canvas to inspect my work. The painting was like a paint-by-number, with lines that I spent hours cleaning to a crisp. Sure, it was perfect at first glance… but not quite. This was the mindset that my childhood world shaped in me, from when my mother made me repeatedly write my Japanese characters until my handwriting looked identical to the ones in my textbook, to when my 3rd grade teacher yelled at me to stop talking so much.
I wondered why I couldn’t be more “ladylike” and “normal” like the rest of the world seemed to want me to. I didn’t know that I had been struggling with childhood ADHD: I simply accepted my world in this way, and it didn’t occur to me to change it. It was at the awkward age of 12 when I began to consider art as my passion, because it allowed me to see the world in a new light. It became the one escape from sleepless nights and frustrating shortcomings. I desperately wished to achieve an image of myself that I created from outside influences, and I drew with hopes of someday being an admirable artist.
While scrolling through Tumblr one day, I discovered a book called Wreck This Journal with the motto “To Create Is to Destroy,” an interactive book that contains various activities. Thinking that buying this journal would make me a cultivated artist, I immediately purchased it. I ran my palm across the smooth, clean cover and flipped through the pages, admiring how much time was put into creating what I had discovered. I realized that some of the activities I had to do included things like soaking the pages in water, or slamming in mashed food and throwing it across a room with reckless abandon. Horrified, I decided not to do anything of the sort until absolutely necessary, and began doodling perfect waves into one of the pages.
This journal became a staple in my everyday life for the next few years, and I took it everywhere I went. When I felt my eyes become heavy in class, I used a stapler to create patterns into the pages to keep awake. At my annual church camp, when I was hiking across a bridge, I dropped it and watched it fall onto a mossy rock down below. I began to care less and less about how grimy the journal was becoming, and it seemed to reflect the change of my mindset: achieving perfection isn’t the only way to feel accomplishment in myself.
Recently, I found my journal buried in my closet, a wadded mess of crumpled papers and crayon scribbles. I flipped through the shriveled pages and I felt comfortable allowing the pages to rip and crease. In the mess that I had created in this journal, I saw an artistic quality, a grit and personality that doesn’t resemble perfection. Allowing myself to accept imperfection eventually allowed me to be kinder to myself and learn that art can be created more freely. Though the meticulous paintings I created in the past were appealing to the eye, my artistic process has shifted. Now, I prefer painting in thick oils with bristle brushes and blotchy strokes, which gives me more freedom to express without restricting myself within the lines. Although my art hasn’t reached its full potential yet, I know that I can improve without being so hard on myself. I don’t have to be extraordinary overnight, but accepting myself and taking little steps everyday towards my personal goals will someday build up to something great, unpredictable, and beautifully chaotic.