Ok. This is just me being real for a very long minute.
Tonight, I tried painting, and everything I do sucks. I mean, really really sucks. I know I know… push through… keep trying… don’t give up.
Sometimes, it’s really hard to do that. I look at everything I create and it all looks like trash, so I just say fuck it and start scrubbing paint everywhere. No matter what I try, I can’t capture the light. I can’t get the texture right. I can’t put what I see in my brain on the paper. I can’t find a compelling composition. Everything is fucking identical. There’s no progress, there’s no improvement. There’s no inspiration. There’s no success. It’s just trash after trash after trash. At this point, I’m just wasting money by ruining paper.
So why write this down? Why post this pity party?
It’s not because I want to be corrected.
The thing is, I know I’m not the only one who gets in slumps like this. I know I’m not the only one with this kind of head trash to sort through. I know so many artists, so many human beings, struggle with feeling inadequate, incapable, and unfulfilled. I’m not asking for any response. I’m not asking for anyone to convince me that I’m wrong, that I am actually good at this. Any positive feedback that I receive in response to this post will backfire in my brain, so please, don’t respond. I’m not writing this because I want to fix these feelings. There is no fix for these feelings. There is only perseverance.
Tonight, perseverance looks like admitting how I’m feeling. Acknowledging how depressing it is to struggle and struggle without seeing progress. Tonight, perseverance is not pulling myself up by my boot straps and smiling through it and pretending like it’s ok. Tonight, perseverance is going to be me just breathing. Blinking. Standing up. Those are the battles I will fight tonight.
I won’t paint any more tonight because it’s not healthy for me right now. The vomit that is landing on the paper just makes me feel like an even bigger failure. I can’t make a strong composition for my life. I don’t have an eye for this. Maybe it’s time to just admit it, and throw it all away.
But I won’t. I will keep going. Maybe I won’t ever get any better. Maybe I don’t have what it takes. Maybe my brain just isn’t wired to turn my emotions into pictures.
That’s what is so damn frustrating. I look out at the world around me, and I see so much beauty. Tonight, I sat in a McDonalds parking lot, and was in awe at the beauty of the parking lot. I looked down at my feet and saw this clutter of melancholy leaves damp with thin rain, slumping in a wet pile on the black top, and I thought about how beautiful it was. How the light from the obscenely bright LED lights bounced off the tiny black stones, and coated those muddy red leaves in a glowing slick shine. And I realized it’s a curse. It’s a curse of sorts to see that beauty, to be enraptured by the serene peace of something so simple, because I’ll never be able to really share that moment. I have that image stuck now in my self-deprecating mind, and before I even try, I know I’ll never be able to paint that feeling. I’ll never capture that moment, and it will linger in my brain until the day I die and it will snap shut forever from the universe when my eyes close forever and no one will ever know how engaging that simple moment was. I’m nothing but a meat prison for moments.
I feel this way often. But I don’t write these feelings down because I know they make others uncomfortable. Someone will read this eventually and they’ll want to fix me. They’ll want to encourage me. They’ll want to forgive me for caging the moment, and release me from the burden of being the warden in this jailhouse. It’s no big deal. It’s a fucking parking lot.
I know. Believe me, I know. I’m not writing this now because I want to be fixed. I’m not writing this now for me. I’m writing this because there will be a time when someone reads this who feels the same way. And they will know they aren’t alone. I know in my brain that I’m not alone, even now, as I write this, the neurons in my mind hold the realization between the synapses that these feelings of ineptitude are lies. I will get better. I will develop. I am aware of the truth of these statements because I know that time, discipline, and dedication necessarily begets improvement. But in my heart, in the reptilian knot somewhere at the base of my brain stem are the grey lies. And tonight, they are screaming—and persuasive. I’m a failure. I’ll never be as good as my brother. I’ll never be an artist. I’m a hobbyist, and as seriously as I might take this whole painting thing — it doesn’t matter because I’m just not very good. That worm in my brain slimes around tonight convincing me that no matter how sound the logical arguments for the gradual pace of improvement might be, I won’t get there. There is a small bald man in my head who is cold and strong, he sits on the floor of my mind cradling his knees in his elbows, rocking back and forth like a disembodied autistic monster muttering, “Failure. Failure. Failure.”
I tried to be a teacher, but I didn’t care enough. I let my students down, and convinced myself the system was broken.
So I ran away.
I tried to be a campus minister. But I don’t have the temperament. I was obtuse. I cared more about how others perceived me than I did about how I could help them. I tried to be liked, and was just a sophomoric fraud. I convinced myself that the system was broken.
So I ran away.
I ran off to school, to study the Bible. To become a professor. I decided I would fix the church. I would educate the next generation of religious leaders and patch the hypocrisies of the bridal dress. But I couldn’t learn a language, no matter how hard I tried. I couldn’t develop an argument that persuaded even me. I was too dumb, or too conceited, or both. And after two years and two dozen rejection letters and thirty years of debt, I realized I’ll never be a scholar. I tucked my tail between my legs, and convinced myself that the system was broken.
So I ran away.
I tried to be a software developer. But I struggled to simplify even the most needlessly convoluted code. I failed at abstraction. I authored the logic gates, and welded them to the back of confusion, and convinced myself that the system was broken.
So I ran away.
I tried to be a Project Manager, and I lost the details. I couldn’t see things through. I tried my damndest, but I just wasn’t good at it. I couldn’t see the forest for the trees. I think I finally realized the system wasn’t broken.
So I ran away.
And now where am I? I’m awake at 1AM, pretending to be an artist and guess what I want to do tonight.
But now, I’m nearly 40 years old, and I’m out of time. I can’t run away to find myself, because the real me is so far ahead or behind that there aren’t enough years left to find him.
So I’m pretending to be a gentle and caring husband and father when in reality, the only thing I’m really truly good at is sitting quietly by myself and staring into the open air.
I’m falling asleep as I write. I’m going to surrender for tonight, and just see if I can drift off to that blessed state of inconsequential unconsciousness where mistakes and terrifying passions have no cause or effect.
I’ll run to the only place I have left—the void. I’ll run to my dreamscape. Tomorrow, maybe I’ll paint something.
For now — here is the trash I made today.
I’ll keep going tomorrow.
4 responses to “I can’t”
As a child, I would pretend I had a camera behind my eyes so that I could blink to capture the moments. Now I carry a camera around everywhere and it still doesn’t help. I’ve never been able to bask in the beauty of a moment without also feeling frustrated, or sad, or empty, because I can’t share it properly.
Thanks for writing this, it does help. But I am sorry that you feel the same way.
Thanks so much for commenting. I love the idea of pretending you have a camera behind your eyes. Such a great image.
I am glad I’m not the only one who feels that frustration from time to time. The last time I was out painting, the clouds shifted a bit, and rays of sunlight poked down onto the barn I was painting. I saw it and said “Oh… Oh my…” out loud. I’ll never be able to get that on paper, but it was sublime.
I hope that by continuing to practice and paint regularly, I’ll slowly get better. I fully anticipate a lot of times when these same feelings creep up, hopefully I’ll continue pushing through them and progressing.
Hi there…. This is the second time i read this particular blog entry… I started watercolour in September 2019 and am yet to find my bearings…. I feel like a lot how you’ve mentioned on many nights when the colours and textures don’t make any sense….. It takes guts to write this… You have my respect…. Yours is a blog that i follow to inspire myself…
Thanks for being my inspiration!
Thank you so much Shubham, it takes a lot of effort sometimes to push through. With enough time and effort, I’m sure we’ll both see improvement!