Last night my son decided he didn’t want to be an artist anymore. I’ve been encouraging him to take an art class for several years, but he resisted, choosing to work on his art in private, in a bubble, without anyone telling him how to draw and without having to compare his work to others. But a month ago, he decided he was ready. Ready to learn, ready to get out there and explore his creativity with others.
Something happens when you leave your bubble. Leaving your bubble and venturing out of the safety of your basement, or office, or kitchen table means setting yourself up for facing the truth of who you are as an artist (and deep down as a person). In the company of others, we as human beings are programmed to compare ourselves to someone who is better than us. That’s just how we roll. But when you’re eleven, and have your first epiphany that there are people out there better than you and they’re like, NINE? That can be a tough nugget to swallow.
So when my son said he wanted to quit because there were kids that were better than him in his art class, I asked him a question. I said, “What if Mom came to you and said, ‘There’s this writer I know. She can write a better novel than me. I think I’m going to quit.’ What would you tell me? Would you say, “You’re right Mom. You should just hang it up and quit writing.”
“No!” He sat up straight. “No way. Why would you say that?” He looked at me like I was an alien or something.
I looked back at him. “Well, if I shouldn’t quit, why should you?”
He nodded. Then he said. “I got it. Are we done now?”
I said, “No. So are you going to quit or not?”
“Not.” He said.
“Good.” I said. “But I’ve got a few more things to say.”
He groans. “Do we have to keep talking?”
“Yep.” I said.
So I went on to give him the ‘life of an artist’ pep talk. And as I was pumping him up, I realized I was pumping myself up too. I stopped mid sentence when I was explaining how there was always going to be someone better than you, always someone who you wish you could be like, but these people are gifts to you. They are your carrot. They are put in front of you by a higher power that’s saying to you, “Look. Look at them. This is what I want you to become.”
As I query agents and keep pushing forward with two other manuscripts (one YA and one MG) there are days when I wonder if I’ll be as good as I want to be, if I’m gonna be as good as Pat Conroy, or Sherman Alexie, or Sara Zarr, or Jandy Nelson (who I just discovered, thanks to agent Elana Roth)…I could go on and on, but you get the idea.
But last night, as I convinced my son that he could do whatever he put his mind to, I convinced myself that of course, I could be as good as I wanted to be. Funny how this parenting thing works: In parenting your kids, it’s possible to accidentally parent yourself.