The above is a photo of a spray paint picture on a street wall by a street artist in Glasgow (artist not pictured, no idea where he was, excuse the bit on the left, couldn’t get the pic without including it). There are many of them through the city, on various walls. They seemed to spring up almost overnight and they do add a certain colour to what can be otherwise drab streets (this is Glasgow, grey is a colour which should be reported to the monopolies commission).
When I saw the artist at work with his bag full of spray paint cans, I couldn’t help but admire his skill. To do this with cans of paint is a skill beyond me. It reminded me of my art classes at school. I used to gazing admiringly at some of my fellow school persons and watch the ones who were clearly gifted in this area produce some amazing pictures, whether with paint or simply with a pencil on a pad of paper. I always admired that. I did try to draw something which could be admired by someone other than my loving mum and dad but I just didn’t have it. I have memory from being in Primary School, 7 or 8 years old, and the class were given hard boiled eggs to paint for Easter, then at night parents came to the school to view them. Some parents and kids were standing in front of my egg and I momentarily thought they liked it. Then I saw it was the egg next to mine, with no streaks and perfectly smooth, had gained their appreciation and someone commented that the one next to it (mine, streaky and unsmooth) was poor in comparison. I felt ashamed and couldn’t admit it was mine, I even nodded in agreement that it was poor, distancing myself from my own creation. The ‘art gene’ was missing from my genetic make up.
In later years I went through phases, as we all do. I tried to learn guitar, thinking I’d enjoy that, momentarily dreaming of record deals and concerts and awards for singer song writer of the year etc. To be fair to me I did master a few chords and produced a fairly decent rendition of Jingle Bells (it was nearly Christmas, gimme a break!) but I didn’t get much further. I tried again in later years but again my enthusiasm only took me so far. And maybe that’s the problem, to really master something we need to really want to do it, to have built in enthusiasm, to have a drive and determination and yes, to just love doing it. My enthusiasm for art and guitar playing always stumbled fatally at the earliest hurdles. No doubt a good teacher and a bit more determination on my part would have helped me progress further but when it came to it, I just didn’t want to give that commitment.
With writing its a different story. I’m no expert and I have far to go and I’m never going to win the Man, Woman or any other Booker Prize, but even when I write something and I know it ain’t up to much I still want to keep going, to learn, to delve, to experiment and the enthusiasm remains even when the quality of the output is questionable. When I have a spare moment I want to read, or write. In the middle of the night if a thought comes to me I want to get up, or to have pen and pad at my bedside so the thought isn’t lost. I carry a small notepad wherever I go or at worst I can take a note on my phone or send a text message to myself (sad but only a last resort mind!).
You will have similar skills that you know you have, an inner desire to persevere even when you have off days, when it isn’t happening. If writing is your thing, you might write something and although you aren’t happy with it, you know that there is something in it, you get a sense that you can’t articulate and you keep going, editing and revising and scoring through with your pen and trying different approaches, until you have something that makes you smile, that brings that inner satisfaction. You’ve ripped away the weeds and thorns and pushed away piles of mud and soil on your hands and knees before finally finding that one seed that you can work with, from which you can nurture your story, watch it grow and be its author. Even if you’re the only one that will ever read it, you created it and you’re proud of it and so you should be.
You will know your own skill, be it writing or music or painting or drawing or craft work or programming or sports or cooking or gardening (my Grandpa was a great gardener but I didn’t get that gene either) or a whole host of other things. Its that thing that you have never truly given up on and which has provided some of the most satisfying and inspiring moments in your whole life. That thing that, even if you haven’t actually done it for a long time or for various reasons you were discouraged from doing, the fire to do it again, the inner love for that activity, still burns within you and no amount of neglect can extinguish those embers, they simply wait to be stoked again.
I admired the street artist who spray painted this picture because although its something I’ll never be able to do, I can appreciate his skill and his love for what he was doing was clear. I know that I have my own skill, my own area which I love and for which the enthusiasm will always burn. I may not be prolific or famous and some of my writing may never be seen by anyone but myself, but its something I love doing and that’s enough for me. For many years I watched my fellow students and friends and work colleagues and even family members achieving things and I couldn’t deny their skills were impressive but I was unhappy inside because I didn’t seem good at anything. Then, through a long and sometimes painful process of self-discovery, I discovered writing and other areas connected to it and I could smile with self-respect and inner satisfaction because I too had a skill and that felt good. That place, that inner satisfaction and drive to pursue something I loved and love, that’s a somewhere amazing.
Thanks for reading.