Before the start of the quarantine, I had long-since resigned that I am a perfectionist. It’s personality trait that I feel bittersweet about. On the one hand, it has been beneficial to my academic success and self-satisfaction. On the other hand, it has been instrumental-- on many occasions—in the destruction of my mental health. In any case, it was always an inside job. I didn’t set out to “fix” this issue but I found myself coping this past week.
I have always been a creator. In my opinion, everyone is to the extent that they allow themselves to be, but that’s for another day. I have always been a creator. If I wasn’t drawing comics for my siblings, I was learning an instrument, or making a wooden flute from tropical tree branch, or composing high fashion collages from magazines, or composing a novel for my sister’s kindergarten teacher to read, or taking up photography, or taking up journalism. In one way or another, I have found myself expressing myself through some sort of art form. When we first came to the United States in 2008, I was a drawer and painter in her prime. I sketched in my free time. I took painting as an elective. I was in a painting club after school. I had dreams of becoming a fashion designer. These all died a hard, cold death when I discovered that I wanted to be an Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeon. I figured there was no room for sculpting the roses in medical school. As with other African children, I was not encouraged in my pursuit of art as an ultimate occupation, either. So, I replaced my paintbrush with a highlighter for my A.P. textbooks.
The college-level courses were necessary. They put me in the path of success today. However, I think I would have done much better and missed out on the shaky mental if I had simply embraced the childlike creativity that I possessed. As with other first-generation immigrants, I felt I had to grow up much earlier than the “natives” around me. My junior year of high school, I revisited my love for poetry by joining the Poetry club after school. In the entirety of that school year, I wrote a whopping three pieces. For whatever reason, I could ever bring myself to share or to unlock that part of an artist that just madly flows into the artwork. My freshman year of college, I found Spoken Word and Artists United (SWAU) at Delaware State University. For the first time, I was away from home and the responsibilities of five siblings. I had easier courses thanks to the grace of God and my A.P. experiences. I could focus on my craft. During the free writing sessions, I feverishly wrote. After meetings, I feverishly wrote. I did the same between classes. Being in that group of like-minded artists unlocked something of the writer within me. It didn’t even have to be a conscious decision. I didn’t share my poetry out loud until my fifth meeting. My voice was incredibly small and shaky. Still, I felt empowered by the supportive nature of my SWAU family. I wrote more and have been increasing my collection of works ever since. Thus, a box on my reminiscence-born to-do list was ticked: I had returned to my love of recreational writing.
The second box was ticked a few weeks ago by my father (surprisingly enough). He bought me an acrylic paint set and brushes. I didn’t use them the first day. I didn’t use them for a week after I removed them from the packaging. And then… at three o’clock in the morning, I remembered my love for art. It is at this point that I will note that my only canvas was the piece of cardboard that had housed the art supplies that my dad bought for me. It was on this canvas that I found myself desperately sketching Popeye the Sailor Man and Olive Oyl on my bedroom floor. The next day, I resolved to paint them (I still haven’t but it was the thought that counts). The next day, I borrowed a canvas from my dad and began an abstract painting that took me several feverish early mornings, a couple of late nights, and a superfluous amount of “The Office” episodes. Painting Keren was back in action. Lo and behold, another box was ticked. This past week, I gifted myself a couple more art supplies just to ensure that I remain accountable for that little girl who loved to create.
I have found that I am less of a perfectionist with my art than I am with my schoolwork. There is a flexibility to acrylic painting and drawings that I haven’t found anywhere else. To think that I missed it for the ten years that I gave up art is heart-breaking. When I did not like the way my abstract faces came out, I simply reminded myself that I could always paint over them whenever I grow tired of the look. When I found Popeye unnecessarily difficult to draw, I took a step back and tried again. It’s quite the epiphany to realise that I am not as entrapped by my type A personality as I had previously believed. After all, I’m the same girl that took a tumble from a 20-foot-tall palm tree at six years old and would bring home snails at four years old. I’d like to apply that girl’s carefree outlook on life at this stage that I have found myself. I think she and I could create a lot of beautiful things together.
Final Step? Return to playing the violin. Beginner stage, ear-splitting, off-tune squeaks and all-- my family’s peace of mind be damned.