The Formal and the Informal

I am a chill, casual person––except for when I’m not.

Sometimes I like rules just fine––especially the ones I make myself––it’s just rules that have lost sight of why they exist, or rules that exist just for the sake of existing that drive me nuts.

For example, I am against homework and school uniforms because studies have shown that they not only don’t work, but actually further disadvantage families that are already struggling.

And I hate pointless pomp and circumstance at formal events.

But I love lists, and colour coding, and diagrams. You know, useful sh*t.

Do I mentally correct people’s grammar in my head as they’re talking? Absolutely. I have this need to fix the words, even if the other person never knows. It’s how I keep myself right, for writing later. (Hear something said incorrectly enough times and let it go unchecked, and you’ll find yourself adopting the error.)

When it came to our wedding, my husband and I decided which traditions we wanted to follow and which ones weren’t for us. (Most of them weren’t.)

All that to say, I think there’s a balance to be found, between rules and order. And that balance is probably different for everyone.

Some people positively thrive in chaos––but I am not those people.

Recently, I got the urge again to do some art*. It’s an urge I’ve spoken about here before, and one that comes around periodically. Because the thing is that I love art, but so rarely do it. Because I have so very few skills yet (because I don’t do it. Vicious cycle, I know). I also wasn’t sure where to start.

Instead of starting, I stopped and thought. What would I need? I asked myself. And from there wondered what I already had. So I set out to make a list of all the art supplies I currently own. And then I realised that everything I had was completely disordered, mixed together and spread across several different drawers and storage boxes in my office. From there, I tried to put all the like items together (all the pens in one place, all the paperclips in a single tub etc), but soon found it was a losing battle, as the drawers and storage boxes would only let me do so much.

They weren’t fit for purpose.

So I did some online research (i.e. watched approximately fifteen thousand YouTube videos of other people organising art supplies) and decided I needed a new drawer unit. I picked one out, wrote down the details, went to Ikea, spent the morning in a queue, the afternoon assembling pieces of wood, the rest of the day resorting all of my art supplies.

The day after that, I finally sat down to colour in.

That probably sounds crazy, right? Entirely excessive. Except do you know what? It made me so, so happy!

I could have just reached for a colouring book and the first set of pens I came to, that day I got the urge to do something visually creative, but I know that I wouldn’t have stuck to it and would later yet again lament not doing the thing I profess to love.

And since the day I was finally, fully set up and got started, I’ve been colouring and sketching and scrapbooking a lot. It was exactly what I needed! My mental health got a big boost of happy hormones, and I’m planning to keep going with it.

When I love something, I get serious about it. Which usually involves setting myself homework––which I suppose I’m not so against, if you make it to suit yourself. Which is my point! Don’t do things just because that’s how they’re done, find ways that work for you!

Clearly, what works for me is my own heady mix of structure and creativity.

And on that note, I’d like to talk about validation. The official and the not.

I’m starting to properly make art at the age of thirty-two, and I want to keep it up for the rest of my life. Yet I feel a little insecure about being a beginner at this point in my life, and find myself almost craving permission. Some authority to tell me it’s okay and I’ll get there. (I did, in fact, message a couple of artist friends and ask them if I was crazy to be properly picking up a sketchbook for the first time. Of course they said no.)

The whole getting ‘serious’ about something… My brain often interprets that as formal, in-person learning. And I know it doesn’t have to be. I engage in self-directed learning all the time, and it has its advantages too. But there’s something about an A4 sheet of card to say you’ve trained in something, or passed some exam, that is incredibly appealing to me. It’s harder to argue with, for one thing.

I’m not sure who I’m even arguing with, in this imaginary scenario. Maybe just my impostor syndrome. (You said I couldn’t do it/wasn’t good enough? Well, screw you, here’s a certificate to prove my awesomeness!)

What I’d love to do is find some magical third option. Where you can create whatever you want, with no briefs or limitations, and then bring it to someone to put a gold star on. And I know I’m back to sounding ridiculous. What I want doesn’t exist, and would be a nightmare to manage even if it did, but I cannot talk myself out of this yearning to have my cake and eat it.

To make art, and have it tick boxes for what’s good and valued.

I am thirty-two, am working toward picking up a paintbrush for the first time since high school… and find myself craving an art degree. You know, to go along with that creative writing degree I’ve been fruitlessly chasing for years.

It might just be that I am indeed crazy, but I don’t want to change. Not in the sense of giving up what I want, anyway. I have built a life of creativity and order, and I want to continue in that vein, whether it ever earns me a qualification or not. (Though of course I’d rather it did.)

Does anyone else feel like this? Work like this?? Someone, please tell me you understand!

*I’m defining art here as visual art, to suit my purposes, well aware that art is a broad term that can apply to everything from music to writing to dance and juggling and so much more.

Side Note: I have a niggling feeling that I’ve written all this before. Maybe not these exact words, or all in one place before, but the general ideas. I don’t like the idea of repeating myself, but this is what’s on my mind, so they’re the words that spontaneously came out of my brain and fingers when I sat down to type. If you have any thoughts, I would genuinely like to hear them.

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