I clearly remember the moment I decided I couldn’t draw.
I was eight. Staring at a massive dinosaur skeleton in the Natural History Museum in Denver. Was it a Stegosaurus? A Tyrannosaurus? I’m not sure. The view in my memory is of the right side of it. A shape which contained the bone I was to draw.
I sat on a bench in front of the dinosaur skeleton, balancing a sketchbook on my lap. To my left sat my older sister. Our parents had just divorced. To my right was the art teacher hired, apparently at great expense, to take care of us for a short while over summer vacation.
The art teacher was okay. I met her in our tree-dappled backyard in Denver. She was pretty. Natural, though I don’t particularly remember her face. We did crafty things at our house for a few days. (I keep thinking “our” house but it was suddenly our dad’s house. Not our mom’s.) Not much else I recall about my experience with the art teacher, except that crucial moment.
“Just go ahead and try to sketch a bone,” she might have said kindly.
Or, more cruelly, as I’ve twisted it in my memory: “Impress me. Draw the femur.”
I tried. I drew something that resembled a bone. Kinda.
Then I made the worst mistake one can make: I looked to my left. What had my sister done? There, in my recollection, lay a perfect, artistically rendered, completely-to-scale rendering of that goddamned dinosaur bone. Da Vinci, through the hand of my much-more-talented 11-year-old sister, had drawn it. I looked down at my paper, where I saw a wobbly pencil outline and some blobs. And I thought: “There. You see? I can’t draw.”
I remember the clarity of the thought, and the relief that came with it. I can’t draw. I didn’t have to compete if I refused to play. And if I didn’t do it, I wouldn’t fail.
It wasn’t the art teacher’s fault. I probably said nothing about it. I just packed up all my drawing fun-times, along with my belief in happily-ever-after, which eroded around the same time. I folded in on myself. I still smiled and laughed and tried to be cute for everyone. But my parents were divorced, and I couldn’t draw, and my sister could. And that was that. No problemo.
Thank God somehow I maintained the belief that I could write. And with the help of a great writing coach, over the course of a few years, I wrote the novel. By running that gauntlet, I found myself a writer. I have my craft, and it makes me happy when I do it. Like now.
But I dared not draw until very recently. Inspired by author Dan Roan who gave the keynote at a conference, I started sketching to explain a very complex thing: my job. It helped so much! I published a series of blog posts for work, some of which included these sketches. The sketches were rough, but they helped me communicate. And they made me laugh. Breakthrough!!!
To celebrate, I offer you the following sketch:
May you break any curses and reconsider any blanket-statement beliefs about what you can’t do.
May you draw your bone.
Lotsa love and just a little push,