For me, it all starts with accepting the sad truth that I have no idea what I’m doing. I’ve published a handful of books over an armload of years and I still haven’t a clue how to write or draw anything approximating a viable picture book. None. When you’re as lost as me, a step in any direction is a total stab in the dark.
The second thing I try to remember after accepting being completely lost is that, much to my eternal chagrin, I will never write or draw like William Steig or Arnold Lobel or Esphyr Slobodkina or Rosemary Wells or Leo Lionni or Tove Jansson or Roger Duvoisin or Lane Smith or Ellen Raskin or you or my six-year-old daughter or anyone. Trying to write or draw like someone else makes me feel not only lost, but hopelessly lost. Hopelessly lost is the worst kind of lost.
When I’ve dispensed with the formalities of pretending to know what I’m doing or that I will ever successfully pull off being anyone other than me, I take out my pencils and a current favorite pad and let the only brain I will ever have tell me what it’s thinking. It has been chewing over bottles for years. And people in bottles. And mulling over hairdos of late. And mustaches. And mermaids with mustaches and hairdos. And seaweed. And tubeworms. And coral. And deep-sea hydrothermal vents. I have no idea how to draw deep-sea hydrothermal vents. And sunken treasure chests. And gumball machines. And balloon vendors. And people with no arms who don’t seem to care that they have no arms because they are stuck in bottles. And that we never have enough cookies in the house. Or enough batteries. Cookies and batteries and toilet paper should just regenerate themselves before you’ve had the misfortune to realize you’re out of them….but they never do, do they?
It’s generally easier to see when someone else is lost. Or when someone else is trying to write or draw like someone other than themselves. Or when someone else is having fun. It is harder to see yourself having fun because the very act of seeing yourself do so takes you out of the experience of having the fun you were having before you went ahead and ruined it by having a meta moment about what you were doing. Which is no longer having fun. It is thinking about having fun. Which is not as fun…no matter what you think. It just isn’t.
For me, the key to embracing my lostness, in the not-hopeless fun-having way I try to embrace being lost, is by trying to be present. What does that mean? I’m not entirely sure. It think it feels like not worrying about which direction I’m going because there is nowhere else but here. Where the skin ends and the scales start or a tail now curves or shells start gathering on the sea floor. It feels like not worrying about being as funny or wise or poetic or brave or dexterous as anyone else. It means not realizing that the last Oreo disappearing in my greedy maw at this very moment is the very last delicious thing in the ENTIRE HOUSE.
It doesn’t matter. I’m drawing scalloped-shell mermaid brassieres. Or merrily tracing chest hair. Or bottling the moon. Or realizing I can also draw with the green fountain pen I’ve previously been afraid to use. Even the red one. Yes…THE RED ONE! There is no one telling me I can’t use the green or red pens other than me, is there? They’re my pens for god’s sake. When was a “Pencils Only Rule” ever voted in as a Constitutional Amendment? There is no federal mandate forcing me to draw my characters in profile either (wait…there isn’t?). And congress has yet to make me learn foreshortening. Or write about things I don’t want to draw in profile…or foreshorten.
Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Front-View Happiness! Woo hoo. Look at me. No hands. No clue where I’m going. I’ve got all of later today and tomorrow and the rest of my life to work up a healthy froth over not knowing how the heck I’m going to turn anyof this flotsam into a book or that the flashlight in the “emergency drawer” doesn’t work. Right now not even Theodore Geisel could be having more fun than me.
Fun…and regenerative toilet paper…and C batteries… and fresh Oreos… and mermaid bras… and chest hair… that’s just what the doctor ordered!
There are much more potent prescriptions out there. I’ve read them here on PiBoIdMo. It’s sick how smart and generous and talented you people are. And by sick I mean inspiring. I may be incurably lost, but I know enough to leave the dispensing of real medical advice to those of you who actually know what you’re doing. I’m a fruit-flavored chewable guy. If it tastes too bitter going down, I can’t ask you to swallow it either.
Learn more about the inexplicably incomparable (Tara’s description) Robert Weinstock and his books (like I’M NOT and FOOD HATES YOU, TOO!) at his website, CallMeBob.com.