The red dress, a baby elephant, a secret love letter, and some nothings

Origami. A voice that popped up in my head a few months back. I tore some paper out from a register and tried my hand at attempting to create something (what exactly, I now forget) out of nothing. But the paper was rectangular, thick, and lined – not right for origami. I forgot all about it till I chanced upon a set of colored origami sheets on Amazon as I explored stationary and craft supplies to fill the hole in me that only creating something seems to fill.

They arrived soon, perfect little squares in all colors of the rainbow.

I went on youtube and my first attempt was a red dress. It caught my eye, and I fancied wearing it, and so I made it with my little square of red paper. It was beautiful. Emboldened by my success, I moved on to create a little pink heart that held within it a secret compartment for scribbling messages of love.

Creating something is a wonderful feeling. In those moments that I was folding paper, I was in the present; my attention focused on understanding and executing the instructions of the folds just right. I happily showed off my creations to the husband who remarked that whatever else I did, or did not do, I was always up to doing something, which I took as a compliment.

A few days later I thought of making something else. As I combed through the list of youtube videos, I came across one on making the sun. The sun has always had a special place in my heart. Yellow cheers me like no other color. The warmth of the sun as I lie on the grass in the park near my house bakes me till I feel like I’m happy and content, fresh out of the oven, sleepy but happy to be alive in this world. And so I set out to fold, one at a time. It was a complicated origami, or maybe I lost attention, or maybe both, but I was stuck, and after many minutes of folding I had to give up and call it a day.

My showing off the red dress and the little heart to my family on whatsapp meant my sister knew my latest fancy. She sent me a video on how to fold a lotus, a thing of beauty that grows even with muck around. I tried creating a lotus, one fold at a time. I didn’t have the level of mastery required, and so once again, I gave up.

Try something else, I thought to myself, and found myself trying to fold a blue square  into a baby elephant at one o’clock at night. I followed through till the end, and this time, I had something. I asked my husband in the morning what it was, and he surprised me by calling it an elephant. That’s probably the reason I married him – he surprises me in wonderful ways.

They are all my creative babies: my perfect red dress, my shy pink heart, my sun that was not to be, my lotus that couldn’t grow that day, and crumpled little baby elephant. I love them all.

I learned something from all of them, about success, failure, love, striving, and play. I learned that I should play, and pay attention. I learned that all my attempts will not be successful (and that’s ok). I learned that I love my baby elephant even (or maybe, especially?) because it is confused sometimes for a rhinoceros, and sometimes, simply for a ball of crumpled paper. I learned that if I pay attention and focus, I can create beautiful things. And my corollary, if I choose not to gainfully use my creative energies, I can create worries and fears by watering them till they grow beyond my power of control. I learn that the whole day passed, but it is this midnight hour when I am alone, and building, and creating that my heart starts to unwind and starts to sing, ever so softly.

red dress

pink heart

sunlotus

blue elephant

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Letting go of perfectionism and wrecking my journal

I don’t remember when I colored outside the lines. The lines were always severe, defined, binding. I colored safely within. The leaves of the coloring book were always limited; how could I “waste” them coloring with abandon?

I drew a vase brimming over with flowers one day in Art class in first grade. As the teacher took rounds of the class, she stopped to appreciate my drawing. That was it. Her approval meant I drew a dozen safe vases with flowers brimming over till the flowers didn’t have their exuberance and their wildness and abandon. They were staid replicas of the image that had come up from somewhere inside.

Safe is what I drew. Safe is what I did. My Camlin pastels preserved safely after their coloring was done, instead of being broken in half and rolled across the art sheet to create textures and messes.

I had flights of fancy sometimes when I was free. I remember taking my mother’s old pair of iron scissors, cutting through my white frock with soft pastel frills of pin, lemon, and blue, and sewed it up to create an off shoulder dress for my Barbie doll. But most of the times, I followed the directions to the T. Three quarters water, a quarter milk, a tea-spoon of sugar, half a spoon of tea leaves, and two cloves, was how I made tea for my mother when she was tired, or sick from her asthma from the humid Bombay air and her burdens.

There comes a time when following recipes and directions  does not cut it anymore. For me, the big 30 has been a marker of sorts, coming with the realization that this is it, this is my life. Maybe it’s ok not to follow directions. Maybe it’s ok to make mistakes. Maybe it’s ok to be free. Maybe it’s ok to fail. Maybe it’s ok to be. Maybe it’s ok to be me.

Perfectionism is a relational trait. It is an outcome, a badge of a time where I needed to be perfect. A remnant I would like to let go off, so I can color outside the lines. But how do I let go of something so deep-rooted?

Reading to understand why we are the way we are helps intellectually, but it is being present that heals us. Being in nature, walking on the wet earth barefoot. Looking at  mountains with the windows of the car rolled down, watching them turn from stony to sandy to red to purple, watching the snow sprinkled on top of the mountains like one might scatter powered sugar on a muffin. Feeling the cold wind and watching the blue skies and seeing the shapes the clouds make; a heart, I saw a heart!

mighty mountains

I look to renew my soul, little by little everyday, by coloring in my coloring book for “advanced colorists” (read adults), by writing in calligraphy the names of my favorite books as a child (The Wizard of Oz!), and most recently by following directions of writer Keri Smith who orders her readers in her wonderful book Wreck This Journal to destroy the journal to unclog the flow of creativity in us.

If I am afraid to destroy, I cannot create. I write one line, then delete it. I try to write a perfect line, instead of writing shitty first drafts as the wise Anne Lamott advises us. I pick up this journal and give myself permission to destroy it in the myriad ways Keri has cooked up.

After a tiring day at work where I have been productive, left-brained, and efficient, I want to breathe free, be creative. Put a pen in your mouth and write on this page, Keri commands, and I do, a 30-year-old lying on the bed, wrecking the journal at 11 at night. I smile. Infuse this journal with a scent of your own choosing. I hop over to the kitchen to slice a lemon and squeeze it on the page.

In the course of a few days, I have torn a page out of the journal and let it go, made a paper plane, squirted water from my mouth on to the journal, sewn some pages together, and written backwards from right to left, only to be reminded of my grandfather who wrote in Urdu, a luminous script that flowed delicately from right to left. Close the journal and write or scribble something on the edges. I write the words a close friend said to me recently: Khul Jao. That’s hindi for Open Up. Slowly but surely I am unfurling. Slowly but surely the ice is melting.

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Oil pastel therapy and imaginary planets, far far away

I bought a little box of oil pastels for the new art class I’m taking on weekends. The class was yesterday, and all of us drew a vase the instructor had arranged stylistically on a table in front of us, with a few kitchen utensils thrown in for an interesting composition.

We drew, first with a pencil, and then colored in with the oil pastels: the moss green and deep green and pale yellow of the leaves in the vase; the grey for the steel utensils that glistened in the background; the blue for the cloth that made the makeshift backdrop of this arrangement.

I am a novice when it comes to drawing and sketching. My main motivation to join this class was to nurture the butchered creative in me; to learn to be more in the moment; and to pay heed to the solid world around me, not just the world of thoughts and feelings and ideas that I am used to living in.

When I started the class a month or so back, my attention was at the lowest its ever been, fleeting, darting from here to there. It was difficult for me to hold my attention long enough to sketch what I saw in front of me: to make sure the opening of the vase was wider than the base, to make sure the curves I drew mirrored the curves of the vase, to see where the sunlight fell and which parts needed shading in and which didn’t.

Art is therapeutic. Across the last few weeks, I can sense my attention becoming deeper, and less runaway. Holding a crayon and the repeated motion of filling in the colors is soothing; it fills in wounds in a way that thinking and analyzing does not. As I fill in the colors on the page, I fill my wounds. I am learning to be ok with being less than perfect, which I am obviously so in comparison to my more advanced peers in this class. I am learning to create something from nothing, and becoming more comfortable with the process being messy. I am learning also to be more risk-taking: the instructor remarked yesterday as she did the rounds of the class, looking at our work, that we seemed afraid of colors. Don’t be afraid, she said, don’t subdue the vibrancy of the oil pastels, the drama. Let it out. So, I did. I filled in the blue till it was deep and dark and not a drop of white peaked from the paper below. Why should I be afraid to let the boldness of the deep blue stand out? Why should I be afraid to have it be noticed? Why, really, should I be afraid of showing the vibrancy of all that is me, not just the softness of the blue sky on a sunny day, but also the darkness and deepness of the stormy nights.

Today, I sat curled up reading Gretchen Rubin’s Better Than Before in the bedroom. When I ventured outside, I saw that my husband had caught hold of my oil pastels and was busy composing his own creation. Don’t look, he said, give me fifteen. Fifteen minutes later I went to see his painting. Unsurprisingly for someone who loves all things space, he’d drawn a picture of the night sky with a planet and some galaxies.

abhinav drawing

This is Saturn, right? I said noticing the ring around the planet. The ring is from Saturn and the red spot is from Jupiter, he replied. A combination planet! So this is…Supiter…said both of us together. Other than Supiter, the Andromeda is there too, or at least a galaxy he drew, which he now thinks is the Andromeda. There are also a bunch of other galaxies and some shooting stars.

The black of the night sky is jet black, unafraid. The colors are what he imagines them to be. The subject, an imaginary planet. I realize that my husband’s creativity flows, without being clogged by too many rules.

At one point of time, Supiter would have stressed me out. It’s not a real planet, I would think. It doesn’t exist. You can’t just combine planets. But now I love it. It exists because I see it on the paper in front of me. It is real because it came from my husband’s imagination, as he closed his eyes to imagine it, or maybe realized post facto that he’d combined the features of two planets.

As I walk the creative path, I can find myself unfurling, little by little. Learning that creativity means more play and less judgment. Learning that I don’t need to know what I will write in my blog post but trusting that when I start to write, the words will flow, or sputter, depending on the day. Learning that the tap is really more open than I give myself credit for. And learning, most importantly, that in creating lies the deepest healing.

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