We have an art gallery in our living room.
Twenty-six handmade pieces of one-of-a-kind art secured to the wall with Scotch Tape, hanging, slightly crooked, under our stairs for all the world (or our family) to enjoy.
The gallery began about two weeks ago, during a winter storm. The wind whistled outside while snowflakes danced on the other side of the windows. Meadow turned the kitchen table into an art studio, littered with paper, crayons and markers of every kind. Hour after hour, she worked, head down, crayons to paper, creating one piece after another. After each piece was complete, she climbed down from the chair and walked toward me, standing tall, face proud, to show off her latest work of art.
From where I write this, I have a clear view of the gallery. I see the two dinosaurs in love, the giant bear standing next to the slightly less giant tree, the multi-colored spider web, the woman whose hair is adorned with a striped headband, our red house with the Direct T.V. dish shooting from the rooftop and my personal favorite, the cat who just spit up an orange hairball. (Gross, I know.)
I can’t be certain how many pieces she added to the wall that first day. Ten? Maybe 15? In any case, the kitchen table art studio remains on the kitchen table, stealing our dinnertime seats, but offering an outlet when inspiration strikes.
Last Wednesday, during the early morning hours, I received a text from the school administration: We are operating on a 2-hour delay. it said.
Later, the kids descend the stairs, one by one, and cheer about the extra hours of sleep (Charlie) and play (the girls). After Charlie leaves for school, Chanelle and I take a seat and begin assembling a music box she received for Christmas. Behind us, at the kitchen table, Meadow picks up her crayons and begins drawing an assortment of new creations: a snail, an egg with a sly smile, an alien, a building, to name a few.
After several new creations are added to the gallery, the inevitable happens: Artists Block.
I don’t know what else to draw, she said. I don’t have any ideas.
That’s okay, I said, assuming it was time for a break.
Can I look at the iPad for something to draw? she asks.
That’s fine, I tell her, but only for drawing. No games.
Chanelle and I are lost in her project when I hear paper crumpling behind me. I turn and watch as Meadow takes another sheet of paper and attempts to draw the pig she see on the iPad. One line drawn, follows another and another, until she places a big “X” over it and crumples the paper, throws it aside and declares, I can’t draw anything good, I’m not good.
Last week, I picked up my phone and scrolled through Instagram.
First, I read through the words of my favorite author/blogger. Words threaded together like poetry. My eyes scan the words while my soul breathes in the meaning. I am moved. I am always moved by her words.
I’ll never write like that, I think to myself. I’m not good.
Later I see the beautiful kitchen of a woman who has worked hard to make her space a work of art. I see the backsplash, the perfectly styled , all white, countertop with absolutely nothing on it–except for the cutting board and the fresh bread. Perfection.
I glance at my own countertop, littered with homework pages, pens, a 1st grade spelling word list, a child’s iPod, and what is that stuck over there? Is that last nights spaghetti dinner?
My kitchen will never be that pulled together, organized, clean, stylish, I think to myself. I’m no good.
The scrolling continues, photographer after photographer who is killing it, creating art, telling stories, stretching limits, A seeming perfected craft, displaying talent, skill, and passion. Look at how pulled together her Instagram is. Look how seamless. Art in squares.
I glance through my own pictures. A hodgepodge of life. No rhyme or reason, art and life mixed together. I think back to advice I was offered a few years ago, maybe you should consider only black and white to set yourself apart.
Maybe I should have listened.
I’ll never make art like that, I think to myself. She has what I don’t have. I’ll never get ‘there’. I’ll always blend. I’m no good.
Further down I see the travels of my good friend. The journing she has done, the places she has seen. I see the work and effort she has put in. I see the sacrifices she has made to see the big world out there. I see her bravery. I am left in awe.
I look around my living room, my small town, my itty-bitty life.
My story will be small. My world will be small. My life will be small.
Later in the day, I see the world of one of my favorite podcasters. Changing the world, making a difference, impacting lives, speaking truth.
I think of my own small circle. My small voice.
Will I ever make a difference? I muse to myself. I can’t make an impact anywhere. My voice is too small.
I am no good, my subconscious declares.
I look at Meadow’s fallen face and feel the weight of her frustration. It starts so young, doesn’t it? The comparing. The holding others work, lives, stories up to our own like it’s a mirror. It’s a visit to the carnival. A glance in the mirror where I appear to be 15 feet tall, or 6 feet wide.
I take the iPad off the table and pull the cover closed.
Meadow, you were so happy before you began looking at others drawings.
Your drawings are beautiful!
No they aren’t, she declares walking away from the table.
I can’t draw anything.
I step away from my phone, from the scrolling, from the fun-house mirror of social media.
I look at my kitchen counter and feel grateful for the spelling words that Meadow is learning each week. I remember the way we laughed at dinner last night while the kids spilled spaghetti on the table.
I look at our walls and see images everywhere. Memories captured and forever frozen. The trip to Florida, Charlie and Taza sitting in the snow together, Chanelle and Taza laughing, our kids playing soccer in the evening light.
I scan pictures of our trips to Cleveland, to Florida, to New York City. I remember how it feels to expose our little ones to boarders even a little bit beyond our own.
I think about the friend I will meet for coffee this evening. The talks we will have. The stories we will share. The ideas we will express. Impact is impact, big or small.
It’s been a few days now. A few days since Meadow decided she couldn’t draw. She found her way back to the kitchen-table-turned-art-studio and has added a sheep to the gallery. There is also a little girl with her hands covering her ears and a ‘dog that was supposed to be a fox but turned into a dog with a pig nose’.
I don’t have quick solutions to this problem–this comparison trap. The measuring stick that is most accessible is often the most unhealthy–the world, social media, media. For me, it’s easy to assume that another’s highlight reel is their everyday, their every moment.
And truth be told? If the highlight reel is their everyday? How wonderful for her! Or him! Or them!
When it comes down to it, what feels complicated isn’t as complicated as I’d like to believe. A few things that have helped this week:
- Begin the day with quiet. Listen to the silence. Really listen to it. Hear the way the wind blows outside. The way the rain hits the window. The way my heart beats inside my chest. Refrain from reaching for my phone. It’s worth waking early to enjoy the quiet. Alone.
- Drink water. I’m convinced there is supernatural-magical-powers in a glass of cold water early in the morning.
- Save social media for later, if at all. Social media drowns the sound of my own voice.
- Count my blessings. There is much for which to be thankful. Can’t find anything for which to be thankful? Return to the quiet.
And then there is this:
Each person is given something to do that shows who God is: Everyone gets in on it, everyone benefits. All kinds of things are handed out by the Spirt, and to all kinds of people! The variety is wonderful! (Cor 12)
No, it’s not nearly as complicated as I want to make it.
Tell me, how do you steer clear of the Fun House Mirror? I’d love to know!