“…if you believe in mistakes…”


I started my drawing class on Tuesday, at RootDivision. I have wanted to practice expressing myself visually for quite some time, and taking a ‘drawing 101’ course seemed like a good place to start. I had taken a drawing class several lifetimes ago in high school in Italy and discovered that drawing was possible for me. Form and movement could be transferred from the three dimensional world through my eye and pencil to the two-dimensional page. Moreover, it taught me how to look, to see, and sit in observation.  I wanted to refresh that sense of possibility, and sharpen my interest and attention to what was right in front of me. I also I realized my biggest desire for the class was to lose any embarrassment or inhibition at putting pen or pencil to paper, and to find joy in the process.

Drawing is all about seeing, paying attention, and practice. During class, we did five 1-minute exercises, progressed to two 5-minute drawings, a 10-minute and then finally, a 30-minute drawing, all with the same object in view. In my case, it was a paint roller handle. I was fascinated by the progression of the 1 minute drawings, each a better essence of the object and its dimensions. More time meant more detail, and a deeper level of observation and attention to the object.

I liked some of my drawings, and I learned a lot by looking again and again at the same object, suddenly seeing something new or in a new way, like the way the metal curves or the handle is shaped.  This process is an inherent inquiry: I set my eyes on something, intentionally ‘asking’ to see it fully, with fresh eyes. Then I’m asking to see more, what I might not have allowed for the first few times of looking.

Early in the class, the teacher said something in passing that caught my attention, and my breath.  He was talking about tools: pencils and erasers, and said, “if you believe in mistakes, then you can freely use your eraser.” The notion of making a choice about the existence of mistakes really struck me. He went on to explain that many artists simply incorporate whatever line or paint, or other unintended mark, into their work, instead of calling out or erasing a mistake. This is a remarkable and anti-perfectionist view, and I was struck by the idea of working with and moving past whatever we might otherwise call a mistake.

Of course, working with our mistakes and moving past them is part of what each of us must do as humans every day. It is our world view and the core beliefs we bring to those mistakes that allow us to move either with grace or with struggle. Our mistakes are inevitable: what will we do with them? And what of the mistakes of others, and their effect on us? How do we work with them?

I’ve had a couple of dark weeks. I didn’t want to post last week, and so I didn’t. But I felt bad about that too. My life, and the picture I had of it ‘post-British Columbia,’ have been upended by the construction zone that is our home, among other things. I have felt and thought about innumerable ills and complaints, some real and some imagined. Mostly I’ve felt down and not equal to the opportunity and task of, well, enjoying life without a job. I’ve tried to manage my upset while also trying to channel it to influence the progress that might be made on the repair project. I have felt pushed and angry and unsettled, and I have also tried to make peace with myself for the mess I feel I am.

After class on Tuesday, I asked myself what mistake(s) I was pushing against rather than incorporating into my composition, my line of sight. I had some interesting answers for myself! For example, my dysregulation was causing me to have a daily, repeating thought: I must get a job! In the face of my new, unsettled present, an old voice was offering me the old solution: get a job, any job, but above all, be in motion and be productive!

The hole in the floor (see my last post with the pictures of our 30 inch-wide and 5 foot deep hole in our bathroom floor) is ripe with possibility here. There are the mistakes I feel our condo association has made in managing this situation, which I am still angry about. There’s also the reality that the hole in the floor has given me an in depth view, literally and figuratively, into the things I have taken for granted in my life. The hole in our concrete slab is literally a look at the foundation of our lives here….

A friend astutely asked: isn’t this exactly what you asked for when you left your career of 28 years in January? I had, in fact, wanted to see my life with new eyes, to choose my next steps from a different point of view. I wanted to understand and revisit the parts of my life that were assumptions and foundational, and that I might have taken for granted for so long. I want to choose what my life is made of and built on.

I’m laughing as I write this: be careful what you wish for. When I asked the universe to help me see the foundations of my life, I didn’t really mean a 30”x 5ft hole in my floor, lasting WAY longer than reasonable.

Here’s what I know: we are always in the position of choosing how we respond, even though that choice often feels out of reach. I was cheerful, resourceful and optimistic while “working” my channels… until I wasn’t. Then I was feeling blue, lacking energy and doubting this gap year adventure from every angle, start to finish. Like most pendulums, I’ve swung back to a more moderate place in the last few days: I had a few tough weeks, I had a great first drawing class, and I’m back to blogging. Maybe next week I will feel better, or maybe not. And maybe we’ll soon even get the hole in our slab filled with fresh concrete.


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5 thoughts on ““…if you believe in mistakes…”

  1. Susan, you would be an excellent newspaper columnist, if anyone is hiring. Your extrapolation of quotidien experiences into bigger life lessons is thought-provoking and pleasurable and sends me off into my own reveries. I can relate to that terribly symbolic hole in the floor…


  2. I absolutely love your post. I have no doubt it will stay with me for years to come. I love the metaphors you use. It’s almost as if you painted your thoughts on the page because I could see it so clearly.

    Susan – you are incredibly special. Your authenticity and your willingness to take a look at yourself is inspiring and so insightful for all of us struggling human beings just trying to figure it all out. Thanks for sharing.


  3. Susan, I can understand your feelings about not working. I remember after I left Pacificare in 1996 and had the benefit of time off, after 6 months I found myself going to the opening of a new grocery store in Capitol Hill. I realized I needed to get a job! Also, my transition to retirement has been easy because I had the anchor of continuing the board work I loved (like the Fed, thank you very much). Having to totally remake your schedule from scratch would be daunting, even if you have travel and classes to pursue, so your reaction is understandable. You’re smart, capable, and resourceful, and you’ll find another outlet. Would you like an introduction to Pacific Business Group on Health? You could also talk to Alan Dachs. Other Wes contacts in SFO? The CA exchange, Cover CA? I think you write well. Keep it up. I enjoy reading your blog. Mary


  4. Hi Susan,
    It’s been a while since I commented but just thought I would give my opinion. You have plenty of time to get a job if that is what you feel you need to do. I think that you should continue to think about what that next job might look and feel like and then plan your search. Until then, it seems a great use of time to discover more about all of the things you are interested in. I envy your willingness to do that self discovery. And, from my vantage point having known you for a while now, you have such a wide array of options you needn’t worry about it.
    Think of you often NAH


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