Mine Own Worst Enemy

I haven’t been in the studio for almost 2 months, since we moved to our new house. Not painting for such a long time makes it really hard to start again, to push through my own congealed sluggishness, even though it feels bad not to be working. But I don’t seem to have the will to push past it, to break the ice and start up again. With me, the perfect has always been the enemy of the good.

The start of the New Year, instead of filling me with optimism and fresh resolution, has filled me with a sense of dread and loathing, with a weary, sick knowledge that I never keep my own overambitious goals, that I always let myself down, that I haven’t finished a painting in two years; that I am, at 33, a failure. It’s actually sort of freeing to write that. I have failed. I have no career as an artist, and seemingly, no willpower to actually finish any paintings and get one.

Dave thinks my problem is one of deadlines, that is to say, not having any. That if I just managed to get a show scheduled somewhere, anywhere, a crappy little gallery or even a fucking cafe, that if I only had a deadline I would actually finish something, because I had to. I’m not saying there isn’t something to that, but . . .

When Katharine was staying with us over the holidays, she helped us fix up a number of things around the house. After a bunch of conversations about how best to do this or that, hang the curtains, replace the windows, paint the bedroom, she and Dave would agree on an acceptable solution to a problem — economical, sensible — good enough. But it was never good enough for me. Finally, Kath said, you always want things to be like a platonic ideal of themselves, as they might exist in some ideal realm. Get over it.

Or something to that effect. Well. She has known me since I was four, so she can say shit like that.

It’s true. For Christmas this year, we all got crafty with our gifts, and my idea was to make everyone little paint-by-numbers versions of their favorite paintings. I do this assignment with my painting class, and they tend to come out pretty great. And part of what makes them great is their weirdness, the distortions and funny shapes, and over-simplification. Their imperfection.

So what do I do but turn it into a megillah. Instead of just buying cheap pre-stretched canvases, I spent 3 days — 3 days! — building panels and stretching canvas over them. It’s just like me to get totally fixated on an inessential element of a problem or a project, and lose sight of the overall point.

Needless to say, I had painted not one stroke by the time xmas rolled around. I had built it up in my mind that I had to make perfect, amazing paintings instead of fast, fun, funny little paintings. So of course, I couldn’t work on them at all.

I don’t know if I need career counselling, or intensive Buddhist meditation, or shock therapy or WHAT, but I need something. What will it take for me to let go of my compulsion towards perfection, which is choking off my ability to do anything, anything at all?