‘Ok, I want you to draw this jam jar for me.’
I’m in my first ever art class and the teacher is figuring out what kind of level I’m at. I’m nervous. I’m surrounded by women who have clearly been doing this for a long time. They have aprons. They have charcoal. They have PALETTE KNIVES.
I stare at the jam jar. I start to draw it. I don’t take my eyes off it for a second. I draw what I think is a perfectly-formed specimen; a jam jar fit for royal jelly. I put down my pencil and look up at the teacher expectantly.
Her arms are crossed. She nods. ‘Yep, I’m happy with that.’
Except she isn’t. Because she’s holding my hand now, loosening my grip on my pencil, pulling my fingers lower down it. She’s making me draw lazy spheres on the page across from the one I’ve been drawing on – lazy spheres that have magically become a more accurate, more real-looking jam jar.
And now, a week later, she’s moved me onto acrylics, and she’s hovering over me, adding annoying swishy swirly strokes to my perfectly-painted landscape. Making it…misty…and atmospheric and…REAL.
She spots my irritation. So, she swivels the page around on the table and grins. ‘We should always be ready to turn things on their head – now, off you go again.’
She’s messing with MY head, this smart, talented art teacher. She’s trying to knock the perfectionist out of me – the secondary school girl who used to rip an essay to shreds if she didn’t like a sentence in paragraph two; the one who would waste reams of A3 paper trying to paint the perfect wash.
I’ve always been like this. I’m scatty and disorganised – your typical creative. The house can be falling down around me when I’m writing. But if I’m not happy with a sentence, I’ll tweak it and polish it until I think it’s just right.
Grammatically, the first middle-grade manuscript I wrote was probably word-perfect, a taut, tight drum of a thing; 50,000 words that I had clicked together like Lego. It got to the point where I felt I couldn’t change a sentence in case it messed up the sentences on either side. I was proud of this piece of work, but I found my inability to move things around, to shake up the story, frustrating.
I made the same mistake with my second project, but this time certain chapters started to loosen up of their own accord. You could say that they ‘went rogue’ on me. I was going to a really good writing workshop in Dublin for this one and sometimes the deadlines for sending out excerpts of my work to the other people in the group proved tricky. When you’re a parent and you’re working, something has to give.
But interestingly, it was the late night, speedily-typed chapters that were the stronger ones. The ‘I smoked a whole pack of Camels to get this damned thing done’ ones (if I smoked Camels!) They took on a life of their own, these devilish children, surprising me at times with the patterns they made. It was like I had stopped thinking and started writing.
And now, my newfound interest in art has switched on some fairy lights in my brain – fairy lights that have been tangled up in the depths of the attic for a while. Lately, I’ve been writing whenever I can. In the car outside the school; at the cooker while I’m making dinner; next to a very noisy game of air hockey at the kitchen table.
I’ve been hanging around with all sorts of deviant adjectives, the kind that sit right at the bar, whispering into the barman’s ear while he’s making the cocktails. I’ve been letting my fingers run riot across the keyboard, not stopping them, not questioning their motives.
It’s thrilling to write fast and furiously. It’s exciting to leave commas out; to let the words take you where they want to go. If you could get penalty points for writing too fast, I’d be in deep, deep trouble by now.
I blame the art teacher and her swishing and swirling.
(c) Ciara O’Connor