I can’t remember if this quote is from the movie or the book by Roald Dahl, but it was something said about the amazing Matilda.
“Matilda’s strong young mind continued to grow, nurtured by the voices of all those authors who had sent their books out into the world like ships on the sea. These books gave Matilda a hopeful and comforting message. You are not alone.”
I think of this quote all the time. When I was younger I thought I was stupid. I couldn’t focus in school. I was a bad student, (except in art class) and I had trouble with reading clear into my adulthood. It would take me months to get through a book and after I had read it I still could barely tell you what it was about.
I was embarrassed to ask questions and participate in anything educational. I was shy and intimidated around people who had a better education than I did.
I needed a spark to light the fire of mental progress. I was lost and knew I needed help. The guidance I craved wasn’t something that could be addressed in the home. My mother worked a full time job to support me and my father, although amazing when he was around, truly was never really around, hardly ever. I looked to the “sea of literature” for deliverance, the sea where authors sent their work into the world. I yearned for a master to apprentice by and the first vessel I boarded belonged to Captain Neil Gaiman.
I was about 15 years old when I first heard of Neil Gaiman. A friend gave me a copy of The Sandman: Seasons of Mists. It was the first piece of literature that brought me joy at a time when reading was a difficult and arduous task for me. I may have been fifteen at the time, but I was probably reading at a fifth grade level. Never the less, I was captivated by Gaiman’s storytelling so I kept on reading. It took me forever to get through them, but I read all the Sandman comics I could get my hands on. I also read Neverwhere, Good Omens and later on The Anansi Boys.
I got in trouble at school quite often and was sent to study alone in a cubical away from all the classes; they called it “in-school suspension.” I was supposed to be working on class work, but I spent most of my time in solitary confinement reading The Sandman and drawing pictures from the comics.
A lot of Gaiman’s stories are based on ancient mythology. Reading these stories inspired me to learn more. I finally escaped “in-school suspension” and took classes in Greek Mythology, Norse Mythology and Egyptian Mythology. Thanks to Neil Gaiman, for writing such wonderful and engaging stories; I became a better reader and a smarter person. I branched out into Lewis Carroll, Charles Dickens, H.G. Wells, Jules Verne, Stephen King, H.P. Lovecraft and Ray Bradbury. Neil Gaiman’s tales stirred me up inside and I dreamed of becoming a storyteller. Gaiman was my gateway drug into the dark, spellbinding world of pleasurable and exciting literature. I am thankful to Neil Gaiman for making up stories and writing them down. That young inexperienced 15 year old girl may have never picked up a book if it wasn’t for The Sandman.
Once I began boarding these literary ships. I went from one adventure to the next until I felt, once again, the need to learn more and improve my life. As an adult I began searching for mentors. I was looking for a master to apprentice.
I apprenticed under David Lynch for quite some time. I enjoy his work, his weirdness and his art. I live in North Bend, Washington which is where they filmed some of the Twin Peaks series. David Lynch wrote one of my favorite books ever, Catching the Big Fish: Meditation, Consciousness and Creativity. The book is easy to read with paragraph sized chapters. Its about how to catch your ideas, as if they were fish swimming around you. He talks about his own experience with catching ideas for his projects in terms of film and art. Most of the fish are small, but you have to catch the small ones first because they will lead you to the “big fish”, that one great idea that helps you make something epic.
At the time when I found this book, I was drowning in my own personal sea of ideas. The trouble was, I never knew what to do with my ideas. I didn’t know how to organize them or catch them and turn them into a project. So many ideas, maybe even good ones have come and gone. In Catching the Big Fish David Lynch gives advice on how to save those ideas. Once I figured out how to catch my own fish, I became very busy. I had ideas, but didn’t know what to do with them, and then I read The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron.
The Artist’s Way is kind of like a 12 step program for stifled artists. I realized I had all these little voices in my head trying to dictate which direction to go with all these new ideas that I was catching. Some of the voices weren’t even mine. I had voices of past authority figures trying to discourage me from creating what I wanted to, my mother’s voice, voices from a critical audience, all those “what if” voices.
“What if you offend somebody with this painting or this story?”
“What if nobody likes your work? What if they hate it?”
“What if they think you’re stupid?”
The Artist’s Way helped me silence those voices. It’s amazing what you can get through if you can just stop those “What ifs”. Now I’m not trying to please everybody with my work. Don’t get me wrong, I hope that people will enjoy the things that I create. That’s why I create them. However, I don’t worry anymore about the people I won’t please. I’ve learned how to be true to my ideas. I find pleasure in entertaining others but I don’t sweat the critics. I except constructive criticism when I know it will help me to learn and grow and I block out those voices who try to stop me in my tracks. They don’t want to help you, they want to destroy you and keep from creating.
Frida Kahlo is another one of my favorite teachers. I sailed through her personal life with her when I read her diary. What I admire about her is her strength, her truth and her ability to express her emotions. She spent most of her life in agonizing pain. She painted her pain. Some of her paintings are very gory and graphic.
I have never experienced the kind of physical pain that Frida experienced but I learned how to work through my own pain by using art. When something is hurting me I put it on paper, or canvas, or video or whatever I can get my hands on. Frida teaches me to show the truth, to show the pain for what it is. Once you put those feelings somewhere else, it leaves your body and your mind. It doesn’t exist in you like it did before. It feels like it doesn’t belong to you. It’s for everyone who reads it or sees it, and maybe it can inspire or help somebody else in their life.
It is a constant struggle to exist as a human being. Even if you think you have your shit together, you don’t. I have no idea why we exist or what we are doing here. Sometimes I think this world is a purgatory. What to do when you realize how insignificant you are? Who knows, I like to pass my time with my family and friends. I work on projects. I catch my fish and I use them to create and entertain. Last year I began studying under master puppeteer and storyteller, Jim Henson.
In my world Jim Henson is the perfect creator. His imagination was limitless. I often think of the treasures he could have created if he hadn’t had to leave us so soon and it really makes me sad that we shall never see them. However we are really so lucky that he found his voice and had the courage to create the marvels that he did. As a child he educated me with Sesame Street and he continues to inspire me in my adult years with what he has left behind for us. The book; It’s Not Easy Being Green and Other Things to Consider, is a book of quotes about and by Jim Henson. This book is amazing. It really paints the picture of a creator and a humanitarian. Jim Henson had an epic imagination and he used it for the greater good. His creations entertained, educated and gave us a sense of wonder. He was never selfish about his talents. He shared them and he encouraged others to find their voices and create their own stories and worlds. In my resent research into contemporary artists and “the art world” I have been disappointed time and again. There is an alarming number of what I call selfish artists out there.
The selfish artist sacrifices the human spirit for their craft. The selfish artist only identifies with their work and they will snuff out the fire in others to further their own name and career. The selfish artist criticizes other’s talents and tries to discourage creation that is not their own. They feel superior and identify only with the artist in themselves; they are almost all ego and no emotion. They want the fame and the good reviews, yet are never satisfied even when they achieve these things. They believe their talents to be the only thing that makes them special and this makes them competitive with their peers. Never let a selfish artist put you down. They want to hide your light because they are afraid you will outshine them and I believe that that is wrong.
If you are an artist I think you should take pride in your work and do the best that you can without comparing yourself to anybody else. Apples and oranges, we are all on our own paths. If another artist or creator is only beginning to explore their voice it is wrong to discourage them. An accomplished artist who encourages and inspires others is what I hope to become someday. I will always encourage other’s creativity. I want people to create! I want to learn, love and be inspired by others.
My favorite master, Ray Bradbury teaches me to always be a student and educate myself. I used to think I was stupid, but I don’t anymore. I make the conscience effort everyday to avoid my own stupidity. If you can’t make off for college whenever you feel like it, don’t wait! Educate yourself right now. If you can read a book or watch a video on youtube you can teach yourself the basics of just about anything. Resources are unlimited these days and free to those who seek them out.
I am so thankful for the voices from all those authors and artists who have sent their work out into the world like ships on the sea. I have had quite the adventure on these ships and I am growing into a person I can be proud of. I look forward to boarding new ships that are only now beginning to forge their journeys into the great unknown. I hope someday to put a craft or two into the sea myself, if only to let someone else out there know, “You are not alone.”