The Voice.

monkeyWhy are you here? Here, on my blog, why are you here?

Are you here for the reason that I’m here? Which is, I think, because I have a vague itching inside that says ‘make something.’ But the thing I feel I ought to be doing when that impulse arises, namely drawing something, is somehow not appealing right now.  Maybe that’s because it’s after midnight, I’m sitting in the darkened cabin of an airplane flying to Tokyo, and the only thing I could draw at this moment is the dimly lit, freckled, meaty arm of the guy sleeping in the next seat. So I’m doing something else instead. Writing this.

But maybe a more honest reason why I’m typing instead of drawing is that I am afraid. I’m often a wee bit afraid when I start to make a drawing — yes, even now after zillions of drawings over a decade and a half. I’m afraid of the Voice. Not the TV show (though that can be scary too) but that teeny, nagging voice saying that the drawing will possibly (or probably) suck. The Voice isn’t always there when I uncap my pen, but it often pipes up once the first line starts to go down. “Oh, well, you blew that one. It’s all gonna be repair-work from here on.” Or “Better start cross hatching now, it looks flat and weak.” Or “Come on, let’s finish this one up and watch TV.” Or just “Puhleez … you cannot draw for beans, you worthless, posturing fraud.”

Whose voice is that?

I used to suppose it was my art/shop teacher from 6th grade. Or maybe it was my second stepfather. Or my father. Or my mother. Or a kid I knew in high school who was way cooler than almost all of us. Or a guy who thumbed through one of my books in a Barnes & Noble in Dayton and shrugged it back not the shelf. Or maybe it was your voice — maybe that was the real reason you came here today, to tell me how much this drawing will suck.

But I know now it’s not any of those voices. It’s one I know much better. It’s the voice that’s editing this blogpost as I write it. It’s critiquing my typing skills. It’s correcting my posture. It’s the voice of fear.

The voice that says,”Why bother? Why take a risk? Why put yourself out there? You suck, it will suck, and nothing good will come of it.”

It’s not Linda Blair’s possessed voice in the Exorcist. It’s not the sneering, sing-song voice of the bully that cracked open my head with a rock when I was eleven. It’s a voice that sounds just exactly like mine, though it whispers, hisses even, back there in my skillet darkness of my skull.

That voice doesn’t just concern itself with drawing. No, it has opinions about most things. Whether I should wear this shirt, whether I floss enough, whether I should have desert, what my client meant by that remark, whether I should write another book, teach another class, look for a new place to live, have another cookie. It’s a busy little voice and it can think of a good reason to be afraid of most decisions, of any impending event, big or small. It can give me umpteen reasons to do something tomorrow instead of now, to ask more and more people’s opinions before I make a move, can tell me what that stranger at the cocktail party will reply if I say hi. Despite its apparent rock-solid convictions about things, the voice is always willing to switch sides with alacrity if it will serve to unsettle me. It can say I’m not good enough — or too good. It can say I should settle for the easy way out — or tell me I always refuse to go the extra mile.

I imagine that voice coming from a smallish, hunched-over ape with bright eyes and twitching fingers crouching right behind the backside of my eyeballs. Sort of like Gollum, but meatier, furred. It’s the voice that tells me the water is too cold and too deep, the girl’s too pretty, the assignment’s too hard, the competition’s too stiff, the road’s too long.

This voice has the keys to the file room and knows the combination of the vault. It can use everything I know against me, push very button, pull every lever, and it is unrelenting. It is smarter than me and it has plenty of time on its hand.

Think about this — would the voice put so much effort into fighting me if it didn’t matter?  Do dragons guard empty caves? Maybe it’s so hard to do this because it matters so much?

But don’t worry about that now. It’s time to silence the voice.

Because it can be hushed. It can be beaten.

The secret is so easy, so simple, it took me ages to figure it out. I tried fighting back, debating, fresh approaches, corroborating opinions. But the answer, plain is simple, is to out-dumb it. To not look but just leap. To make not a plan but a move. To get the lead, or the ink, out. Now.

I pick up a pen and mindlessly start to draw. I don’t try to figure out what I’m drawing. I don’t consider the anatomy of the eyeball or the laws of light reflection or where the vanishing point should be. I don’t think about whether my proportions are off, or whether the subject is interesting, or whether my butt is falling asleep, or if the ink is soaking through the paper.

I am the whistling mule, head down, shoulder to the plow, just here to draw, ma’am, pushing the pen on and on. If the voice clambers out of its grotto and starts to harangue me, I switch to humming and I keep pushing that pen. And when the drawing is done, I don’t stop to look at it, I don’t evaluate it or make a few changes. I turn the page and I start the next one. I am not here to have drawn, I am here to be drawing.

And after a couple of pages, the voice has fallen silent. Given up because it is a bully and it can’t face defeat.  Poor little ape. See you tomorrow.

This blogpost is a demonstration of this secret weapon. I started writing with no real idea of what I wanted to say exactly but just an urge to say something.  And somehow I managed to get all these words typed and, when I get around to rereading them, I think they’ll stand up (I was about to start making some self-deprecating, parenthetic aside apologizing for how second-rate what I ended up doing is in fact, but screw it, I stand by these words and that monkey better get back in its box).

So, if you’re here because you’re killing time, time to get back to work. And if you’re looking for inspiration, you got it. Now, put on your expensive, high-performance drawing shoes and just do it.

It may well suck, but so what? A bad drawing beats no drawing every time. And good drawings are just bad drawings’ grandchildren.

What do you think? Do you ever hear the Voice? What do you say to it? Share with us.