When peacocks are hatched, they are ugly grey balls of fluff. When you snap a Polaroid, it is grey, then murky, washed out. When a baker puts a cake in the oven, it is runny, mealy, and inedible. A great burgundy goes into the bottle as grape juice. When a marathoner crosses the finish line, her body is depleted, her heart is erratic, her brain is mush. When you are clinging to the side of a mountain, your face pressed against the granite — you can’t see its shape against the sky, its majesty.
Judgement require distance and perspective. The drama of the creative process takes a while to unwind and calm down. All that adrenaline needs to be flushed from the system. The paint takes time to dry and reach its true hue. All your many decisions need to settle into each other, to lose the emotion of the struggle.
So often, I read a years-old essay and am surprised by it. It is funny, it is wise, and most surprisingly, I wrote it. But when I did, I thought it was crap. I flip back through a long-closed sketchbook and am reminded of what it was like to draw it; I see my decisions of the moment with clarity and respect. The wonkiness is no longer a source of anxiety; I recognize it as emotion, as style, as the deliberate choice of a part of me that was operating from a great depth.
The time to judge your work is after the clang of battle has died down, the dust of hooves has settled. Only then can you see what you have done. And if it is good.
And what does good mean? It begins with remembering why you started the journey. What was your goal, your inspiration, the problem you wanted to solve? Was it to capture the light on the wall, the feeling in his eyes, the memory of home? In the process, you may have forgotten that objective. Go back to it now and look again.
Or perhaps that spark was just the beginning. You may have gone far afield since then, discovered things you never knew could be, hastily stuffed revelations into your pockets and hurried on down the road. Now is the time to unpack and go back over those discoveries and lessons to see where they led you.
Begin your assessment with a prayer of thanks. Every creative journey has its rewards. It’s never wasted time. Put your disappointments aside and look for your bounty.
And remember to be gentle as you would with that baby peachick, its feathers still wet and grey, still feeble and needing your protection so that with time and handfuls of corn it may yet grow into its glory.