When your horse dies…

To A Place I Cannot See
copyright 2023, Molly Larson Cook
28″ x 22″ Acrylic/mixed media

Writing and art and every other creative endeavor have a lot in common. The processes, though different on the surface, go like this:

First try – oh, nuts, that’s not right.
Second try – uhm, closer but still not what I want.
Third try – is this thing ever going to look/sound/work right?
And then two possibilities. Either it does very soon look/sound/work right or it doesn’t. If it does, you get busy and do the work.

If it doesn’t, the best suggestion I’ve heard is a bit of cowboy wisdom: “When your horse dies, get off.”

I learned to do this first with my writing, and later while working as a consultant for a team of engineers developing a new tool for the electric power industry. I was observing the first trials, and it was a revelation to me that professional engineers didn’t get it exactly right the first time. As I watched them go through all the steps (see above), I realized it was a lot like the trial and error of writing.

We were all surprised.

Now I use it in my art, and I had such a moment this very week when a canvas I’ve been futzing around with just kept getting worse and not better. That’s when I realized the horse was dead. So I got off, grabbed the gesso, and the canvas and I will have a new beginning this week.

When it comes to creativity, perfectionists need not apply lest a kind of madness take over and make you unwell.

One of my favorite art workshops was taught by a woman who did not expect or encourage perfection. She started the workshop by showing us flaws in the work of famous artists. I don’t mean big things, but things like feet and hands (not every artist is good at these – Botticelli found feet particularly difficult) and other details.

I have not seen the Sistine Chapel except in pictures, but I’m pretty sure Michaelangelo had a slip up or two as he painted on his back on that scaffolding (an astounding act in itself). He might even have said, “It’s fine. It’s okay.” Or more colorful words to that effect. “I’m not going back up there to fix that little thing.” Or, whatever that phrase would be in Italian.

I guarantee that the language of frustrated professional engineers in any language can be particularly colorful!

The poem that gives title to the painting in this post is an “I am…” titled here “Cartographer’s Heart.” An “I am” poem comprises a few lines that describe the poet – not in similes, but in metaphors. You can try writing one yourself. Here’s mine:

I am the night sky in winter, a star in Orion’s belt.
I am a church with silences and prayers and bells on certain days.
I am a long-haul driver with an empty rig and home no place in sight.
I am the sound of water over rocks.
I am fresh laundry in the wind on a line that stretches into a distance I cannot calculate
             to a place I cannot see.

6 thoughts on “When your horse dies…

  1. Molly, I love this post. You taught me the best lesson about writing:
    Two rules:
    1. Write it.
    2. Fix it.

    Works great for my Virgo perfectionist attitude and as I age, I’m less about perfection than satisfaction and I do get off the horse more often.

    Have a great weekend.

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