Okay, so when I was in middle school I was friends with this girl. Let's call her Carol (hint: Carol is not her real name).
Carol was one of those people who dreamed constantly of getting “discovered,” and being “famous.” You know the kind of person I mean—someone who is convinced that she is a super talented genius, but she just hasn't been given the right break yet.
Except that the truth was, the reason Carol hadn't been given the right break was that Carol never actually put enough effort into anything to actually become good at it. It wasn't that she was talentless. She just never PRACTICED.
Case in point: When I was in middle-school, I was good at drawing (for a seventh grader). Mainly, I was good at drawing princesses.
The reason I was good at drawing princesses was because I drew them ALL THE TIME. Seriously. I was ALWAYS drawing princesses. Even during class (as you might have noticed from some of the drawings I posted in an earlier blog). Even during my favorite shows, such as “Battlestar Gallactica” and “The Love Boat.”
Obviously, if you practice something THAT much, eventually you won't totally suck at it.
But Carol didn't get this part…about the practicing, I mean. She thought she should just be able to sit down and draw princesses as well as I could, without having put in the years (and I do mean years) of practice. The fact that she couldn't do this made her mad.
What made Carol even more angry was that none of her princess drawings ever got into the school art show at the end of the year, like mine always did. I tried to help her, by being all, “If you'd just PRACTICE more….”
But Carol never wanted to hear THAT. She wanted a princess drawing in the art show, and she wanted a princess drawing in the art show NOW. No boring old PRACTICING for her.
Anyway, the summer before 8th grade, I moved away for a year because my dad got a teaching job at the naval academy in Carmel, California. And I did what kids always do when they miss their friends and want to keep in touch: I wrote them letters.
And my friends wrote me back. Carol, in particular, wrote me back, begging me to send her a princess drawing, because she “loved them so much,” and I was “so good at them” and she missed me and the drawing would remind her of me.
Of course I was flattered, so I sent her one.
You can guess what happened next.
The worst part of it was? Carol didn't think she'd done anything wrong. She wrote me, telling me she'd heard a rumor that a mutual friend had spilled the beans about what she'd done, and that I was mad. Carol went on to insist that she HADN'T signed her name to my princess drawing and entered it into the school art show–that it had been HER drawing…and she even sent me the drawing she entered, to prove it wasn't mine.
Except that the drawing she sent me was a traced outline (on actual tracing paper) of my OWN PRINCESS DRAWING that I had sent her.
I couldn't believe it! Carol was trying to pass a TRACED OUTLINE OF MY OWN DRAWING AS HER ORIGINAL CREATION!!!
Here's the thing though:
After I got over my initial outrage and I thought about it a little, I realized I couldn't even be that mad at her for it.
Because, in a way, it wasn't entirely Carol's fault. I mean, WHERE WERE CAROL'S PARENTS??? How come, when Carol told them she was going to be in the art show, they didn't go, “But you don't know the first thing about art. You never practice. Shouldn't you be concentrating on your studies?”
And where were the teachers who were on the art show committee? How come they weren't the least little bit SUSPICIOUS of a princess drawing on TRACING PAPER, coming from a girl who had never drawn anything that good before?
And where was my art teacher, who knew my drawing style? Why didn't she go, “Um, Carol? Did you really draw this? Because it looks a lot like the princesses Meg Cabot is always drawing….Also, it's on tracing paper.”
But none of that happened. NONE OF THOSE PEOPLE NOTICED. It turned out they didn't care HOW Carol had acquired her drawing. They just wanted to rush out and show it to everyone, to prove how special and talented Carol was—and how special and talented THEY were, for discovering this new art prodigy (aka Carol).
Which I guess I understand, in a way. Because who doesn't love hearing about “wunderkinds,” people who, with seemingly very little effort, suddenly become enormous stars in their field at a young age? No one in today's society wants to hear the word PRACTICE, any more than Carol did when I used to say it to her. Because PRACTICE isn't as sexy as OVERNIGHT SENSATION TAKES ART WORLD BY STORM.
The thing I guess we have to ask ourselves is how much do we, as a society, ENCOURAGE people to take the kind of short cut Carol took, instead of emphasizing the importance of hard work? How come no one—NO ONE—at that art show said, “Wait a minute. Sure Carol seems to have talent. But how about before we sign her up for a show at the Whitney, we see if she can draw something that ISN'T ON TRACING PAPER.”
After I got over being mad at Carol—and her parents, and the art show committee, and the art teacher, and all the other Carol types and THEIR parents and promoters that I've encountered since—all I felt (and still feel, to this day) was sad.
Not just because I'd lost a friend (which, of course, I had. When I got back to Bloomington, even though I felt super, duper sorry for Carol, on account of her being such a lost soul, I found I just couldn't be friends with her anymore).
No, I felt sad because none of those people—but most importantly, Carol–were ever going to understand that the coolest part of creating something–like a picture, or a story, or a song–isn't how fast you do it, or how young you are when you created it, or how many art shows it's put into, or how much money someone eventually pays for it.
Because the truth is, if you're patient, all of that–the art shows, and the money, and everything else–will come along eventually. Those things aren't really what's important.
What's important is that when you create something original (i.e. NOT TRACED), it's something YOU made, that speaks from YOUR heart, and no one else's. Even if it's just a dumb drawing of a princess, it's YOUR dumb drawing of a princess, NOT ANYONE ELSE'S.
And there's something totally great about that—way better than art shows. Even better than money.
And what makes me sad is that that's something Carol and everyone like her will never, ever understand.