“The seed of your next art work lies embedded in the imperfections of your current piece. Such imperfections (or mistakes, if you’re feeling particularly depressed about them today) are your guides—valuable, reliable, objective, non-judgmental guides—to matters you need to reconsider or develop further.”
--Bayles and Orland pg 31*
In 2000, I moved to Atlanta, Georgia. Armed only with the meager possessions of a graduate student, a tri-fold map of Atlanta, and a travel guide for the state of Georgia, I settled into my apartment. Curious about the town, I hopped into my car, ready to explore and to discover. I had mapped out a route on the map, but decided to venture off the path and follow a road…that led to an on ramp…that led to a toll road…that had no exit for several miles. I panicked. I had no money for a toll road. I had no idea where I was. I had no idea how to get found. It was clear I had made a BIG mistake. HUGE! Or so I thought. Eventually, I came to an exit—never passing a tollbooth--and managed to weave and meander my way to a street I had seen earlier. Now, the funny thing about that detour is that I had been about two miles away from home. (Go ahead and laugh . . . I did when I figure it out.) And that turn, that mistake, introduced me to the restaurants and shops I visited regularly while I lived in Atlanta. It also introduced me to a glorious, wonderful alternate route into downtown Atlanta.
I’m sure if I had stayed on my highlighted route, eventually, I would have found the shops and restaurants. I mean, I did have a map. I needed some of those stores, so I would have looked them up. But, who knows if I would have found the alternate route? I do know that I told many people about the route over the years. That mistake, introduced me to what I needed sooner. It introduced me things I would need. And most importantly, it showed me that feeling lost and being lost is not the same thing. (I was, after all, only two miles away from my apartment.)
When I am writing and I find myself searching for the perfect word, playing it safe, and fearing mistakes--in short, feeling paralyzed--I try to think about that day, that detour. That day I strayed away from the highlighted route, strayed away from the “perfect” route. And I was rewarded. **
*Art and Fear: Observations On the Perils (and Rewards) of Artmaking, 2011.
**As I watched the NBA Finals on 6/12/2012, one of the commentators shared this quote from Scott Brooks, the Head Coach of the Oklahoma City Thunder. This is in response to questions about the team’s poor performance their first year in the NBA. (They’re only four years old.): “We weren’t loosing, we were learning how to win.”