Freedom with nothing lost

I spent last week trying to write about nothing.

Writing about nothing is difficult. Oxymoronic.

It all started because I had nothing to say. Yes it was a surprise to me too. But I didn’t want to be one of the ones who keep talking-writing even when they don’t have anything to say. At the same time I was very curious about why I had nothing to say and if it had anything to do with studying and reading other people’s writing and listening to other people’s ideas, and therefore not being able to hear myself think, and a plethora of other clichés.

But when I came to writing about nothing it was like trying to grab hold of a Bunyip’s tail, or is that tale, I wasn’t sure if I was holding something real or imagined. I ran round and around in circles chasing the tale in a lather of sweat.

So, I thought I’d drop that difficult topic and write about something simpler, freedom.

By freedom, I mean psychological freedom. It’s something I’m grappling with, again, at the moment. Some might say I have an “issue” with freedom, making those little rabbit ear fingers to make the point.

Here’s the dilemma.

I decided to do a printmaking class just to balance out all the mentalising I’m doing at the moment.

Anyway the teacher suggested I start with a reduction print. I’ve done umpteen printmaking workshops and have avoided this first step. I don’t like reduction prints. All those colours mixed up together, the hard lines and shapes. Not for me, I tell myself.

Instead of listening to the teacher I started working on some clear plastic as my relief plate, using one of my photos of shadows on water for inspiration, cutting into light and leaving dark. Anyway I’m muddling along making things up as I go. Not something a printmaker should do, there are rules. Random art is the thing I revert back to if unchecked.

But now the teacher is hassling me to use this random-art-dark-on-light-water-photo-clear-plastic-relief-thingo as the plate for the reduction print. Don’t worry if it doesn’t make sense, it doesn’t make sense to me either. I have to make it up as I go along, sounds a bit like my life.

But the point I want to make is that I’m annoyed that the teacher is trying to tell me to do something I don’t want to do.

That’s my freedom dilemma.

Of course I can do whatever I like. I have a choice.

I can avoid doing a reduction print. He can’t make me! I can just do my own thing. Or I could avoid going back to class because I’m only doing it for pleasure and relaxation anyway. Or I can talk to him again and tell him I really don’t want to do it and I don’t like people telling me what to do. Or I could do what he suggests. No wonder school was such a trial (and error) for me.

Why should this be such a big deal?

Because this issue of freedom and avoidance is one of those things I’ve had to keep learning all my life, again and again a bit like that Bunyip tale, I keep chasing it around a rock, all sweaty and breathless.

As a young person I thought avoidance was freedom. I thought that if I could get out of something I was free. Avoid-escape seemed to be the easy way out, around the bumps and lumps in life. Always doing what I wanted seemed the ultimate freedom.

But I was wrong. Yes, I was wrong.

What I have learnt is that freedom and escape are just another way of being pushed and pulled by the thing I am trying to avoid or escape. And eventually it will come back and slap me on the back, or in the face, and say “hello, remember me.” And this thing I have been trying to avoid will have grown large and shaggy, with pointy yellow teeth, or fangs, and a weird cackle.

That is reduction printing for me, minus the fangs.

Because avoidance has been an issue for me, sometimes one that I can’t see, I thought I’d better take a good hard look at myself instead of tormenting the teacher, either in my head or in an email, or face to face in front of the class full of mild mannered very nice people.

So, I went on-line and went through the steps of reduction printing, even though I basically knew the principles and have had them explained and demonstrated several times. Ha. Very interesting. You know what I discovered, which no teacher has ever explained to me? (Well perhaps they did and I wasn’t listening because I was too busy in my head justifying why I didn’t need to do a reduction print). Doing a reduction print teaches you the most basic lesson in printmaking, how to align a print accurately to produce multiple prints, the essence of printmaking. It is this basic alignment that I have missed out on every time I’ve avoided doing a reduction print.

Sure I can watch others do it. But until I do it myself and make my own mistakes – feel the real – you could say, I wont know it in my fingers and skin. That’s what I’ve avoided and that’s what I’ve missed.

It’s this integration of principle, idea, or mental knowledge into your own tactile understanding that changes the brain. This is true learning, which has become confused with simply remembering. We have been sold a lie that if we remember a fact we know something. But it’s not until we touch it, taste it and say it in our own way, or cut it and place it with our own fingers, that we know something.

So after years of avoiding it, like a petulant child, because I didn’t like the end result I discover that I’ve missed the first basic step of printmaking.

Avoiding the first step, thinking it’s freedom, is like owning a three-legged chair with one leg shorter than the others. It seems fine until you sit down and then you spend all your time trying to get settled but the chair rocks every time you move or reach for something. Firstly you have to get your foundations right. And often it looks boring and tedious, too hard, or may seem unnecessary to a beginner’s eye.

Freedom isn’t about avoiding what’s hard or uncomfortable. Freedom means knowing you can manage the difficult, and trusting that you can learn what is necessary to overcome the problems you face, instead of giving up and running away with the after taste of sour grapes on your tongue.

Freedom is learning that some of the things we do that bring the most satisfaction mean facing tough and tedious bits, so we can keep learning and growing.

Many of the things I love doing are time out, a release, escape from difficult things, or stresses in my life so I want them to be easy and fun. But in the end everything has a hard edge in it. This can be a wall that you run up against and try to avoid or you can learn to scale it and build strength, skill and confidence along the way. This is true for writing and photography, and of course printmaking.

Learning the technical skills in photography, for instance, gives me more freedom in my work-play. If I don’t understand the capabilities and limitations of my camera I’ll always bump up against a thick wall of challenges and frustrations that I can’t overcome.

Our greatest learning lies not in the things that fall into our laps without any effort but the hard things we face when everything in us is squirming and we want to run off and sit in the sun to read a good book, or check out FB or Pinterest to find some new distraction.

Yes we can we can always choose not to do something. But if we can’t do that thing because we’ve never learnt how, or we’re afraid of trying and failing, is it really a choice? It seems more like avoidance, or giving up, not freedom.

Yes, I am going to do the reduction print.

And no, I’m not advocating character building by doing hard things just for the sake of it. Knowing when to step away, and what isn’t for you takes deep listening, wisdom and courage.

Find what you love and what’s right for you, and to keep it growing like a fabulous garden or passionate relationship, be willing to take the dark and tough of it, along with the light and delight, and some random bits along the way.

Photo taken using random-art-dark-on-light-water-photo-clear-plastic-relief-thingo as filter







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