At an art class one day the art teacher approached me and said, “Don’t be afraid to get a little brave and free with it. You’re afraid to make a mistake, I can smell it on you.”
She wasn’t wrong. I tensely held my paintbrush, remembering all the moments I had colored in between the lines for the sake of not drawing too much attention. It wasn’t the mistakes I was afraid of making. I was fearful of making the wrong ones. Those people don’t overlook so easily. The ones in bold, red strokes on a white canvas.
But then I thought of all the times I had joyfully colored outside the lines: when I publicly questioned my teachers in junior high and high school; when I was outspoken in my opinions; when I broke (many) rules as a child; when I wandered further than I had permission to, trying to find the boundaries of my freedom. In each of those moments, there was always someone there to reprimand me for missing the lines. I was scolded, I was used as an example of what not to do, and I was pressured by disapproval. The message was clear, and I wasn’t listening: FOLLOW THE DAMN RULES.
But now I wonder if the consistency of people who have redirected my behavior overtime has inevitably influenced me. Have I begun to follow the rules? Do I tread lightly now to avoid upsetting anyone? It could be that I’ve just matured overtime, but maturation is no excuse for a life lived between the boundaries drawn by another person. I spend a lot of time wondering if the boundaries in my life are the ones I’ve created for myself, or if they’re instructions. I often weave in and out of “rule following” and “rule breaking” to find the answer.
“You know what happens to your art when you draw straight lines and tense strokes?” the art teacher said. “It fucking sucks. No one wants to hang that on their wall.” Just like no one wants to read the memoir of a rule follower, I thought. Or that no one who colors within the same lines of thousands of other people is named in a history book, or that nobody discovers new territory by remaining on the shore.
The people who make monumental differences in the world are those who dodge the lines and create freely on a blank canvas.