Artistic Torment

StocksRecently, my mother handed me a box of school photos from grade school. There was a lot of nostalgia and a LOT of cringing. When I was a little girl, they didn’t really have realistically-priced thinning for glasses, so my frames had to be huge and my lenses thick. Also, my mom always picked out my clothes for picture day. My sister has, likewise, cringed when she looks at pictures of herself from high school, now dated by the fashion of the 1980s. Is it just the dated fashion foibles of our youth that we shy away from, or is something else?

As I’ve kept a journal for nearing eight years, I’ve certainly found myself looking back at some event and shaking my head in disgust or pity. When I see, for example, myself giddy about a friend who would later do something to completely lose my trust, I think about what a little fool I was for trusting someone with so many obvious signs of disaster looming. That’s the pain and price of hindsight.

There is a certain torture in looking back on old (and even not-so-old) writing. With the pictures and report cards, my mother also sent along with me several stories and writing journals from grades three through five. Some of the stories had been bound by the school as class projects. While I read them, I saw the influences of my favorite author from those years, Stephen King. Two were about kidnappings, one was about a time traveler that dies tragically at the end of her journeys. The feeling that I could now do it so much better, or wondering what I was thinking writing something that stupid. It’s hard to remember, sometimes, that I was only a little girl and that I didn’t know then what I know now.

It isn’t all historical. It can be a moment after I drop something in a mailbox or hit send on an email that I think “Why did I submit that?” It could be noticing a formatting or spelling error that somehow escaped my meticulous editing, or it could simply be the jitters. For me, it is very much that same feeling I get reading old stories. I see all the places I glued together the pieces. I see all the mistakes I made along the way. I see the old, dated styles that I was borrowing before I developed a style of my own, and I want to rip it all out and begin again.

The artistic torment is feeling that some subtle shift in light happened before you snapped the photograph, or some odd effect took shape when the paint dried, or some note was off in an otherwise perfect recording. It’s that no matter how clear your vision, you are never as good an author as you know you could be.

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