I find myself telling this story a lot more recently:
Spring of my freshman year at university, I took a 100-level art course. Black and white, charcoal and ink and collage, very basic stuff. The instructor tried – with varying success – to inspire his students. Admirable for a survey course at a state school.
One fine day, we were working with brush and ink. Our teacher became more and more frustrated as we hunched over the paper and tried to make fine, controlled movements when he wanted broad, bold strokes. Finally, he’d had enough.
“Everyone! Put down your brush. Pick up your pad and your ink bottle, and come outside!”
He marched us out to the front of the building, which faced the tree-lined quad. “Find a stick about as long as your arm,” we were instructed.
Once everyone had their stick, he nodded and gave us our orders. “Hold the stick by one end. Now, dip the other end in your ink. This is what you’re painting with.”
Our dismay must have been obvious. His glee came through in his voice, “Anything that you don’t like, blame the stick. Now paint.”
This story comes back to me when I find myself, or others, getting hung up on perfection. When the desire to be Insanely Great on the very first iteration prevents me from getting a single thing done. When nothing seems as good or creative or elegant as what inspired me.
That’s when I’m reminded of a spring day, painting with crufty twigs.
Blame the stick. Now paint.