What professor Lichtman saw was my blank canvas. She saw how long I’d stood there, mixing colors, staring at my subject––a bowl of bananas––and mixing more colors, as if I were thinking: with enough planning, I could finish up my still life more quickly and with less mistakes. She grabbed a brush, shoved it in a dab of yellow ochre, and swiped three arcs on my canvas. From a distance, these arcs could maybe pass for bananas, more likely elbow macaroni.
“Why’d you do that?” I asked.
“Now you’ve started,” she said. “Don’t stop.”
Often, I feel, the hardest part of any task is the lift-off. Be it climbing a mountain or painting a portrait, it’s easy to be daunted by the prospect of a goal that you know will take a large amount of commitment. Additionally, when we focus so hard on the end result (ie: the peak), it’s easy to feel as if we are failing every step of the way. Unless you are the sort of person blessed with unflappable confidence, it is tempting to never embark, to never take those first steps, to never make those first brushstrokes, to never have your pen meet the page.
Writing, I would argue, is the easiest task to push off in this manner, possibly because it is so easy to rehearse writing in our head, or possibly because writing an essay or novel is often scarier than scaling a mountain; regardless, in the same way that no peak is ascended in one massive step, no essay––at least not a good one––is written in one burst of intellectual fury.
Climbing a mountain, I imagine, consists of the following: a step, another step, another step, and then several thousand more steps. Perhaps at some point one might need to fight off a mountain goat or dodge an avalanche (Can you tell how much I know about mountains?). Still, the point remains that the ascent consists of steps, and it’s rather hard to step safely if you’re not looking at the ground before you.
Similarly, an essay begins with a word. Then another word, and another, and another, and before you know it, you’ve reached what you might call an ending. But unlike climbing a mountain, writing requires you to return to the beginning and retrace your steps. Perhaps you notice some unclear phrasing in one section or some grammatical issues in another. Then when you go back again, you notice some other errors. This, the revision process, is where the actual work of writing is done, and one cannot begin this work unless they have words to edit.
It’s just like the arcs hastily painted by my professor. Although those yellow swooshes certainly weren’t bananas, they were a start. From there I adjusted their shape, varied the coloring, located the light, gave them depth and shadow, etc.
You get the picture. I took the steps required to reach my end goal of bananas, and I never would have gotten there if I hadn’t started.
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