The sun’s shining on the ice and slush today, dear readers, which makes me just happy enough to share with you the secret recipe for one of my favourite work-enhancing tools. I call it a Perfectly Crummy Self-Portrait. If I’m going to be writing or drawing something important, I’ll often quickly make one of these Perfectly Crummy Self-Portraits beforehand, as an offering to my inner critic. I say offering, but it’s also a form of practice, a warm-up, for maneuvering and bargaining with that ever-whining, dissatisfied saboteur (I just used that fancy word there to appease my pompous inner critic, who is doing all he can to keep me from writing and sharing this particular blog post.)
Instructions for A Perfectly Crummy Self-Portrait
1. Choose some coloured pencils (let the colours choose you). Leave them dull or broken, just as they are. I also always choose either a black charcoal pencil or a black pen, because I happen to like drawings that look like forked sticks caught inside storm clouds.
2. Crinkle and fold a piece of paper until it looks like some mistake aimed for a trash can.
3. Flatten it out and start drawing yourself. You can look in a mirror if you want, but you probably don’t have to. We know ourselves better than we think.
4. Scribble out all you want but don’t erase. When your inner critic shouts, Stop! You’ve got to change that! It’s horrible! Just keep your pencil moving.
5. Only draw of yourself what you feel like drawing. For example, I left out my hair in the picture above because it takes certain kind of masochism to draw the lights and darks of hair, to convey both the congruity and dissent of a head of hair, and this morning (luckily) I just didn’t have it in me.
6. When you’re done you can scrawl some comments—either yours or your critic’s—onto your features. If you spent too much time in the past attentively listening to your critic, It may be hard to discern whose comments are whose. Don’t fret that you despise yourself; a love won through hard argument-to-the-contrary is an honest, everlasting love.
7. Put the portrait in your work area, close at hand. The inner critic, for all his bashing work, is ultimately lazy—so set your decoy close.
That’s it. You can then sneak into your real work and the critic will likely be swayed—for long distracted intervals, at least—with the mess of your Perfectly Crummy Self-Portrait. How trashed it is, how sloppy, how juvenile, how rough. The word Typical. The word Always. The word Fail. You won’t hear any of this, though. Because you’re doing your work. Sometimes you might want to reach over and crumple your portrait in your fist again, or stab it with your pencil, uglying it up to buy you more silence. And if in the course of writing (or whatever you do), your critic starts to doubt and gag and whine, to convince you that the words you’re forming lack beauty or coherence or worth and therefore you do too, just say, well duh–and gesture over to your intentionally-flawed paper self.
A cool thing about these Perfectly Crummy Self-Portraits is that when I survey one later, even the crummiest, I can often see in it what all I made that day, after I made it. I see too a glimpse of the blathering force I had to overcome, to make anything at all. And then the slashed and crumpled picture looks pretty perfect to me, almost like fine art. I hope whatever you use to tediously bargain with your inner critic acquires the sheen or impact of a masterpiece.
Go and make your face and then make stuff.