Sometimes you have to settle for the terrific you can do, instead of the second-rate stuff you'd really rather do.
When I was a little kid, I liked to draw.
I always had a pencil and paper handy, and used to get in trouble in grade school for sitting in the back row drawing instead of paying attention to what the teacher was doing in front.
My subjects were typical grade-school boy subjects: Indy race cars with mounted machine guns, monsters, editorial cartoons about the teachers, etc.
I was especially fascinated with architecture, and could spend hours designing entire cities in one huge building. One Christmas I worked out the ground plan for Santa’s kingdom at the North Pole.
Then, around sixth grade, a bad thing happened. I discovered my brother could draw better than I could.
I’d be sketching along, lost in my own world, then I’d look at whatever he was drawing at the time, and I’d like his better. He was much better at drawing people and three-dimensional objects than I was, so I’d get discouraged and give up.
That’s one reason I turned to photography. It was a poor-man’s second-best alternative to being able to draw objects from life.
It took a few years for me to learn to appreciate photography’s biggest strength for what it is: capturing split-second real-life moments a sketcher or painter could only mimic from memory.
It wasn’t until I was in my 30s that the desire to draw started coming back.
But instead of trying to “compete”with my brother this time (as if there’s such a thing as “competition” in the arts), I concentrated on abstractions instead.
My brother has little to no interest in abstractions that I’m aware of, and I can fill a canvas with vague shapes as well as the next person, I guess.
It turns out I’ve done a number of abstract paintings I’m actually pretty happy with.
All it took was sighing and resigning myself to doing what I do well instead of achieving my true goal of being a second-rate imitator of someone else.
. . . . .
Last week I was in a book store and saw racks of new 2013 calendars. One that grabbed my attention featured schnauzers, of which I share a house with two.
Glancing through it, I saw one picture of a dog who looked exactly like Rufus the Wonder Dog, staring nobly off into the distance. Another photo could have been a close up of Raffi the Dog of Destiny.
At first I laughed, then I was disturbed. I like to believe our dogs are unique, and those photos make it harder to believe.
Then I shook my head and snapped out of it. Okay, they are representatives of a type, but they’re my representatives of a type. No other schnauzers in the entire history of the universe will ever live in the Dixon house at this time, and that makes them unique. Good enough.