Living Outside The Lines

Apricot. Bittersweet. Burnt Sienna. Cornflower. Maize. Mahogany. Melon.

Those of us who grew up between 1949 and 1957 may remember those colors with special affection. Clear and vibrant as the bits of nature whose names they bear, they are classic Crayola colors: part of the box of forty-eight crayons that became one of my childhood’s greatest treasures.

Before 1958, the year the box containing sixty-four Crayolas was introduced, the forty-eight piece box was the big box: the box you received as a Christmas gift, or for a birthday, or because you’d contracted something like measles that would keep you in bed for a while.

I received my first big box of crayons for Christmas, with some coloring books thrown in for good measure. A photograph from that year shows me in pajamas and robe, my coloring book canvas spread before me and my father at my side. Our routine — I colored, he watched — continued for several years. He rarely offered advice, preferring instead to comment about my choice of colors, or the stories I made up as I worked.

My mother’s concerns were somewhat different. Each time I settled in to color, I’d hear her gentle, cautionary advice: “Be sure to stay inside the lines.”

Her advice was well-meant, and especially appropriate in my case. Coloring-book novices often stray, smudge, and straggle their way across the pages, but I seemed particularly unable to keep things tidy. My mother worked with me, as did my grandmother. Even a neighbor or two tried a little artistic coaching. Wanting to please, I did my best to keep my apricot, corn flower, and maize inside those little black lines. But every now and then, when no one was looking, I’d sneak a piece of typing paper and just draw.  

Eventually, coloring books were set aside for bigger and better art projects: a squirrel carved from ivory soap; a ghastly papier-mâché puppet with bright yellow hair and a calico dress; a Japanese lady wearing a kimono sketched onto a piece of wood.  I learned to cut paper snowflakes, sent coiled clay vases and ashtrays to the kiln, and once created a presentable corn field with tempera paints. 

But always there was a mold, a form, a pattern to guide my artistic efforts, and standards by which to judge. A “good” squirrel was properly proportioned, snowflakes were symmetrical, and corn fields were meant to look like corn, not fence posts. If I was going to produce art, it seemed I needed to learn the rules.

There were rules to spare. In 8th grade, I was taught that real poetry always rhymes.  Not long after, I learned that real music has no dissonance, and good art always is representational. Even though my coloring books had been set aside, the importance of remaining within the lines remained unquestioned.

Later in life, the consequences of not being able to  control my metaphorical crayons became more serious. My first full-time job, as a customer service representative for Southwestern Bell in Kansas City, involved taking calls from people wanting to connect, disconnect, or change their telephone service. In those days before computers, the information we obtained — names, addresses, employers — was transcribed by hand onto forms resembling graph paper. Each letter or numeral was to be placed precisely within its own 1/4″ square, with no smudges or stray lines straggling across the paper. 

At the end of a six week probationary period, several of us were advised to seek employment “where our talents might find a better fit.” The nicely-phrased suggestion avoided stating the obvious: idiots who couldn’t stay within the lines had no place in the world of Ma Bell.

After the firing, my relief knew no bounds. I’d hated the work, and every day had been a misery.  Despite understanding company guidelines and wanting to do things properly, I seemed incapable of doing so. When friends asked, “Why not do it their way?” I had no good answer, although it did occur to me that the wisdom of my mother’s advice during my coloring-book days had been confirmed. Stay within the lines, and you’ll be fine. Get distracted, lose focus, grow restless or bored, and your days are numbered. 

For the next few years, I did my best to keep within the lines. But by 1975, I was in London on holiday, and ready to hear what the Heptones had to say on the matter.

A reggae band from Jamaica, the Heptones recorded their hit single, “Book of Rules,” in 1973. Part of a musical wave overtaking London at the time, the song appealed as much to Bob Weir — guitarist, lyricist and founding member of the Grateful Dead — as it did to me. Weir told David Gans in 1981 how he came to record the song:

It had been one of my favorite reggae cuts for the last few years.   I finally found the record and copped the tune and recorded it.  Then a few weeks ago, after the record had been pressed up and everything was happening, a friend of Barlow’s found a compilation of verse, a collection of poems from the turn of the century to about 1930.

The poem within the collection that caught Weir’s attention was “A Bag of Tools,” written by R.L. Sharpe (1870-1950).  It was included by Hazel Felleman in her 1936 volume, Best Loved Poems of the American People.

A Bag of Tools

Isn’t it strange how princes and kings,
and clowns that caper in sawdust rings,
and common people like you and me
are builders for eternity?
Each is given a list of rules;
a shapeless mass; a bag of tools.
And each must fashion, ere life is flown,
A stumbling block, or a stepping-stone.

By the time the Heptones’ Barry Llewellyn and Harry Johnson finished setting Sharpe’s words to music, the lyrics had changed a bit, but the reggae flavor of the newly titled “Book of Rules” was memorable.

The Heptones’ “Book Of Rules”
Isn’t it strange how princesses and kings
In clown-ragged capers in a sawdust ring,
Just like common people like you and me
Will be builders for eternity.
Each is given a bag of tools,
Shapeless mass and the book of rules.
And each must make in life his flowing in
Stumbling block ** or a stepping stone,
Just like common people like you and me
We’ll be builders for eternity
Each is given a bag of tools,
Shapeless mass and the book of rules.
I say it’s common people like you and me
We’ll be builders for eternity
Each is given a bag of tools,
Shapeless mass and the book of rules.
Look when the rain is falling from the sky
I know the sun will be only missing for a while
I say it’s common people like you and me
We’ll be builders for eternity
Each is given a bag of tools,
Shapeless mass and the book of rules. 

In the Heptones’ lyrics, as in Sharpe’s poem, the shapeless mass, the indeterminate tools, and the mysteriously veiled rules appear both ambiguous and compelling. The only certainty seems to be that our final creation — steppingstone, stumbling block, or surprising alternative — will depend upon which tools we choose, and which rules we choose to follow.

Letting go of predetermined forms and patterns isn’t easy.  Without obvious lines to guide us, the need for decision, discipline, and structure increases exponentially.  The blank canvas, the silent practice room, or the empty page can induce paralysis as easily as a decision to move outside commonly accepted life-limits induces vertigo.

But that strange combination of joy and terror lies at the very heart of the creative process. As we confront the shapeless mass of our personal vision, in life or in art, we’d do well to look into our bag, and open our book. It may be that the tools and the rules with which we’ve been supplied differ considerably from those received by others.

After all, Sharpe never said there was only a hammer in the bag, and the Heptones never suggested that one rule fits all.

Comments always are welcome.
**In “Book of Rules,” the phrase “stumbling block” sounds like “tumbling black” in Jamaican patois.


133 thoughts on “Living Outside The Lines

  1. Good article, Linda.

    Most children are creative exactly because they go outside the lines. A good teacher would either let the children continue with doodling or in fact encourage it.

    Creative art isn’t easily defined except it usually strives to bring something ‘new’ or different. Most times it is hardly pre-conceived but gets born out of the almost unconscious.

    How often do we read in biographies that creative artists often do their best work when they hardly know what they are doing?

    1. Of course, that ability to create easily and almost unconsciously requires a previous internalization of the techniques and skills specific to a given art.

      When I first began trying to take photographs, everything was a chore. Even if I remembered which setting to change, finding the right button or menu was terribly difficult; I was so awkward that even holding the camera comfortably seemed impossible. Today, I’m hardly aware of the camera itself, and can find the right button without even looking.

      It’s the same dynamic I saw in my grandmother’s kitchen, and see in my varnishing. Grandma never measured ingredients when she baked; she’d put in “just enough” of this or that, and never had a failure. In the same way, people sometimes ask me how much brushing liquid or drying agent I put in my varnish. All I can say is that I put in just enough for the conditions. After 25 years, I just know what’s required — but that kind of comfort didn’t come for well over a decade.

  2. Your notion of coloring inside the lines reminds me of the trendy phrase “think outside the box,” which in turns reminds me that some people always say they want “a creative solution” to a problem. Hey, a solution’s a solution; let it be trite, as long as it works. And living within boundaries isn’t necessarily bad. G.K. Chesterton took an even stronger stance in Orthodoxy in 1908:

    “… Anarchism adjures us to be bold creative artists, and care for no laws or limits. But it is impossible to be an artist and not care for laws and limits. Art is limitation; the essence of every picture is the frame. If you draw a giraffe, you must draw him with a long neck. If, in your bold creative way, you hold yourself free to draw a giraffe with a short neck, you will really find that you are not free to draw a giraffe. The moment you step into the world of facts, you step into a world of limits. You can free things from alien or accidental laws, but not from the laws of their own nature. You may, if you like, free a tiger from his bars; but do not free him from his stripes. Do not free a camel of the burden of his hump: you may be freeing him from being a camel. Do not go about as a demagogue, encouraging triangles to break out of the prison of their three sides. If a triangle breaks out of its three sides, its life comes to a lamentable end. Somebody wrote a work called ‘The Loves of the Triangles’; I never read it, but I am sure that if triangles ever were loved, they were loved for being triangular. This is certainly the case with all artistic creation, which is in some ways the most decisive example of pure will. The artist loves his limitations: they constitute the thing he is doing. The painter is glad that the canvas is flat. The sculptor is glad that the clay is colourless.”

    1. Oddly, your point that a solution is a solution, however creative, reminds me of the strange phenomenon called a “hate crime.” If one person murders another, the criminality and hateful nature of the action is obvious. Increasing the penalty because of the occupation, race, or religion of the victim seems unnecessary.

      It may be the limitations of my own mind — or my own writing — but it seems to me that Chesterton ends by making the same point I was attempting to make: that the flat canvas and the colorless clay require the artist to exercise pure will in a way a coloring book never could.

      I agree that “it is impossible to be an artist and not care for laws and limits,” but I don’t see any necessary contradiction between that and my own point that “without obvious lines to guide us, the need for decision, discipline, and structure increases exponentially.” I suppose in its simplest form, the question becomes, “Whose laws, and which limits?”

      His examples of the giraffe and triangle brought to mind the afternoon in 1963 that I opened Time magazine and found their article about the 50th anniversary of the Armory Show in New York. When I saw Marcel Duchamps’s “Nude Descending A Staircase,” a crack opened in my universe. Duchamps clearly was grounded in the world of facts about the human body, but he hadn’t been constrained by them. It was a revelation to fifteen-year-old me.

  3. Yes, it has always been difficult to tell which rules mean business and which ones are just for show. Those crayons immediately brought back some very good memories. I hadn’t thought about them in decades.

    1. And of course there are rules that exist only because there are people who enjoy inventing rules. Any scroll through a site that lists the silly laws that exist around the country can attest to that.

      Crayons were the best. We not only colored with them, we traded them, like currency. If a kid didn’t like purple and never used the color, he could trade his purple for black, or persimmon. And we all had our cigar box stashes. The fresh, new boxes were great, but after a while, the nubs needed a place to live, and a cigar box was perfect.

  4. You brought back a lot of good memories for me. And I found something else we have in common. I also flunked out of Ma Bell’s probationary period.

    I always thought children are taught to color inside the lines to learn hand-eye coordination. I don’t really think it has anything to do with stifling or encouraging creativity. I had an art professor once who used to say you have to learn the rules to be able to break the rules. You can’t push the envelope if you don’t know where the envelope starts and ends.

    1. Things actually worked out just fine once I left SW Bell. I was hired almost immediately by Liberty Mutual Insurance, and enjoyed my time there immensely. I suppose everyone’s first job and first apartment are memorable; given that it also was my first experience of living in a big city, it became doubly so.

      It’s amusing now to consider how much of my work as a varnisher depends on being able to “stay within the lines.” It’s detail work, and the primary difference between a poor or mediocre job and a good one is the wilingness to deal with the drips, runs, and sags that come to us all. A clean line is critical, and I’m good at creating that, so maybe those years with the coloring book are still with me.

      Of course there are basics that have to be learned. That’s true for everything from varnishing to writing to pie-baking. If it hadn’t been for vocabulary drills, sentence diagramming, and voracious reading in my younger years, I wouldn’t have been nearly so prepared for writing in my later years.

      But there comes a time when even the rules need to be examined. Some rules are foundational; others are no more than codified prejudice. I’m thinking here of “Good poetry has to rhyme.” My encounter with that rule was so traumatic it took me decades to get over it. And of course there were other sorts of rules that were internalized by plenty of us during the 1950s and 1960s, particularly when it came to what women could or couldn’t do. My mother was fairly clear about those rules, too. Staying within the lines for her involved far more than coloring books.

      1. What you do with boats is craftsmanship at its finest. Staying in the lines has served you well in your career. The rules of poetry…God, I hate them, could never really learn them but I love how poetry and music overlap and tells a story.

        1. I suspect that’s part of the reason for the increasing popularity of singer/songwriter festivals. They’re one of the best places now to find poetry, music, and story interwoven by people who may be unknown, but who have real talent to share.

    1. Thanks! And I especially liked the quotation from Anais Nin I found on your blog this morning. I’d never come across that one, and it’s a good one. Thanks for stopping by, and for following. I’ve returned the favor, and look forward to exploring your posts.

  5. As always great post you shared dear Linda, you took me to my own memories too… There are so many nice points, some of them our experiences too. But let me add this, today’s world is not for me, not for me… I am nostalgic one I think…. Also the poems fascinated me too. Thank you dear Linda, have a nice day, Love, nia

    1. There’s nothing wrong with a little nostalgia, Nia — especially when we have good memories to cherish. It’s true the world has changed, and not always for the better. It will keep changing, too, and we may not like the changes to come. But we still can live as we were taught: with kindness, and respect, and dignity. I have a feeling you’ve already passed those values on to the next generation, and now they will pass them on, too.

  6. Sharpe’s ‘A Bag of Tools’ is a brilliant poem; the shapeless mass of rules, the bag of tools and what or how you fashion with them! I’ve watched Maggie Smith reciting the poem beautifully. I’m not familiar with the song. Thanks for sharing… A well crafted piece of writing, Linda! Waiting for the next post.

    1. My parents divided up responsibilities in much the same way. My mother worked at keeping me socially acceptable, and Dad nurtured my curiosity and taught me to explore. He taught me a good number of other things, too — like how to make a fist so I wouldn’t break my thumb if I ever had to punch someone. I don’t think my mother ever knew I was getting lessons like that.

  7. First of all, I just adore that photo! And remembering about the crayons gives me a big smile. My grandmother had a box of crayons, many of which were pretty worn, at the farm and I spent a lot of time coloring there. When I say box of crayons, I don’t mean a nice yellow and green Crayola box. I mean a small box, probably the previous home of a gift, and they were all mixed up. And I loved those as much as the sharply pointed Crayolas in 64 colors!

    I’ve thought about that concept often and realize that I do a bit of both. But I’m happiest when I can do my own thing and promote that every chance I get. This reminds me very graphically that when Carson is a little older and ready to draw and learn art (something he is going to have to learn through me and artist kid Greg because it won’t be happening with mom and dad!), he needs to “see” Norman Rockwell and Jackson Pollock, Andrew Wyeth and Andy Warhol, David Hockney and Vincent Van Gogh. And to learn that his art — whatever it will be — will be his and what works for him. That may mean coloring outside the lines. (We will advise him that outside the lines doesn’t extend to the walls unless that gets an OK from mom!)

    1. I had a cigar box for the half-used ones, and the nubs. Those fresh, new boxes were great fun to receive, but the crayons never held a point for very long. Old or new, they did smell good: or at least they had a distinctive odor that I still can recall.

      I’d not thought about it, but it seems that Southern Exposure tends more toward the coloring book approach, in the sense that projects are preplanned, and supplies are provided. On the other hand, your painting, your heart boxes, your ability to express yourself in your decorating — all of those and more are direct expressions of your own vision. There is room for both: no question about that.

      It will be fun to see how and when Carson begins expressing himself artistically. I still remember using my watercolors to paint limestone gravel. It was more Warhol than Wyeth, but it surely was fun.

  8. This is hands down my all time favorite blog post of yours! I too am no longer a “must color between the lines” kind of person. It IS breathtakingly scary the first time you jump out of the nest…flapping my wings wondering what it will feel like to crash..but then, wonder of wonders, I don’t crash. Taste the joy of flight. Flight is absolutely not an exact science the first several attempts…especially when you are learning as you go… I will never ever, go back. I love the rush of the air, the sense of freedom. These are some of my initial take -away thoughts. ;-) DM

    1. I’m not surprised you like this post, but I’m glad it resonated for you. As you’ve suggested from time to time, the urge to fly can be so strong that, even if we know a crash is inevitable, we take off anyway. You’ve reminded me of a favorite video that shows a cute, flightless Kiwi bird who devises a way to fly. Granted, he only got one flight, but a combination of courage and creativity did get him that.

      Just to extend the metaphor a bit, it’s also true that, once we’ve learned to fly, we always can return to the nest on occasion.That’s part of freedom, too.

  9. We humans possess a strong desire and need for tools and rules. We are problem solvers and creators. We want to express ourselves. It is a good thing to find that shapeless bag and non-specific operator manual. We get to decide how the tools work and what to make. I know, that scares some. And, some seem to have several bags of tools. I’m impressed that some birds and primates seem to have a small purse of tools.

    When I was in elementary school, an art teacher came once a week to our class. We were making paper mache(sp?) animals. My giraffe was coming along slowly. It was a challenge to get the soggy paper strips in the right place to it could stand and hold up a long neck. The teacher came by, noticed I was working on that challenge, and grabbed my giraffe. She twisted and pushed and pulled its parts. It became a sitting giraffe. I was mad. It is still a vivid memory after 60 yrs.

    1. When you mentioned the birds’ and primates’ tools, my first thought was of the bower bird. Then, I remembered the chimpanzees who use sticks for various purposes.

      You’re right that an urge to create and solve problems is a mark of our humanity. I read an article recently that suggested one of the worst aspects of today’s so-called helicopter parenting is too-early intervention by parents in their children’s problem solving process. Solving a problem for a child deprives him of several important experiences: not the least of which is learning to deal with frustration.

      Your giraffe story is a perfect illustration, even though it involved a teacher. I’m not surprised that you were angry, and I can understand why you still remember it. I suspect the fact that you had an unusual sitting giraffe was no consolation at all.

      1. Nope, it wasn’t. A friend and I got revenge in a later class. We were doing something artsy with candles and melted crayons onto craft paper. We melted her crayons in the bandaid box into a solid mass.

          1. It brought some tears to my eyes. I loved the cheering in the background. It was a majestic liftoff. The landing of the two side boosters was unreal. I want more!

  10. I was lucky enough to attend a primary school with a “multi-age” program. Sounds like another fleeting educational fad? Nope, it’s just plain great. And it encourages some outside-the-lines learning. I won’t try to describe it in detail, but one aspect was that teachers worked in pairs, like a buddy system. And oftentimes, one teacher would be more “within the lines,” while the partner might be more “free-form.” Different kids learn different ways. Some love nothing better than life on a grid, latitude and longitude, with clearly defined rules, and every number in its little box. Other kids need a little latitude to roam, right off the map sometimes.

    When I was in high school, one of these teachers asked to stop by a couple of days a week, and work with kids that were struggling with math, just I had struggled at first. And I’d try to discover whatever “outside the lines” approach would work for them. I’d made one math breakthrough, when someone pulled out a pocketful of change, to pique my interest. Boy, that worked.

    Another time, when I told my mother of my total lack of interest in learning about percentages, by sheer coincidence, after dinner that night, she started talking about a proposed trip to a “safari park” in Canada. I’d seen the ads, with elephants, lions, you name it, and had been campaigning to visit it. My mother plunked down brochures and printouts with hotel prices, and explained that we couldn’t consider going, until someone had all the costs laid out, in U.S. dollars, and not Canadian. You better believe I became very good, very quickly, at currency conversion.

    A kid learning English, might hate his textbook “The pen of my aunt is on the table,” but might really want to understand what the Red Hot Chili Peppers were laying down. Or what the Heptones have to say, great tune! I love reggae and ska, and the smell of crayons – the 64 box had a built-in sharpener. I loved the poem, the tune, and your essay.

    1. Your multi-age school sounds remarkably like the old-fashioned one-room schoolhouse. While there generally was only one teacher, the older students acted as tutors for the younger. And from the stories I’ve heard from older relatives who attended one-room schools, there could be remarkable flexibility there, too. From year to year or season to season, there was no predicting who would be in class, and constant adaptations had to be made.

      Your mention of your math breakthroughs with the pocket change and currency conversion reminds me of the ways sailing finally made some sense of algebra and geometry for me. If I’d started sailing in high school, it might not have taken so long.

      I swear “The pen of my aunt is on the table” was part of my high school French curriculum; as soon as I read it in English, I remembered “La plume de ma tante est sur la table.” Music is a great way to learn, too. A guy I know whose first language is Spanish began teaching himself English by watching youtube music videos that had the lyrics included. Pretty clever, that.

  11. Would you believe I have not one, but two, big boxes of Crayolas? I’ve used them for art work but haven’t touched them in years. I ought to dig out my art paper and the Crayolas and play with them.

    I was an obsessively neatnic Crayolist as a child. I don’t recall anyone telling me to ‘stay within the lines.’ I probably did meander in the beginning of my coloring days but, as my coordination improved, so did my neatness.

    I did have one of my crayon drawings matted and framed. It was done as an adult and is a head shot of a great horned owl. I was seldom happy with my art results, always seeing something I should have done differently, but the owl was a keeper.

    1. Isn’t it fun when something suddenly is “just right”? I have a few photos like that. Technically, they may not be perfect, and they may not be as stunning as those produced by the pros, but they make me happy, and a little happiness isn’t to be sneezed at. Was your owl a resident in your yard? or some other way special? Or did you just decide to draw an owl?

      Speaking of art, this exhibition has come and gone, but when I saw the G&G reference I thought of you, and have been meaning to pass it along. There are some fantastic illustrations; the button for the slide show is near the bottom of the page.

      1. I just decided to draw an owl’s head in profile. I was really pleased with the way it came out.

        I love looking at Audubon and Catesby’s paintings of birds and animals. Of the Catesby paintings in that slideshow, my favourites are the Wood Duck and the Porgy. The blue jay comes a close third, as Catesby captured their cheeky-ness.

        The roving street sellers here used to ‘sing’ their wares and the fish seller’s Porgy song was a gem: “Pohgy wawk…. Pohgy tawk….. Pohgy eat wit knife an fawk. Pohhhhgeeeeee!”

        They had an elderly local sing that during a production of ‘Porgy and Bess’ back in the 90’s, I believe it was. He was old enough to remember the sellers on the streets. They were long gone, by the time I came along. They had a strawberry song sung, too, but I don’t really remember how that one sounded.

        I imagine you might be able to find recordings of those songs online somewhere. I’ve looked a couple of times but came up empty.

        1. My goodness, what treasures I found over the weekend. First is Chapter 14 from a rather stuffily-titled book called The Larder: Food Studies Methods from the American South. The chapter title’s better: “I’m Talkin’ ‘Bout The Food I Sells.” You’ll have to scroll up a few pages to get to the beginning of the chapter.

          You may have seen these articles, but I found them delightful. First is “The Song of the Shrimp Fiend. Then, there’s the slightly more detailed “Fish Sandwich Cabarets Shaped Charleston’s Culinary History.”

          But best of all is this video. It’s from 1934, and it’s all great, but starting at 4:25 there’s a minute’s worth of street sellers plying their wares — including Papa Joe. Just think — a week ago I didn’t know Joe Cole ever existed. Now I feel like I’ve known him forever!

          1. There are some things in the film’s narration (it was captioned) that make me cringe but in 1934 were perfectly acceptable.

            I recognized most of the houses and buildings but there were some that I suspect have been demolished. Or either so renovated, they defy recognition.

            The Charleston Historic Foundation was established in either the 30’s or 40’s to stop demolition of old houses and buildings. We might call them the “Charleston Hysterical Society” but without them, most of downtown would look much different than it does today.

            1. The good news is that things have changed (to one degree or another) since 1934. Given human resistance to change, it’s remarkable what’s happened in only eighty-four years. Videos like this could be great teaching aids in school: at least, in my estimation. Those who forget the past, etc.

              I love the “Charleston Hysterical Society.” There’s a bit of that down in Galveston, too. One thing that makes Galveston’s architecture particularly interesting is that so many of the oldest buildings have survived the storms. Contemporary home builders finally are catching up with the past.

            1. The internet can be distressing, and somewhat fraught, but it holds equal treasure. I was delighted to find that bit of history captured, and I’m glad you enjoyed it, too.

  12. I love this one, Linda! You know, Little Debbie was most content to stay within the lines (probably that perfectionist Virgo part of me). As I grew and matured, I’ve often found it necessary (scary, occasionally) to color outside the lines. I imagine that’s just part of the maturation of a creative person. The hard part is turning off the inner voice that reminds us there are RULES and they *should* be followed. Where would our world be without, as Mia (Emma Stone) calls them in La La Land, the “fools who dream”??

    1. The truth is that everyone follows rules. The question is, which rules are we following? There are silly rules, like my childhood belief that blue and green don’t “go together.” There are important rules that allow a society to function, like “stop at the stop sign.” But there are other rules that deserve a closer look, like “girls shouldn’t climb trees,” or “boys should stay out of the kitchen.” It’s important to examine the rules we’re following from time to time, and even when we decide that a given rule isn’t for us, knowing why it’s not right is important, too.

      Something just occurred to me that I might have included in the post, if I could have figured out how to do it. If we’re going to start with a coloring book, then staying within the lines is important. But if we start with a blank canvas, the decisions about what will emerge will depend wholly on us.

      Maybe I’ll try to find a way to fit that in, just because it’s part of the story, too.

  13. Love your picture. You had a father who encouraged you to fly and a mother who encouraged you to stay in the lines. Wise parents. It seems your life has been a demonstration of both. I’m glad you didn’t force yourself into those little lined grids.

    1. Now I’m laughing, Oneta. It just occurred to me that, had I forced myself into those little lined grids, it could have ended up as a case of grid-lock.

      I don’t know if it’s true for everyone, but as the years have passed, I’ve come to understand both my father and mother more clearly. Perhaps that’s because I’m older, and mellowing myself. It’s also true that I’ve learned things about them that I didn’t know when they still were here. Part of it’s just the longer view, I think: the kind of perspective that age provides.

      Faulkner has a wonderful line in one of his plays that seems to apply: ““The past is never dead. It’s not even past.” There’s a lot of wisdom in that one.

      1. Grid-lock. That’s good, and it is quite descriptive of some lives, isn’t it? I like the Faulkner quote. It is true that the past does not remain in the past. We carry it along with us all our lives. Even those events we may not remember have had a part in making us what we are today. Generally, I think, that is good.

        1. It is good. I think it’s part of the appeal of genealogy, too. There’s something fascinating about looking back, and seeing how the decisions of so many generations before us helped to shape who we are.

    1. It made for a lot of fun then, and there’s fun in remembering now. The longer I live, the more I believe Flannery O’Connor got it right when she said, “Anybody who has survived his childhood has enough information about life to last him the rest of his days.”

    1. Hmmmm — I haven’t even spotted the horse, let alone taken his pulse. But I’m with you on the complexity of people. That’s what makes us so interesting, not to mention confusing and occasionally frustrating.

  14. I don’t have problems with rules that make sense to me, Linda. But I tend to ignore or rebel against rules that don’t make sense. I never enjoyed creating art until I started doodling. I could let my imagination go wild and create fantastic creatures but still had certain rules when it came to filling them in. I came across a quote when I was reading the War of Art that I liked which may, or may not apply: “Our job in our lifetime is not to shape ourselves into some ideal we imagine we ought to be, but to find out who we already are and become it.” –Curt

    1. Now I’m thinking about the pictographs and petroglyphs you’ve shown over the years. While we analyze and hypothesize, what if some of them are just doodles? It’s not out of the realm of possibility.

      As for the quotation, it brings to mind an article I recently read in Quillette. If you don’t know the site, I suspect it will appeal to you. The title of the article, “Becoming What One Is” ranges through Jungian psychology, Solzhenitsyn, and Nietzsche, but it’s a good and not at all difficult read that’s based in the experience of a man from Finland. In the end, he learned the value of finding who he was, and becoming it.

      As Eliot says in “Little Gidding”,

      We shall not cease from exploration
      And the end of all our exploring
      Will be to arrive where we started
      And know the place for the first time.

      1. That was a good article, Linda. In ways, I followed a similar path, jumping into politics with the belief that I could make a difference and had a responsibility to try. I was relatively good at bringing people together, envisioning positive change (from my perspective), and making a difference. Individuals can and do make a difference, which was a lesson I learned over and over. But I was never particularly happy at the job. Even now, I feel a certain amount of guilt about not being more active politically. God only knows our country needs people who have skills with bringing diverse groups together.
        But I am much happier writing and playing in the woods. –Curt

        1. To everything there is a season, Curt, and the pleasures of life deserve their season, too. Besides that, your comment about bringing diverse groups together reminds me of the old joke:

          “How many psychiatrists does it take to change a light bulb?”
          “Only one. But the light bulb has to really want to change.”

          1. Laughing. I’m still working on determining the season, Linda. You’d think I would have that one down pat by now. But the search adds spice to life.
            As for light bulb jokes, I was trying to remember an appropriate response. There are so many of them. I finally went exploring. Whole sites are devoted to the genre. :) I likes this one:

            Q: How many existentialists does it take to screw in a lightbulb?
            A: Two. One to screw it in and one to observe how the lightbulb itself
            symbolizes a single incandescent beacon of subjective reality in a
            netherworld of endless absurdity reaching out toward a maudlin
            cosmos of nothingness. –Curt

            1. And this, Curt, is a reminder of why I decided to get out of academia. Learning is good. Education is good. Curiosity and exploration are good. Academia can be a little iffy at times — and sometimes, it’s quite a bit iffy.

  15. I remember the colors vividly, as a visual memory. I don’t remember their names. (I don’t care for labels and never have.) I got a Walt Disney coloring book with my box of 48 crayons, also at Christmas, and I loved it when my dad colored one of the pictures because he shaded it and gave it dimension.

    My mom wanted a girly girl who liked frilly dresses, kept herself neat, clean, and properly coiffed, and who played with all the right toys. My dad wanted a son he could play sports with and be “chums” with. Neither parent got what they wanted. My brother had terrible asthma and was confined indoors for much of his childhood, was skinny, sickly, and not much into sports anyway. (Although he did lay out ball diamonds on the den floor with modelling clay and play out endless baseball games with teams of green army men — including commentary and crowd noises, just as he saw on TV)

    I was a tomboy, rough and ready, who would rather play with boys than girls, because girls always wanted to play “dolls” or “house” and those were boring games. I had all the right toys but I never played with them properly (For example, I turned my toy ironing board upside down and pretended it was a sailboat). ( When I was quite young, I did have a gun, holster and cowboy hat, and there are pictures of me riding my tricycle wearing my pistols, pistol pockets, and red cowboy hat. Period.) I would have gladly played sports with my dad, but girls didn’t do that kind of thing in the 1950’s.

    Oh, and wasn’t that the box of crayolas that had a pinkish-tan color called “Flesh?”

    1. That “flesh-colored” crayon was in the box of 64, but when the commemorative box came out a few years later, it was changed to peach. While I was checking that out, I discovered what happened to one of my favorites, Prussian Blue; it became Midnight Blue. You can read about those and other changes here.

      Your mom and mine would have gotten along just fine. If nothing else, they could have commiserated over our idiosyncracies. I’ve never thought of it, but “chum” is a perfect word to describe my relationship with my dad. His interests — coin and stamp collecting, reading, and travel — allowed for a daughter’s participation as easily as a son’s.

      I grinned at your sailboat story. You’re the third person I’ve known with Panhandle roots who was drawn to the water in one way or another. One from Floydada joined the Navy, and another, who grew up outside Dumas, ended up living aboard a sailboat. He never sailed anywhere particular, he just lived on the boat.

      It just occurred to me that you probably saw the Gulf of Mexico long before I did. Did you go down to Galveston when you were visiting your kin in the area?

      1. Yes, we did go to Galveston whenever we could shoehorn the side jaunt into the rounds. We were usually based at my mom’s oldest sister’s house in Houston (Near Rice) Then it was about a 30-45 minute trip from there to Pearland. My mom was the 12th of 12 so we could spend days just going around visiting all the in-laws. When we did manage to make it down to Galveston, the big attraction was always Guido’s and my dad would always have a broiled red snapper.

        1. The first meal I ate in Galveston (apart from the occasion shrimp po-boy) was at Gaido’s, and for years we celebrated special family birthdays there. “Galveston Institution” is exactly the phrase for that place, although there’s equally good seafood available at other restaurants now. I do remember their stuffed flounder.

  16. My goodness, Linda. You’ve made me feel so happy. I loved this post.

    Although I don’t remember much, I hated conforming to the rules when young (despite being able to colour between the lines perfectly as a natural talent).

    I loved colouring books and pencils (which were Christmas presents as we were fairly poor).

    My mother was obsessed with ‘teaching’ or ‘making me’ toe the line. I couldn’t understand why I had to cut the vegetables (green beans in particular) the way she wanted me too. I hated setting the table for dinner, preparing the vegetables for dinner, drying the dishes (why couldn’t I wash them will forever remain a mystery to me from early teenage years). Clearing the table. Cleaning the whole house when visitors were expected for a meal (as my Mother was cooking everything from scratch as she’d been taught on the family dairy farm pre marriage). Everything had to be perfect, which contributed to why some of our family friends rarely invited us to their home for dinner. They always felt they couldn’t live up to my Mother’s culinary skills and my spotless house cleaning.

    I don’t remember my brothers doing anything domestic as teenagers (although they are pretty good bakers, great with mechanical things, exceptional with computer technology and working with their hands today).

    I hated being told what to do all my life and still do to this day. I always wanted to be different and follow my own path, which I did for a while when travelling overseas in the mid 1970s.

    I liked being asked (for help) or to do something, not being told (to do it).

    Today, at 64, 8 years after being forced to quit working due to serious chronic health conditions (partly stress related due to my compulsion in trying to be perfect), the biggest joy in my life is finally being FREE.

    I have one girlfriend who’s totally envious of my ability to do anything creative or work with my hands – painting, pottery, sewing, exquisite smocking, tapestry, cooking, gardening, home decorating and home-making, manicures & hair cutting………and now, Photography.

    But then I wish I had the skill of being good at social occasions and making ‘small talk’ like she does.

    Now I am free to be Me, I am actually happy (despite having financial and physical limitations). I am a bit of a recluse and prefer my ‘lonesomeness’ (a word used by Mary Stewart, the author, in one of her books, Thornyhold).

    I like your reply to Debbie by the way.

    1. Perfectionism can be a bit of a trial sometimes, can’t it? One of its greatest dangers, I suppose, is that it actually inhibits creativity and a willingness to try new things. If we’re consumed with fear that what we do (housekeeping, entertaining, writing, photography) won’t be good enough — let alone “perfect,” whatever that means — it’s often easier to simply not begin.

      A little “lonesomeness” can be a good antidote to some of that. When I arrived in Liberia, a few complications led to the work I’d been hired for being assigned to someone else, and I was invited to “find something to do.” Well, I did, and depending on the viewer’s perspective, that either was the beginning of my journey into a much more satisfying life or the beginning of a great downward slide. But being left alone to do some experimenting on my own, without someone hovering about with a scorecard, was a good thing.

      Everyone’s gifts differ of course, and if we can find those areas where we have a natural talent, or affinity, or interest — whatever you want to call it — developing those skills is much easier and more satisfying.

    1. As I’ve often said, I’m a both/and kind of gal, and this is another area where maintaining a certain tension is not only reasonable, but productive.

      Of course, the same set of circumstances can look quite different from different perspectives. When I began varnishing, my mother was horrified that I wasn’t conforming to the expectations she’d always held for me. On the other hand, many of my customers were astonished to find me on the docks, as I didn’t conform to their expectations of a boat worker. That was great fun. As a customer once said, “It was your grammar that gave you away.”

  17. Staying within the lines is very wise advice. I have found that I can no longer see the lines though! I hope to be forgiven when I look at my grocery list and find that I have written “cottage cheese” right on top of the dog food. But not to complain about it, it’s one of those “facts of life” someone is always telling us about.

    As far as art is concerned, it is important to know your material (tool) first, then let it go! Art is a creative endeavor; something truly your own, not seen before. Gerard’s method of doodling is a good one to begin with. With my sculpture students, a common recommendation was to “stop massaging the clay”. But each person’s vision is personal in all Art.

    1. I’ve learned to draw a distinction between problems and facts of life. I figure if you can read both “cottage cheese” and “dog food,” it’s not a problem. Forgetting you have a dog who needs to be fed? That might be a problem.

      I laughed at your comment about massaging the clay. The poet Billy Oliver makes the same point about writing. I can’t get to his exact words just now because I’m on my iPad and can’t remember the password for the site where I bookmarked his interview, so I’ll add the quotation later. But his point was the same: knowing when to stop is as important as knowing how to begin.

      And this occurred to me: as in art, so in life. Some of us have to doodle for a few years before we get the art of living well down!

        1. I found the Collins quotation, in an “Art of Poety” interview in The Paris Review: “Revision can grind a good impulse to dust.” Isn’t that just the truth! Massaging the clay or fiddling with the words, there comes a time to stop.

  18. Terror and joy really does name it. Crossing those lines carries both the threat of erasure and the joy of discovery. It seems like you don’t really have one without the other, at least when it comes to art, but probably with a lot more bits in life. I love your descriptions of those crayons. I too remember them, and the colouring pencils. I still love buying art material. The other side of the line beckons!

    1. Your comment about the other side of the line beckoning reminds me of your painting, which reminded me that you had to move office for a while. Are you back in your old digs yet? I think I remember that you had one of your paintings displayed there — I hope there’s still been some time for art in your days, despite all the traveling and conferencing. Perhaps the nature of the art has changed for the time being.

      Your poetic meditation on grey caused me to consider the difference between my early finger paints, my watercolors, and the crayons. The finger paints were red, yellow, and blue. The watercolors were somewhat more expansive; I remember a green, black, and orange. But the crayons? The names were wonderful, and so descriptive. Blue no longer was blue: it became turquoise, azure, peacock. That the same could happen with grey is a wonder. Instead of only grey, there could be ash, smoke, slate. We need names for what we see, but sometimes new names allow us to see in a new way.

      1. Hi, no we’re not yet back in our old digs, but should be by the end of June. We are all looking forward to it. Living in an in between place is good, but sometimes trying! As for art, the fall was unusually busy with the reformation anniversary, but things will hopefully open up over the next month or so! I have never thought about the power of naming colours, but there really is an expansiveness in that list!

        1. The timing for your move back “home” is good — just in time for summer, and a new season of growth. Think how many colors will have revealed themselves by then!

    1. It occurs to me that the same holds true for the culinary arts. For decades, meatloaf was my mother’’s meatloaf, and the recipe never varied, even when I was making it. Then I came across a recipe using ground turkey in a Cooking Light magazine. I was certain it would be terrible, but I tried it, and it was good. I made a few revisions of my own, and never looked back.

      Of course some rules have to be observed, or failure’s guaranteed. Not adding baking powder to biscuits isn’t a good idea. Still, other rules are just silly, like a friend’s conviction that sweet potato casserole can only be served with marshmallows on top. The day I substituted chopped pecans and brown sugar for the marshmallows was a very good day, indeed.

  19. Crayons were a bit of a phenomenon for me, having been raised on colored pencils until I came to the States. Wish I could remember their color names, but I suspect they were not as sweet as melon and marigold. I love the idea that your dad joined you for your coloring sessions.

    1. Colored pencils certainly have some advantages. They don’t melt in a hot car, for one thing; they’re easier to transport, and with a little plastic sharpener, you can keep a point on them.

      I was lucky to have a dad who was utterly patient, and who enjoyed being with me. We not only colored together, we read the newspaper together almost every night — at least for a few minutes — and we played cribbage and chess for hours. Good times, for sure.

  20. A charming photo of you and your dad. I remember those crayons and all the wonderful creations that came from them. Actually, your parents sound like they represented the yin and yang of art: some control and form, some free-syling work. Nice.

    1. There’s no question they were opposites. Whether they were truly yin and yang I’m not sure: but we were a family, and that’s what counted. As for the crayons, they’re not just for kids any more. I know a woman who makes batik fabric using melted crayons. It’s more work than I’d want to do, but it looks terrific when she’s done.

  21. The memories came rushing back on this one – revelations of a little girl always worried about keeping with the rules and being afraid to venture outside of those lines.

    One lone memory stands out. My grandmother had bought all of us kids coloring books to work on during a week’s stay. I was the only one who got a dot to dot book. I never liked dot to dots because the lines I drew were not perfect and they looked awful compared to bold lines of the already lined out pages in my brother and sister’s books. She asked that night why I had cried so much and why I was angry, so I told her I hated the book she had gotten me. I saw the disappointment on her face, and she told me the reason she bought it was because she thought I was a big girl and smart enough to know how to connect dots.

    Of course, I had not considered this, but I was so rigid about things being “perfect” that it truly made me crazy and unhappy. I felt especially horrible the next morning when I learned that Grandma had asked Grandpa to slip into town for a basic coloring book for me. I wish now I could thank her for that dot to dot book, and tell her it was several decades before I could loosen the bonds of having to be perfect. I enjoy where I am – I can be in the lines and work for perfection if I choose, but most of the time I choose to live on the other side of the tracks!

    1. I’ve had that same experience — of wishing I could go back and have a conversation with one of my parents or grandparents. When we’re young, there’s so much we don’t understand. It’s not a failure on our part, it’s simply the way things are. But it still can be painful to think of how much was unsaid, just because we were children, and not ready to say it.

      It does occur to me that your grandmother probably understood you more at that point than you realized. If she hadn’t, she wouldn’t have sent your Grandpa into town for the coloring book. She reminds me of my own grandmother: far more wise than I realized until long after she was gone.

      The experience of never measuring up — whether to our own standards, or to standards set for us by someone else — inevitably leads to anxiety, if not paralysis. I suppose the ways of dealing with an unhealthy perfectionism vary as much as people do, generally. What’s important is that we find a way to break through. Once we do, and we’re breathing a little easier, life becomes much more enjoyable.

  22. As parents, we try to give our children the benefits of what we learned in life. Sometimes as parents, if we’ve not completely grown up, we try to transfer further, those things we were taught by our own parents. Some of the advice is relevant. Some belongs to the past. And then the children have to learn how to deal with their own lives, which usually includes breaking away from their parents.

    The sort of help we give our children is often dictated by cultural norms. I was never given a coloring book with pictures already drawn on them. And I never gave such a book to my children. I would draw a bit for them (usually cartoons or something simple), and then offer them a piece of paper and some chalk or crayon. There are parents who give their children bicycles with training wheels. I had a couple of grandchildren who learned that way… and one has to make the decision to leave those extra wheels, and then you have to overcome a few bad habits that you learned from the help. It seems to me that preordained pictures in coloring books are similar to the training wheels. I always saw prayer books as a sort of training wheels with all the same difficulties.

    1. Your first paragraph reminds me of a well-known but humorous story. A young bride who was cooking a ham cut it in half and placed it into two pans. When her husband asked the reason, she said, “My mother always did it that way.” Newly curious, she went to her mother and asked why her mother had cut the ham in half before baking it. Her mother responded, “Your grandmother always did it that way.” Together, they found Grandma, and asked her why she cut the ham into two pieces. Grandma said, “I never had a pan large enough to hold the entire thing.”

      Your metaphor of the coloring book as training wheels is perfect. I had those training wheels on my first bicycle; the fact that I don’t remember taking them off suggests everything went smoothly. What I do remember is the sense of freedom that came with being an accomplished rider: not only being able to get myself to the swimming pool or the library, but also riding for the sheer pleasure of it. Having mastered the technique, I could choose how to put it to use.

      I’m still turning over the thought of prayer books as training wheels. It’s such a tender, rich description. It’s also brought to mind another Mary Oliver poem, which happens to be titled, “Prayer.”

      It doesn’t have to be
      the blue iris, it could be
      weeds in a vacant lot, or a few
      small stones; just
      pay attention, then patch

      a few words together and don’t try
      to make them elaborate, this isn’t
      a contest but the doorway

      into thanks, and a silence in which
      another voice may speak.

  23. Love that traditional reggae! Staying in the lines was, I think I pretty big metaphor for girls especially, one I’m happy to see questioned. As for the art part of the equation, that was a bit of a struggle in my house, too, as my mother was never comfortable without a rule book – in fact, in her final days, delirious with opiods and the last stages of cancer, she was mumbling about Robert’s Rules of Order. I was much more free and she likely felt ambivalent watching that blossom under her watch! ;-) I like your ending statement, that the tools and rules we have may not be the same as what others have, so….follow your muse!

    1. I’m sorry your mother and your family had to go through such an ordeal, but I suspect you’ll not take offense at the fact that I laughed aloud at the reference to Robert’s Rules of Order. I had my own copy, which I rarely was without during high school: a result of being on the debate team rather than being a cheerleader. It disappeared somewhere along the line, and I’ve not felt any need to replace it.

      I still smile when I remember my own mother’s ambivalence about my new “career” as a varnisher. Actually, ambivalence was a step up from her initial response. She was quite embarassed by my downward mobility until she discovered that her friends seemed envious, and things began to improve.

      It took me a while to come to that insight about the tools and rules: that they vary from person to person. It’s so obviously true, we ought to peek into our own tool bag, just to see what we might have missed.

      1. No offense taken at all – it WAS funny. My mother was a PTA president; that’s where she learned to love that book, I suppose. I’m glad your mother has softened any reservations about what you’re up to – no matter how old we are, parental expectations can be hard to deal with.

        1. Mom’s been gone for a few years now, but I learned a helpful little trick in her latter years, when she still was more than willing to offer her opinions. I’d simply listen, while repeating to myself, “I’m the adult in this room.” Since then, I’ve found that little mantra works well in other circumstances!

  24. Ah, Crayolas. I remember that great big box of mixed colors, too. I remember being flabbergasted, and paralyzed, on occasion, at the choices. I also had a babysitter with an insistence on staying within the lines, and the old gal would trot out the admonition that if I didn’t, lightning would strike, or I’d wet my pants. I think that’s the roots of my deep-seated distrust of people in authority.

    1. You should have had my babysitters. The two I remember best were mostly concerned with what kind of treats had been left for them, and not having their reading disturbed. As long as I stayed inside the house, I’m not sure they cared what kind of line I crossed. It was their luck that I liked cookies and reading as much as they did.

      Your babysitter’s admonitions remind me of our childhood superstition: “step on a crack, break your mother’s back.” We weren’t sure it was true, but we weren’t going to test it.

  25. Discovering reggae decades ago was a revelation for this little old white boy, infectious, rebellious, walking music when the world wants to run. The Heptones was one discovery, and they are still beloved. Thanks for the listening tweak.

  26. Courage and a willingness to buck the system help with coloring outside the lines in art and life. I guess nothing new is created without a willingness to try it a different way than the last guy did.

    Weren’t those Crayola colors great? My grands still love crayons or just a pen or pencil. I get them those little notebooks from the dollar stores. They love them. They always get one in their stocking, too.

    1. One of the most dangerous phrases in the world is, “I wonder what would happen if…” Sometimes, the result is extraordinarily good, like combining chocolate and mint. But sometimes, the result is something that leads directly to, “Whatever was I thinking?” We’ve all been there.

      The colors were great — and they probably still are. The school art class project that I really enjoyed was building up patches of color,and then adding a layer of black over the top. When we scratched our designs in the black the colors that showed through were even more vibrant. Pure fun!

  27. Cornflower was my favorite crayon in all the world! I loved that color & the name. I’ve always been a rule follower – I get VERY nervous & freaked out when I know that I’m doing something “wrong” (or even if I’m adjacent to a wrong-doer). It’s a pretty annoying trait. Maybe, just to be a wild woman, I’ll design my own crochet square. Wow – wouldn’t THAT be crazy! Ha!

    1. Have you ever grown bachelor buttons? I only recently learned that the blue bachelor buttons my grandmother grew are known as cornflowers in Europe. She had pink and white ones, too, and the mix was lovely.

      You want to be wild and crazy? You want to really go outside the lines? How about this crocheted food? Everything he’s done is great, but I especially like the mixer on its stand, and the lobster!

  28. As I grew up in a different part of the world than you, we didn’t have Crayola colors. Nevertheless, I remember when I got my first set of 100 colour crayons, whatever the brand names was – at the age of around six or seven. It was almost as being liberated. I never had much colouring books, though, and never liked the ones I got. Staying within the conformity of lines has never really been my discipline, so I am completely understanding your position. I would recommend any child to experience the freedom of straying outside of lines. Yes, the open space can be paralyzing, but when you get going it’s so much more fun.

    1. Shimon compared the lines in a coloring book to training wheels on a bicycle, and I think that’s a pretty good analogy. We have to learn how to balance before we can ride, just as we have to learn to spell if we’re going to write, and we have to know our cameras if we’re going to take expressive photos.

      But once we have those basic skills down — once we know the inherent limits of any craft — we can move beyond those limits, and begin expressing ourselves. Sometimes we surprise those around us, and sometimes we surprise ourselves.

  29. Really enjoyed this post, Linda. Major life skills: knowing when to stay within the lines, when to cross them – and learning when to wait until it’s clear which way to go…

    1. And of course we have to learn how to deal with that temptation to go all ways at once! Self-imposed limits are important, too. We’ve all experienced the frustration of not achieving anything because we’re trying to achieve too much, or trying to work at cross-purposes with ourselves.

      I’m happy you enjoyed my musings, for that’s what they are: not firm conclusions so much as another stop along the road for reflection!

  30. What a lovely photo of you and your father! I remember well coloring with a big box of crayons and many other arts and crafts along the way. Thank goodness for coloring outside the lines!

    1. We weren’t much of a photo-taking family, but the photos I have can evoke a multitude of memories, and most are pleasant. As for coloring outside the lines, I’d say we both still enjoy doing that — with our cameras.

  31. I struggle with the borders every day, and I don’t mean staying within them. That comes easily and naturally, but even though I’m very brave in many ways, stepping over some of the lines is always done with much trepidation.

    1. One thing I’ve learned about stepping across lines is that the Law of Unintended Consequences often shows up to the party without an invitation. And more times than I like to remember, I’ve crossed a line without knowing it until after the fact. Those experiences of inadvertent line-crossing aren’t always distressing, but even at their worst, they do lose their sting, eventually. Still, a little judicious caution’s always a good thing.

    1. Sometimes I think I take the suggestion that “everything is connected” a little too literally, but it’s a fact that one thing does lead to another, and another, and…

      I’m glad the post appealing. We can’t avoid the limits of life, but learning how to deal with them is a life-long project. Sometimes, “dealing with them” means ignoring them, and sometimes it involves giving thanks for them!

  32. I like it when you say: “It may be that the tools and the rules with which we’ve been supplied differ considerably from those received by others”, so true, and the analogy with the coloring books and trying to stay “within the lines”.

    1. It’s always better to look inside our own little tool bag, rather than envying what others have pulled from theirs. It’s fun to consider what tool-trading might look like, too — or tool borrowing. We do that easily enough when it comes to real tools. Maybe collaboration on projects is just a metaphorical form of tool borrowing.

  33. Oh, to be instructed to ‘stay within the lines’ – I suppose teaches us discipline, but after x-amount of discipline, some of us fledge faster than others! Your post gave me several chuckles as I pondered the personalities of strong-willed people! I”m glad that you veered to the typing paper and allowed your uninhibited side to fly – when times permitted!

    On the sidebar for Lagniappe, a very unique bird is coaxing me to jump from this site to the other… of course I’ll make that leap as soon as this is posted!

    1. I’d forgotten until I wrote this post that I graduated from coloring books to paint-by-number sets. In a way, that was even more constraining, because the color was prescribed, as well as where it should be placed on the canvas. What’s amusing is that I can remember vividly my finger-painting projects, and the colors of the rocks I painted for my mother, but I don’t remember at all the results of the coloring books or paint-by-number projects. I suspect the difference involves the joy of creating, as well as all of the decisions that are made when we’re in charge of making them.

  34. Your post puts in mind that, before the holidays, we strayed into Michael’s, the huge craft store chain. I’d never been before, and of course it was terrifying . . . until I spotted the colored papers. One pack, called “spice”or something of the sort, offered vibrant colors that could indeed have come right out of a spice cabinet. The paper also had a slight gloss to it, so much better than the colored construction paper usually on offer. The other day I was making a collage with a piece of that paper, deep yellow, as a backdrop and, as I played, dropped unused magazine trimmings on another piece, the same color. When I looked up from the finished collage, the leftovers seemed to have started up their own, more anarchic, collage. It was a pleasure to let those “outside the lines” bits and pieces lead where they might.

    1. I’ve been in a Michael’s a few times, usually when my mother needed yarn or some other needlework supplies. I understand why you’d think of it as terrifying: a humorous, but appropriate description.

      The thought of bits and pieces becoming the genesis for a second, more serendipitous collage is delightful, particularly when a little intentionality is mixed in. “Refusing to be consigned to a bin of waste, the intrepid scraps march on, their rebellion an inspiration to snippets around the world.” Perhaps they even have a motto: “Scraps of the art world, unite. You have nothing to lose — period.”

    1. Thanks for stopping by, and for your kind words. It occurs to me that some of the same issues might arise in gardening: how to use space, how to arrange plantings creatively, which colors to combine, and so on. I don’t garden myself, but I do enjoy seeing how different people resolve such issues.

  35. A post to make one pause for thought.
    Make something laid down within the rule book and you make what others have made before you and will make after you.
    Make something following your own rules or none and you ‘create’, whether good or bad in others’ eyes is irrelevant.

    1. Exactly so. When the “shoulds” and “oughts” fall away (or when we choose to ignore them) there’s far more room for improvisation, and for honoring our own preferences.

      There are bookstores stacked to the ceiling with how-to books written by people who presumably know the rules, and who are willing to sell us access to those rules for a small price. But whether the issue is how to garden or how to grieve, being free to find our own, creative solutions usually leads to more satisfying solutions. Besides, that leaves us with all that extra book money to spend on a nice wine!

    1. I do love early reggae: not only the Heptones, but Marley, of course, and Toots and the Maytals, particularly. The irony is that I was introduced to reggae in West Africa, so whenever I hear it, there’s that connection, too. There’s a richness to that genre that’s not always appreciated, but I saw a chance to sneak some in, so I did. I’m glad you enjoyed the lyrics, and I hope you enjoyed the music.

  36. Love this. It struck all sorts of chords with me (of course). When my kids were little I volunteered once in the art room. How I loved helping and encouraging those little ones as they explored color and attempted to follow directions.

    Afterwards, I was shocked when the teacher explained that we had to choose one to give a blue ribbon to. Evidently this was a weekly ritual, and it always went to the same little girl who dutifully colored inside the lines, obediently coloring the little duckling yellow, the sky blue, the grass green. Thinking how earnestly all those children had labored over their masterpieces, this broke my heart and I never went back. I’ve wrestled with that decision. Maybe I could have made a difference? I doubted it at the time. I’ve spent a lifetime challenging authority and it has never gone well.

    I hope those children discover what the writer of this song has, that we all are given a bag of tools and it is up to us to decide which ones to use, and how, to create our life’s work.

    1. I was surprised by your mention of ribbons. As far as I can remember, the only ribbons or prizes I worked for were outside the classroom, in groups like 4-H. But in school, particularly in art, music, and curricular athletics, participation was the thing. Of course we had spelling bees and such, but those were areas where right and wrong were much more clearly defined. If anyone spelled ‘elephant’ as ‘elliefant,’ they were out of the game.

      Whether to stay or to go, whether to try to bring change from the inside or to work from the outside, whether to play by others’ rules or reject them — all of those can be difficult decisions. But whether the duckling should be yellow, or purple, or turquoise? That’s the kind of decision that can — and should be — left to a three-year-old (or a thirty-year-old, for that matter).

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