Know Thyself 1

Know Thyself

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As part of my job at the Norfolk Library, I’ve been leading a book discussion on Gretchen Rubin’s Outer Order Inner Calm: Declutter & Organize to Make Room for Happiness.

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The book offers bit-sized chunks of advice, suggestions, and observations across five different aspects of decluttering: making choices, creating order, knowing yourself and others, cultivating helpful habits, and adding beauty.

We started the book discussion on October 17 and we have three more sessions to go. What I most appreciate about the book is that some of the advice is applicable to more than just decluttering. For example, in Chapter 4, Know Yourself and Others, Gretchen Rubin writes, “When we know ourselves, we can customize our surroundings and our systems to suit ourselves – rather than try to force ourselves to follow someone else’s methods.

This past Friday, I tried very much to suit someone else’s system and the results were hilariously bad. That day, Heath and I attended a watercolor class at White Gate Farm in East Lyme.

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White Gate Farm

The description invited us to join a local artist to learn pen and watercolor techniques and said we could bring our own subject or choose a vegetable from the farm.

We arrived at White Gate bright and early. The artist welcomed us with enthusiasm and assurance that today was just for fun. I had confessed that my artistic capabilities were practically nonexistent. We watched a brief demonstration. Then the artist told us to pick our subject and get started.

Since I am easily overwhelmed by too much choice, I faltered. The farm stand surrounded me with too many subject possibilities. I opted for scrolling on my phone to find inspiration from one of my beach walk photos. Except that overwhelmed me, too! We’ve been here since September 30th. Just in these 13 days of November I’ve taken 373 photos of the beach. I imagine I’ve taken over a thousand at this point. How could I choose among this kind of beauty:

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The artist-instructor checked on us. I confessed I couldn’t decide what to paint. Without missing a beat, she picked a red onion from a crate and plunked it on the table in front of me. There you go, she said.

I looked at the onion and began sketching. I dipped my brush into the water and selected what I hoped would be a good shade of reddish purple. After a few minutes, it became obvious – I have no skills when it comes to onions.

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I tried again.

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Then a third time.

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With each attempt, I felt more demoralized and disinterested in the process. I stopped painting for a few minutes and looked around the farm store. There on the wall, hung a t-shirt with a White Gate Farm logo that features a two-diemnsional sheep. So, I painted that.

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Heath burst out laughing a few minutes later when he spied the sheep on my paper. “I thought it was a dog,” he hooted. We both had a good laugh, which was exactly what I needed to shake me out of my funk.

I pushed the onion away and pulled up a photo of Annie on my phone.

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Then, I got to painting.

This watercolor is the best painting I have ever done. I know that’s not saying a lot, but for someone who does not have natural talent with visual art, I am thrilled with the result.

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And the best part is that because I was painting Annie, the greatest golden retriever in the history of the world, I loved every second of the process.

Gretchen Rubin had it right. Forcing myself into the wrong subject led to feeling disgruntled and bored. Painting Annie, however, suited me.

Never again will I try to paint a vegetable.

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