Coloring Outside the Lines

What if it’s only when we color outside the lines that we finally find who we really are.

My grandmother said that when I was a toddler I never scribbled. From the start I used to draw, to trace, to make lines. I can’t recall those days but I do know that I learned early the value and importance of coloring inside the lines. Somehow this was pleasing to art teachers. You were a good art student if you could color inside the lines. I guess it took skill to get up close to the edges without going over when coloring a block of white space. Sure enough, I was pretty good at it. Probably because I liked the praise. It was pleasing to people whose opinions apparently mattered to me.

To some extent it’s a good skill to be able to control where you lay the colors. But interesting things can also happen when you color outside the lines. And at the end of the day this is one of the basic challenges of life. How much do we conform to what is expected of us, and how do we establish our own imprint, our own identity in a world that expects us to stay inside the lines? Besides, who decided where all those lines should be drawn in the first place?

These thoughts came about because I was thinking that I would like to share more of my stories and poetry, my creative writing. At first, I thought maybe I would spend the next week putting a story a day on my blogsite. Then I thought maybe I should actually create some kind of structure to my blog entries, with a different theme for each day of the week. Monday would become Short Story Monday. I started making boxes with lines.

Next I was laying out other theme days, from political musings to movie reviews, recommended readings and various recurring themes. Yes, I would leave a slot for Hodge Podge, the swirling miscellaneous fountain of froth and foam that occasionally emerges without notice.

Even while writing my schedule, I cringed inside. I’ve spent a lifetime battling with having to color inside the lines. I just can’t do this schedule thing. Yes, it’s a useful tool, but feels stifling nevertheless. With so many hours of my day already spoken for, I just can’t squeeze the rest of myself into a schedule that feels like a straitjacket. I want to be free.

And so, if there appears to be no rhyme or reason to a day’s entry, so be it. For sure, I have high standards for this blogspot. Aesthetically pleasing is one goal. Creative expression another. Literary quality is a third. Mentally stimulating. Hopefully.

Perhaps it’s when we color outside the lines that we begin finally to find who we really are. Parents, teachers and other authority figures had designs for us based not on who we were as individuals, but on what they thought was best for us from the standpoint of adults who had lived a little. These expectations did not always take into consideration our own varied temperaments, talents, interests.

For this reason, the primary aim for all young people is to know themselves, to know who they are and what they are interested in for themselves. You want a career that dovetails with your strengths and interests, not somebody else’s expectations.

Whoever you are, wherever you may be, don’t be afraid to color outside the lines. You may even want to get rid of the lines altogether. See what happens. At the end of the day, remember what you’ve learned and build on it.

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Retired ad man Ed Newman is a writer, artist, and blogger at Ennyman’s Territory. The painting at the top of the page was created in the early ‘70s

An avid reader who writes about arts, culture, literature & other life obsessions. @ennyman3 Look for my books on Amazon

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