A coloring book page from the iOS app Pigment – A fantasy-style drawing of a dragon holding an egg
One of the things about being labeled – or branded – a gifted child (GC) in the United States is that you don’t get the opportunity to fail that much. Things come naturally to you, or you learn so fast, that being BAD at something feels like a moral failing rather than a straightforward process of learning. (See the Perfectionism section of that link above.) I mean, sure, no one is good at everything. But as a GC, you feel like you’re SUPPOSED to be. After all, you’re gifted. If you struggle with something, adults around you are likely to be confused. Why are you struggling when you’re so smart? And because it feels like a moral failing, a GC’s patience level with being unable to catch on is often WAAY low, so the tactics adults use for other kids when they need a primer on something tend to feel… almost condescending.
And you know how tolerant tweens and teenagers are of condescension. *eyeroll*
As such, the whole concept of practicing something in order to get better at it? That’s surrounded with a lot of shame for a lot of GCs.* If you don’t have a family situation that rewards experimentation, even if it results in failure, then there’s even more shame on top of that.
So yeah, as a GC with a very good memory, I was not good at practicing anything. It was incredibly stressful. As a kid I wasn’t even very good at studying. But at least with the latter, reading a book again was simple and something I generally liked doing, if it wasn’t math-based. But things that couldn’t be done with books; things that needed some muscle memory along with the mind? Horrible. Truly horrible.
My hand-eye coordination has never been good. The closest I’ve come to being good at anything that needed some coordination is playing piano, and even that required developing some muscle memory that was just unpleasant without my teacher right there to be encouraging. I also can’t draw or cut a straight line to save my life, and I can’t catch or hit a ball without a LOT of mental calculations involved.
Therefore, this year my first gift is to reclaim something I’ve never had before.
The Practice of Practice.
I get to do things and fail at them. Even fail dramatically. I am practicing getting better at Practice.
I’m starting with video games, specifically 3rd person point-and-shoots. I’m practicing playing characters I’m not naturally good at playing. Practicing developing patience with the dynamics. Practicing being okay with not having good hand-eye coordination and developing tactics to compensate. So far it’s been okay, though I do still sometimes yell at the screen.
I’m also practicing coloring. While I LOVE color and playing with it in various ways, coloring books are a source of a metric fuckton of stress for me. See, the same way I can’t cut or draw a straight line, I also can’t seem to color inside lines. It’s wildly frustrating to be an adult and still color like one is 6 yrs old, and not get BETTER at it as you keep going on. So with coloring books or other types of defined art, if I slipped and colored outside the lines? Perfectionism stated that the Whole Thing Was Ruined. As coloring books became more popular for adults I thought I could try again, but the same pattern emerged. I would try one image, feel like I’d ruined the image and therefore the book, then never do anything with them again.
However, the coloring app Pigment has a setting that allows me to automatically keep what I’m doing within the lines defined by the drawing, and that gives me the freedom to experiment with shading, accenting and blending… and because it’s digital, I don’t need to worry I’ve ruined a drawing I really want to keep. I can redo it as often as I want. I can undo anything I’ve done. That’s not something I ever experienced when I was a kid with paints, markers and crayons. Yesterday I made quite a few mistakes with the dragon drawing I was working on, as shown above, and still really enjoyed the process of experimenting. I was able to redo the face multiple times and still have the “ooh neat!” experience, because there was no consequence to whatever I had done. Any mistake was reversible – no paper to be stored or thrown away; no art supplies wasted.
A precious gift to someone like me. :)
(Note that I still would not be practicing coloring if it wasn’t for Jon and his Xmas gift to me. Without the bigger screen and the stylus, I’d just be tapping to add color. His gift made my own gift to myself better than it would have been otherwise.)
Once I get used to video gaming and coloring practice, I’m going to try to practice meditation, then something else physical. Hopefully I can get better at having fun at something, even if I’m not good at it. That’s the aim for this gift – to learn how to practice and have fun at the same time.
* Don’t take my word for it – there’s lots of folks out there who write about Gifted Child Syndrome, though each person who writes from their own perspective as a GC has a different frame for it. Feel free to Google it.