A nearly blank canvas rests on my easel, as it has for the last three weeks. On it, a thin, crimson outline of a butterfly’s wings. And numerous tentative sketch lines, all in pencil of course, all easily erasable should I change my mind. Do I fill it in more fully? Does it look quite right? (I am absolutely no good at painting and paint only for my own joy, but I still occasionally slip into perfectionist territory). Should I add details that take a butterfly out of the symbolic and into insect-ular reality? Is this a butterfly that wants antennae and a body? Or is it all smooth colors and merely a memory flashpoint to every other butterfly? I pick up cerulean, slate grey, brilliant red, and nothing seems quite right … I can’t seem to settle on a specific path forward with this painting, so it remains for a bit, resting on the easel. Sometimes this part of the process lasts just for days and sometimes weeks or longer.
Until one day it just happens. It’s less of a conscious decision and more of a necessary capturing of an idea and a moment. The canvas will catch my eye from across the room and, suddenly, nothing else will do but to finish the painting. For better or for worse, I dive in and, a short, frenzied, paint-filled time later, it’s done. It isn’t always beautiful, but that doesn’t really matter at that point. It’s something of me on the canvas, and that’s both unnerving and exhilarating.
There’s a lot of research being done on we millennials – our inability to commit to partners, jobs, raising families, long-term residences. There are of course exceptions to this, and we all know people who are following the same patterns as our parents. Your twenties were for finishing school, getting married, buying a home, starting a family, and starting your career. Twenties, now, are increasingly for second degrees, travelling, moving back home with the parents, and trying on a thousand different plans and personalities. Is it just the economy? Are we a generation of commitment-phobes? Or are at least some of us trying to sort out the mixed blessing of knowing all the possibility out there, having been raised to think we have the potential to do something extraordinary, and are now a bit immobilized by the choices? And, particularly in the faith community, are we at once ecstatic about the possibility of having a calling in addition to a profession, and humbled into inaction by the gravitas of such a life?
The story and reasons are different for each of us. As for me, I’m ready to paint.