On deflated footballs and ugly ducklings

On deflated footballs and ugly ducklings

I wish I’d taken my phone with me on my walk beside the creek early this morning. I would have liked to get a couple of photos. One was of a cyclist I saw who had zipped his whippet snugly into his backpack. The idea pleased me: I feel that all cyclists should have a whippet in a backpack so that when they stop at traffic lights they can feel, against their back, its body gently shift and settle in the backpack, or hear it sigh into their hair.

The other photo I wished I could’ve taken was of two glorious black swans solicitously tending their cygnet, which, as the legend instructed me as a child, was indeed ugly (but cute): a deflated football covered in grey fluff.

And perhaps it was thinking of ugly ducklings growing into beautiful things – or not – that turned my thoughts to the mess of writing that currently infests my laptop. As I write this, my computer is littered with documents containing strange drafts that I thought were going to be great but, now that I’ve spent some time with them, I can see aren’t. But I only know that now that I’ve tried to write them.

I also have tottering piles of notes-to-self: light bulb moments, scribbled down in a moment of excitement. I regularly go through these and cull most of them. Many no longer make any sense, while the meaning of the rest may be evident, but I find myself wondering why I got so excited about them in the first place. Some even make it to the stage where I do some research on them, resulting in a folder of photocopies, handwritten notes, and newspaper articles, only to find that I’ve disappeared up an imaginative and intellectual blind alley.

But then there are the ideas, research projects, and drafts I stick with. With a magpie mind like mine, I find it best if I regularly clean out my files – both digital and paper – to weed out dead projects, otherwise I would drown in them. But some I hold onto, sometimes for years, before finding a way to bring them to fruition. I’m often not sure what I will do with them – whether they will become a blog, a pamphlet, a zine, a resource, a book, or a workshop. Keeping a hold of them is an act of faith, like discovering a sentient deflated football covered in grey fluff and knowing it will become some kind of a bird if allowed to live, but not even being sure if that bird will turn out to be a swan or not.

The Swan No. 17 by Hilma af Klint

So how can you pick the difference? At the beginning, it’s not always easy. Sometimes the piece of writing is an ugly duckling that, with enough care, can grow up into a swan. And sometimes it turns out to just be a deflated football.

This morning during my walk, I was thinking all of this through and then it hit me. To switch analogies from swans to romance, it’s a bit like the difference between infatuation and love. You meet someone, you feel attracted, maybe even smitten. For a little while, this someone exerts a fascination over you. And then that starts to wear off and you realise that it was just a crush. But every now and again, even after the fascination has started to pall, and you’ve started to notice the wrinkles and the bad habits, you still persevere with it, continue to invest energy into the relationship and learn about this other and about the way you are in relation to this other, and then you realise that it’s love.

Starting all of those funny little drafts and research projects are like dating: you respond to an attraction or the opportunity to have a little fun. You give things a try and, mostly, end up thinking after a while “what the hell was I thinking?”

But, to find an object worthy of devotion, you still have to flirt a bit, go on a few dates, try a few things on for size. Because you never know before you try.

Are you trying to figure out where to invest your energy creatively?

I mentor professionals working on complex creative projects and help them to map their way from scary beginnings, through the messy middle to a meaningful resolution. My clients regain their creative confidence & the resilience required to finish their projects.

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