Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Outside the Lines

I had lunch with a friend and her 6 year old daughter, Madeline, the other day. Her daughter was coloring while we chatted. After a few minutes she held out her work to show us and the realization came to me that Madeline had learned to color inside the lines.

Her early artistic endeavors were chaotic scrawls of color, lines and squiggles that ignored the boundaries of propriety. Seeing them had made me uncomfortable somehow as if the flowers, dragons and princess she sought to embellish were disrespected by an unruly mass of pigmented wax.

I gave Madeline the praise she deserved for taking an important step in the development of her hand and eye coordination. Yet, I was sad, too, because something had been important left behind.

There is an instant in each of our lives, a watershed flash, when we learn to color inside the lines. We learn to conform, to follow rules, to fit into a frame work that keep things comfortable and safe. But with that some shred of our true genius is scrubbed away. A vestige of brilliance is left in a heap at the roadside.  A wild chaos is brought to heel.

Most of our lives are spent learning to follow rules, be they etiquette, or grammar, or just trying to stay within the lines. As adult the most self-aware of us struggle to get that element of chaos back. We learn anew to break rules and let go of that queasiness that comes with wearing white after Labor Day or mixing our metaphors.

I’m not suggesting we go crazy and start driving the wrong way down one way streets. But a little non-conformity is good for the spirit. Rebelliousness takes a different form for everyone—for the writer in me, unconventionality means using an em dash instead of more lady like punctuation. The dash is a bold interruption our sequence of thought. Or maybe you’ll find me wearing a pink cloche on a winter’s day—no one wears hats anymore.

So go ahead and color outside the lines. You have my permission. 


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