Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Breaking rules and making art:

I think my nature as a rule-keeper was cemented at birth. In that first lusty swallow of earth's atmosphere, I became not only a firstborn child -- inheriting a bossy gene I've been trying to work out of my system ever since -- but also a Danielle. Danielle is the feminine form of Daniel, which in the Hebrew means 'God is my judge'. That's some serious motivation for having a strong conscience right there.

Most of the time, a strong conscience and a wholesome sense of right and wrong are a real blessing. Playing by the rules -- sticking to speed limits, not burning copies of DVDs, returning library books relatively on time, not mouthing off to those older than me -- has never been much of a challenge. On the other hand, I seem to have this crazy and generally subconscious need to create rules for my life.

As if the standards of godliness and human ethics and social conduct are not enough, I create unintentional mental lists of rules: rules for being a good daughter; rules for how to pray 'properly'; rules for being a fun aunt; rules for being a really truly writer; rules to put myself in a box and chase my own tail around. Then I lament when I fail to keep those rules. Then I laugh (or pull out my hair) when I realise that I made those rules up; they don't actually matter.

The thing is, rules are mostly great. When they are big -- like state and national laws -- they help life as a society function in healthier, smoother ways. When they are small -- like notes for a design brief or editorial guidelines -- they can actually foster creativity. Working within boundaries may stretch us in ways that total uninhibited freedom never could. If two people were both to offer me a blank sheet of paper and one instructed me to do whatever I want with it, while the other told me to show them something I care about, the second instruction is the one that would get my creative juices flowing. A little boundary can lead to big ideas.

All of which is my long and oddly deep segue into talking about something much more concrete: the fun I'm having with Keri Smith's Wreck This Journal. The staid little rule-keeper in me is very much relishing the challenge of being told to crack the spine of a book, to jump up and down on a book, to give it to someone else and let them do something destructive to it. Let me tell you, I have many self-made rules about the care and protection of books, and most of them involve decidedly anti-destructive behaviour. It's good to be reminded that it's all just paint and ink on a page and none of it will last forever anyway.

Balancing that out, the creative rule-lover in me -- the part that sees a boundary and leaps ahead to get all sorts of ideas on how to work within it -- is enjoying the sparse, simple instructions (in one sense, rules) of Wreck This Journal. They're rules which are open to so many different interpretations that they're not really rules at all. And that makes for fun creative experimentation.

* * * * *


Anonymous -- :D

Thelittlebluefishy -- sometimes it isn't even checking those items off a list that's encouraging, but the mere fact of starting on them and being in the process itself offers so much hope and inspiration. Good luck with your list!

Lauren -- I got them from Target. $2 a pack!


  1. That book sounds completely awesome. Such a neat idea.

  2. I've heard of that journal before! I think I should give it a try. I'm pretty certain I've always been a pretty stern rule follower...most of which I blame on my first born personality. :) Not that it's a bad thing, but sometimes it can be hindering when I'm being unreasonable or silly about a man made rule.

  3. I can so relate! I also experienced a similar stretching when I did a month of art journaling last year. It was really good for me.

  4. that sounds like so much fun! I'm definitely ordering one for me, and some for my friends!!
    I know what you mean about rules... it's very easy to make them, but not as easy to follow!

  5. Wow! The first time I ruined a book was because the person who gave it to me was not nice to me. My way of closure.
    The second (and last) time I ruined a book was because the book was truly horrible, and I'd only bought it because of uni. I tore every page at least twice :P

    It'd be nice to do something cool with a journal for the fun of it - not just for closure.

  6. Cool post! Did you take it in a rain shower??

  7. That! Looks! So! Fun! (said like Celia foote shaking the fried chicken in The Help)

  8. Just dropping by to say that you are awesome.


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