Every No is a chance to learn something. Every closed door, every rejection, every empty inbox. Every outpouring of effort that fails to make even the tiniest ripple. Every twinge of disappointment, every shameful time you realize that you don’t measure up.
Nos hurt; they make you question what you’re doing and why you do it. But this is exactly why Nos are also a great impetus for growth. Why are you doing that? Is there something to learn here? Is that No a permanent roadblock?
Yes can be too easy. Yes absolves you from the responsibility of reflection. Yes tells you what you’re doing right, not what you need to work on. Yes makes you soft.
I’m on a mission to collect Nos. I have a lot to learn.
Sunday morning. Fall is here, and she’s brought the throat tickle. Time for my standby home remedy:
Equal parts honey and freshly minced ginger root.
Add about 1 tablespoon of the mixture to mug.
Stir in boiling water.
The first sip of my sweet, pleasantly spicy tea soothes my throat and brings me back in time. Saenggangcha, ginger tea in Korean. The winters in Seoul were cold and windy, and it felt so comforting to settle into a warm cafe and order a mug of ginger tea. I’d write or draw, sip, meditate. The earthy, pungent ginger punched into my nose while the honey made the whole go down nice and smoothly… There were little chunks of ginger sitting at the bottom, and I crunched them gladly. Warming, soothing, delicious.
I remember the last time I drew as a child before giving up. My parents had given me a deluxe art set for my birthday: markers, watercolors, pencils… it was a glorious art set that packed up nicely into a wooden briefcase. Perhaps I believed that this art set would instantaneously imbue me with talent. I decided to attempt to draw one of my mom’s retro cooking pots with flowers on the side. It came out lopsided and just all wrong. I was disappointed in myself and disgusted at the hideous blob I had created. I wanted so badly to be good, to have proof of my talent. Instead, I was glaring at empirical proof that I sucked. That was the moment that art didn’t feel free anymore. I didn’t deserve that art set, and I would do well to forget the whole thing. I left the briefcase in the basement to collect dust.
Fast forward to Seoul, circa 2010
I’m walking in Hongdae, the young, hip, artsy neighborhood. Streets are chock-full of funky cafés, cheap restaurants, art galleries, and clothing shops. At this time, I’m feeling deeply lonely and generally lost.
I enjoy the atmosphere of this neighborhood, so I find myself here often. I don’t know what else to do with myself, and so I go walking. I just walk for hours on end. Fall is just thinking about getting started, and the bright warm sun feels nice, while the air has a crisp snap to it.
I notice a small, dusty art supply shop. There are no lights on inside, and the sunlight transmutes through the front window to cast everything in a gray-gold soft focus. They’re going out of business, and there’s not much selection left, but that paper, those pencils, the pastels… they smell wonderful. I end up buying a thin sketch pad and the few pencils remaining: moss green, dusty yellow, and a soft graphite pencil with eraser. A few hundred meters away is the little park where children and parents play in the morning, under the blurred watchful eyes of the occasional homeless person. In the afternoons, students sit in the park to smoke cigarettes and drink beer after class. On weekend evenings, young Western foreigners come along to drink, while wannabe deejays plug in their iPhones and use an app to simulate the art of the turntables. Nobody cares.
On this golden lonely afternoon, there are just a few people in the park. I plonk myself down and start drawing again, for the first time in I don’t know how long. I’m surprised at how good it feels. The lonely melancholy in my stomach is mitigated. I’m scratching an itch that I didn’t realize I had. I’m drawing trees and flowers, and soon I’m approached by a woozy bleary-eyed Korean woman. She asks to see my drawing, and I oblige. She turns to the next page, asks for my pencil, then starts sweeping the page with large haphazard swipes. She sweeps and swipes, then finally adds two details, eyes and a nose, and suddenly the picture is coherent: she’s drawn a woman with long hair and robes. The woman hands me back my drawing pad and shuffles away, wishing me a good afternoon. I’m a bit stunned as I wish her the same.
I realize drawing just feels right.