For a long time, I felt deeply inadequate as a person. I was missing something important. As a grown adult, I was incapable of tying my shoes, or riding a bike, or jumping rope. What twenty-nine year-old can’t tie her own shoes?
See, I had a crazy childhood. I’ll avoid the details, but it’s enough to say the inadequacies I felt weren’t my own fault. And though I could easily entangle myself in the past and bury myself in the angst of that story, I searched for ways to change. First, I worked in Africa for four years, and discovered that despite the crazy, I’d lived an amazingly privileged life. So I began to rewrite my story.
On my 30th birthday, I made a list of 30 things to do while I was 30. This was my chance to look forward; to relearn patterns and find a way to change the story I’d been living for so long. Tired of slip-ons, I decided to learn to tie my own shoes. I also decided to search for happy memories from my childhood in my paintings—so I found old toys. Things I remembered playing with as a kid, alone in the closet or in the back of the car on long trips. I searched for good memories alone in my studio, and found these paintings. I was rather proud of myself—whereas before I had only bad memories, now I saw such whimsy and joy.
Last fall, as I was finishing the series and preparing for a show, I laid them all out to look at the whole picture… and I saw something I’d never noticed before. Most of the objects in the paintings were missing something: a piece was detached from the whole. I’d been painting self-portraits the whole time, essentially. Because I felt like I was missing something too.
Over the next few weeks, I realized something. Teaching a friend to knit, I said, “I can do this, and I can barely tie my shoes— you can do it too.” And I realized that someone had taught me to knit long before I learned to tie my shoes, and yet knitting is moving string around, too. So I was capable of learning; it’s just that no one taught me. Maybe I’m not as inadequate as I thought.
Riding my bike around Portland, gaining confidence, I began to see that the problem was more about how I hadn’t had a chance to learn things when other kids were learning them. It wasn’t that I was incapable—it was that no one had bothered to really teach me. It wasn’t because I wasn’t enough—it was because someone else didn’t show me, they just handed me the shoes and hoped I’d catch on.
I gradually moved to paintings of whole and complete toys, and this year as I’ve begun a daily painting practice, I stopped painting toys altogether. I wear a new mantra around my neck these days. It says, “Look forward.” I’m still learning exactly how strong and capable I am, but I finally know that I am Enough.
About Jolie Guillebeau
Jolie Guillebeau still wears mostly slip-on shoes, but at least now she has a choice. She paints everyday (almost) in her studio in Portland, Oregon. You can see her paintings and read her stories here, and you can say “Hi” on Facebook.