“Be an ant,” he says.
“Don’t look at the whole project at once and try to do it,” says my stone-steady, clear-eyed, logical-thinking husband. “Be an ant. Do what’s in front of you. Do this one thing, take this one step, then do the next one.”
I’ve seen the ant approach in action over and over. This man has renovated dozens of old houses by being an ant. He has a vision, then he “ants” them, piece by piece, bit by bit, until they’re finished. Things that once resided only in his imagination become real. It’s amazing.
Being an ant works for me when I’m weeding the garden, making lunch, or folding laundry but when it comes to something more complex than finding matching socks, I fall apart. I’m easily distracted. When sizing up a big project, my little boat quickly gets swamped. And when faced with figuring out something I don’t know how to do, I am easily frustrated. Impatient. I throw things.
But I did want to make a book. I always have. I put it out of my mind for a long time but the idea came back full-force last fall. After years of illustrating a blog and drawing travel journals and making art nearly every day, I had an idea. I wanted to make an illustrated book about our cat Phoenix … and I had no idea how to do it.
So I decided I’d be an ant. Every evening, I made a drawing. All winter, I sat at our coffee table and drew until I had a stack of illustrations. But then what? They didn’t exactly work as a book. I was stuck.
The cat was unperturbed. She sat as close to the wood stove as she could without singeing and lazily watched the ladybugs that had infested the light fixtures. I started watching them, too. They would mince across the ceiling or along the window frame on their microscopic feet. Minuscule little steps but eventually they’d get wherever they were going. And sometimes, they’d fly. They’d zoom from door to overhead light and stick the landing. Usually. Sometimes they’d bounce off a little but they seemed no worse for wear.
“I want to be a lady bug,” I thought. “Ants are a little monochromatic and soldier-y for me. I want to wear bright colors, take teeny weeny steps, and sometimes I want to fly. And since we are well into the 21st Century, what I really want to be is a Woman Bug.”
As the book progressed, I found myself in that stuck place over and over. Each time, I’d lift my Woman Bug head, look for where I wanted to be next, and start my delicate feet in that direction. Need a self-publishing system for art books? Zoom. A friend tells me about a perfect one. Printer costs too high? Zoom. Another friend connects me with a printer specializing in short runs. It became a creative dance of teensy steps with occasional zooming.
I appreciate the genius of being an ant. Sometimes, “ant-ing” is just what I need. But for the big, scary, vulnerable projects, I need the delicate feet, snappy outfit, and wings of a Woman Bug.
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