Writing has few fears for me. Ideas for content come relatively easily and as soon as I have my ‘hook’ at the start, the words will come. But drawing? Oh my! Never has that blank sheet seemed more impossibly daunting.

Let me explain. Next Saturday I am going to Tuscany in Italy for a week-long painting holiday. Apart from some dabbling with a few acrylic paints when I was searching for a new purpose and hadn’t yet hit on the idea to start a makeup company, I haven’t attempted any form of proper artistic endeavour via a pencil or paintbrush since I was at school. Let me also explain the kind of school I went to. The Convent of St Louis in Newmarket was available for the education of girls who were either Catholic or, like me, non-Catholic. So I arrived at the age of 11 already labelled as ‘not’ something. The nuns who comprised the majority of the teaching staff then proceeded to convince me that I was also not born to be any good at tennis, hockey, physical education, maths, physics, chemistry, dometic science, singing or art of any sort. You may well wonder what was left? My academic strengths appeared to be confined to a short list which comprised English, French, Latin, History and Needlework.

You may think that this very circumscribed arena for my educational talents would have bothered me. Au contraire - I loathed all physical activity and every sport, thought that maths and science were boring and was happy to mime to the music of the Hallelujah chorus when instructed to do so by Sister Clothilde who shouted at me that I was “putting everyone off with my tuneless dirge”. And as to art, that horse had bolted for me at the age of about 4 when my brilliantly talented cousin, who lived next door and was only five months older than me, was producing recognisable portraits whilst I was still drawing stick figures. I looked at her impressive artistic creations and made a mental note never to compete. Fortunately for me, by ‘A’ level you only had to be good at three subjects and I sailed through English, French and History at grades high enough to get me into an excellent college to train to teach.

Where do you sit on the nature versus nurture debate? Clearly the nuns at my school were firmly of the opinion that if you had shown yourself to be both musically or artistically untalented, and that you also had no propensity for numbers then you should be encouraged to accept your limitations. Their motto seemed to be ‘you can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear’. And I think that for about sixty years I went along with that belief and just played to my strengths. The degree I took in my thirties reassured me that I had a good brain, I learnt to speak French fluently, I was entrepreneurial and knew how to make money. Ironically I found all ‘maths’ that related to running a business really easy. Give me a balance sheet, VAT return or a bank statement and I manage just fine. And then two things happened.

The first was welcoming a baby into our family who was chromosomally abnormal. Simply put India had more DNA than she needed in one part of her eighteenth chromosome and not enough in another. This was predictive of severe physical and mental disability. When she was three months old we were told she was unlikely to walk, would probably be non-verbal, may not know us and may well not survive due to multiple physical complications. However, at the meeting with the geneticist who delivered this devastating prognosis, there was a delightful Iranian doctor who had been looking after India, and she said two very important things: “India is unique, no-one can predict her future. As human beings we are so much more than our genes and if you love and support her - who knows what she will be able to do?” The past ten years have not been without their challenges, but I very much doubt that the geneticist would recognise the lively, happy child that India has become at ten years of age. 

india-walking

India learning to walk 

My second epiphany in the ‘nature versus nurture’ debate came at 69 when I decided to work with a personal trainer, Lindsay. I cannot stress enough how little connection I had had to my body throughout my life. I fed it, clothed it, occasionally punished it with restrictive diets and otherwise let it get on with its role in keeping me alive. But it was creaking, stiffening and aching. My balance wasn’t great and I had lots of problems when climbing anything more than a short flight of stairs. I also cannot stress enough how resistant I was to seeking help for this because I had such a profound belief that I couldn’t ‘do’ physical exercise. Fortunately I then met Lindsay who convinced me that not being ‘sporty’ had no relevance to how she would work with me to improve my fitness, movement, strength and balance. Five years later - what can I say? Those nuns were so wrong! I may not physically be a silk purse, but at least I am definitely no longer a sow’s ear.

Which brings me to something which is apparently now commonplace in many schools and that is the encouragement of a ‘Growth Mindset’. Our team at LFF did a workshop on this the other day and I am now firmly applying the principles to my upcoming painting holiday. Carol Dwek, the 75 year old American psychologist who first proposed this way of thinking in 2005, says of it “In a growth mindset, people believe that their most basic abilities can be developed through dedication and hard work. This view creates a love of learning and a resilience that is essential for great accomplishment.” Apparently the most important word is ‘yet’. So, in order to stop believing that artistic endeavour is not for me, I need to say ‘I cannot draw or paint YET.  Indeed I am already applying those principles by having a few lessons via zoom before I go. I have just drawn two feathers! And I am so proud of myself!

feathers

The outcome of my first drawing lesson

So, on my painting holiday I have decided to adjust my thinking to a ‘growth mindset’. I was obviously not born with the talent my cousin had as she went on to art school. I must also banish those unhelpful memories of my school days. Instead I need to think of all that India has achieved despite her very unpromising genetic inheritance and remind myself how far I have come with my physical fitness. Faced with all those blank sheets of white paper I intend to say to myself “I’m not Michaelangelo - Yet! And then have some fun.

Tricia x 

NB: My fabulous blue jacket in the header image is from Bella di Notte. You can shop their website here: https://www.belladinotte.com/ 

Upcoming Event Information:

Upcoming Event Information:

Friday 13th May

mary_queen_of_scots

Film Club - Mary Queen of Scots

Available on Amazon Prime

Watch the film before and join us for a discussion!

Day:  Friday 13th May

Time: 4pm 

Link:https://us02web.zoom.us/j/86109288705?pwd=TUgzQW5IK0VnUGI2MGdtb0FQN3hxZz09

Meeting ID (if needed): 861 0928 8705

Password (if needed): LOOKFAB