Recently, in an impulsive moment, I offered to do the flower arrangements for a big party for a close friend. Other than cutting off the ends of the stems when you bring them home and avoiding spray-painted carnations, I don’t know much about flowers, but I figured how hard can it be?
Then the teak boxes, glass vases, hard green floral foam, clear glass marbles, and mountains of Gerber daisies, long-stemmed roses, and greenery arrived.
I called my friend Liz in a panic. Liz is an artist not only by profession – she is a painter and illustrator – but in every aspect of her life. I knew she’d be able to help. Sure enough, she quickly made sense of the chaos in my kitchen. She soaked the floral foam in water, crushed the ends of the roses (with a hammer; who knew?), artfully trimmed the spiky leaves. She filled the teak boxes in a way that looked both sophisticated and natural, as if the flowers had arranged themselves. When I professed amazement at her artistry, she looked up from her work with genuine puzzlement. “What do you mean? Anybody can do this. It’s not brain surgery.”
Well, yes, Liz, actually it is. If you don’t have an intuitive visual artistic sense, arranging flowers can seem as daunting as cutting into someone’s cranium with a scalpel.
We all have areas of proficiency we take for granted. Liz makes arranging gorgeous bouquets look easy because she has a natural inclination for it, takes genuine pleasure in it, and has honed her artistic vision with years of practice. Recognizing and nurturing your natural creative inclinations is, I think, an important step in the process of taking yourself seriously as an artist (or musician or poet or novelist). I write fiction because I love it. I love it because it allows me to express what seems inexpressible, to weave stories that reveal larger truths about the way people relate to each other. This desire colors everything; it is the way I see the world.
Needless to say, the flowers were a hit. I tried to give my Cyrano credit when possible, but sometimes simply smiled and nodded and reaped the praise. What I was really taking credit for, of course, was my own genius in recognizing my limitations.