Scratching The Wrong Itch

Scratch-ey kitty

Scratch-ey kitty

You know how it is when you have an itch?

How you feel like you’re going to go totally wackypants unless you scratch it?

And how ohmygawd awesome it feels when you finally do?

Mmmmm delicious.

So how much would it suck if you scratched that itch. And waited for sweet relief. And then pretty much nothing happened?

Zero. Zilch. Zip. Nada.

You were still head-to-toe itchy.

It would totally be a WTF?! moment, yeah?

The truth is I think this happens a lot.

Not so much with actual itches.

Because that would be weird. And probably require a prescription.

But it’s pretty common with metaphorical ones.

Which are even tricksier and ouchier than actual itches.

Freaked me the eff out

So I do the sound-ey stuff.

Which you already know about.

And I’ve kind of whispered about the painting thing too. And about how I’ve always done it.

Except that there was this big chunk of time where I didn’t do it.

Not for lack of effort or anything.

I mean, I tried. Hard.

But no matter how much time I spent staring at a canvas, it so wasn’t happening.

And it seriously freaked me out.

Because I started painting before I was smart enough not to suck on the brushes and get all nomnomnom with the tube of cadmium red.

Painting was something I did pretty much all the time.

And it was easy. Like breathing. But with colors.

And then one day I just couldn’t.

Frozen stiff

I sat there in front of this huuuuuuge blank canvas.

My brush was full of paint.

I had my favorite tunes on.

And absolutely nothing was happening.

Zero. Zilch. Zip. Nada.

Have you ever seen someone walk to the edge of the driving board and just freeze?

That was me.

I totally couldn’t put the brush to the canvas.

And I didn’t really know why.

After a lot of staring and a lot of nothing-happening-ness, I chalked it up to a bad day.

But it happened the next day too.

And the day after that. And the day after that. And the day after that.

Deep down ouchiness

The next thing I knew years had gone by.


And this thing I used to do every single day – this thing that got me through my childhood alive – was pretty much off my radar.

Except it wasn’t.

Because I’d think about painting every day.

I’d want to paint so bad it would hurt.

And every time I’d stand in front of a canvas, the same thing happened.

Nothing at all.

Most of the time, I’d never make a mark.

Sometimes I’d managed to sling a little paint around. But there was still nothing happening there.

No flow. No wow. No hawtness.

Just lots of freezing.

Trying and pushing and trying and pushing

I tried all kinds of stuff to get unstuck.

I tried switching from acrylics to watercolors. And from watercolors to oil pastels. And from oil pastels to colored pencils.

Then I tried switching from painting to drawing. And from drawing to sculpting. And from sculpting to taking pictures.

Then I bought a couple of those how to be creative books. Even though I thought they were totally annoying.

I was scratching the itch like crazy.

And nothing was helping.


Then one day I was drumming.

Not about the art thing specifically. Just drumming.

That’s when it happened.

In a moment that was a mix of connect-the-dots and hit-with-a-ton-of-bricks I knew why I couldn’t paint.

When I was a kid, I painted mostly to work through stuff I couldn’t work through any other way.

Unknotting my feelings. Dealing with the hard schtuffs. Trying to make sense of stuff that made no sense.

That’s always what painting has been for me.

And I stopped painting after Dad died.

Which also happened to be one of the knottiest, hardest, things-that-make-no-sense things in my life.

So no wonder I couldn’t paint.

Forget making sense of this. I couldn’t even get near that level of hard.

That big, twisty ball of pain that just sat there in my heart and in my gut.

See the reflection?

The problem wasn’t that I couldn’t paint.

That was just a symptom. Or a reflection.

I was totally scratching the wrong itch.

I didn’t need to switch from acrylics to watercolors or from painting to drawing.

I didn’t need to push through or just do it or paint even when I didn’t feel like it.

And I didn’t need to read uber annoying books about how to be creative.

I needed to find a way to edge closer to the grief and the pain and the anger I felt about losing my dad.

I needed a way to take some of the charge off the hurt so that I could safely get a little closer to it.

This wasn’t about painting at all. It was about pain.

One big smoosh-ey hodgepodge

So I drummed. A lot.

Dear gawd, I just about wore those poor drums out.

I drummed and I wrote and I talked to friends and I did what I could to make the hurt less hurt-ey.

And eventually I got back to painting.

The hawt kind. Not the going-through-the-motions kind.

And I got there because I scratched the itch that really needed to be scratched.

Because even though sometimes we try to compartmentalize life – to see it as this hodgepodge-ey collection of various bits and bobs – it’s all so totally connected.

One thing spills over into another thing in a way that’s totally sloppy and totally beautiful and totally incredible and totally frustrating.

All of it. All at once.

That’s why I love this sound-ey stuff so much.

It goes right to the roots.

It sorts out what’s shakin’ with the quickness. And it serves up some totally deelish aha! moments.

A bucketful o’ back scratchers

Are you scratching a itch of the metaphorical variety that won’t stop itching?

What if you looked at the itch-ey bit as a reflection of something else?

What changes? What is it reflecting?

If the itch were a feeling, what would it be?

When have you felt this before? Are you feeling this anywhere else in your life?

These are a few of the questions I play with when I’m trying to sort out the source of the itch.

Want to play along?

Flickr credit – Spamily

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15 Responses to Scratching The Wrong Itch
  1. Mary
    October 14, 2010 | 2:55 pm

    Readback – “One thing spills over into another thing in a way that’s totally sloppy and totally beautiful and totally incredible and totally frustrating.” What a great summary of life on this spinning little ball. Kudos on such fine words and clear thoughts. Booyah!

  2. Fabeku
    October 14, 2010 | 2:57 pm

    @Mary – Glad you dug it. (p.s. Something about readback makes me want to break out in a rousing rendition of Ice Ice Baby.)

  3. Dave
    October 14, 2010 | 4:10 pm

    Still chuckling over the uber annoying creativity books, I have a whole shelf full of those 🙂

    I’m so glad you got back to painting, especially that it’s of the Hawt! kind–the world needs more of that.

    I’m totally with you on the misplaced itch thing, sometimes it feels like my ‘stuff’ is being moved around in one of those carnival games with three cups and a ball, and I’m left dizzy trying to work out what’s what. I love those questions, they seem a great tool to help the itch-identification process along!
    .-= Dave´s last blog ..Illustration Friday- Transportation =-.

  4. Barbara Martin
    October 14, 2010 | 4:38 pm

    Here’s to hawt paint! And drumming! And sound! And finding the itch and scratching it but good. Why is life like that, so intermingled, and then when we jangle it’s felt all kinds of places besides where it starts from?
    .-= Barbara Martin´s last blog ..Inspiration and Creativity =-.

  5. Mary
    October 14, 2010 | 4:46 pm

    Readbacks are used at Women Writing for a Change to help a writer know when a certain line hits us square in the gut. But, Hey, if you wanna bust out some VI. Don’t let me stop you. Just pleasepleaseplease video it for the rest of us.

  6. Skaja
    October 14, 2010 | 6:52 pm

    You have this knack of posting what I need to hear/read right when I need it most.

    Thank you.

  7. Bettina
    October 15, 2010 | 12:33 am

    This is a very profound post. Such truth. Such deepness.

    I had an event that made me stop making friends, getting close to people. For 9 years I stopped being social, until I had nobody left close around me. And no matter what I tried – scratching the wrong itch – I couldn’t open up to people.
    Which is not going to help if you’re in business talking to people.

    It started to inflict on other areas in my life, because if you stop talking to people and stop making friends sooner or later you also stop making money (never mind not having any relationships). But if you keep your lifestyle up you run into serious trouble. That’s me a couple months ago.

    And then I too found the right itch. Only a few weeks ago.

    I’m still scratching though…. but it is much better already 🙂

    Thank you for your openness and sharing. It is greatly appreciated.

  8. chris zydel
    October 15, 2010 | 2:01 am

    Hey Fabeku,

    I loved this story about your journey back to your painter self and I thought the itch busting questions were very cool. I also got a major kick out of how you thought your stuckness might have something to do with the supplies you were using!!

    Cause, as you well know, when you’re in the creative flow you could have a really great time with a bottle of ketchup, a jar of mustard and some melted chocolate. (-:

    And… is that scratching kitty photo really Sid?

    Big hugs,

    .-= chris zydel´s last blog ..“One Thing”- Dead Cowboy Wisdom And Fun With Paint Chips =-.

  9. Julie Stuart
    October 15, 2010 | 11:26 am

    ….hmmmm….I’m going to sit with this for a bit because I’m also a painter who hasn’t painted in like *for–evah* and I’m not sure why I stopped and why I can’t start again. I always thought it was about the painting, but it’s probably about something else and I’m starting to think I might be really close to knowing what that is…
    .-= Julie Stuart´s last blog ..Shelter from the storm =-.

  10. Elana
    October 15, 2010 | 1:37 pm

    Hi Fabeku. You’re speaking my mother tongue in this post. The empty canvas. The nothing coming out. The why can’t I do this what’s going on. Uh huh. The pain. The pain. The pain. A bit like the sun. Get too close – zap. Always love your insight. And that you share your map. : )

  11. Starla J. King
    October 15, 2010 | 2:06 pm

    ACK, you’ve done it again, F-man… totally hijacked my work time. I’m frantically editing a book of memoirs for a client, and I break the ridiculous rule of not checking email every 2 seconds — CLICK to your blog, and now I not only am thinking about painting and writing and itching and cats, I’m thinking about all my friends who need to read this.

    And a colleague who could be an interesting resource for the stuckstuckSTUCK painter — Whitney of Creatively Fit ( Not an annoying creativity book/person, just a JUST DO IT already sort of person.

    anyway, I have to go make a living. must….leave…your…blog…..
    .-= Starla J. King´s last blog ..Does KIND belong in business =-.

  12. Shannon
    October 15, 2010 | 4:13 pm

    I love this. And my mind is starting to stir around doing another round of Artist’s Way, and here you come with this post!

    Ok universe, I’m getting the message…
    .-= Shannon´s last blog ..Comment Excitements- and a Question =-.

  13. Maryann Devine
    October 16, 2010 | 12:20 pm

    Fabeku, I love how you’re highlighting that creative blocks can be about something completely other than the scary blank canvas or sheet of paper in front of us. Thank you!

  14. David Cohen
    October 18, 2010 | 7:46 am

    Fabe-dude, I know you said in an earlier post that you’re really shy about showing your paintings, but I’m hoping that besides this being an amazingly insightful post, that it is also a sign that you’re working your way towards showing us this other part of you. I’m sure the inner dialog is never as fearless as the outer dialog you share with us through this blog seems, but I bet you’d find an avalanche of love waiting for you among your readers if you let us see the visual side of the soundey man. Just sayin’ 🙂
    .-= David Cohen´s last blog ..The wrong post – I made myself write =-.

  15. Fabeku
    October 20, 2010 | 2:22 pm

    @Dave – I was really stoked to get back to it too. I missed it like crazy.

    And that shift-ey shells carnival game seems like a brilliant metaphor for those itches that move around. I love that!

    @Barbara – All I can say is word on the intermingling-and-jangling thing. I’m with you. Totally.

    @Mary – See. This is why I could never attend a writer’s group. Every time I said readback I’d be going a Vanilla Ice impression. It’s virtually guaranteed that I’d get kicked out.

    @Skaja – Sweet! I’m glad the timing was good.

    @Bettina – I’m sorry for the hard that lead to the isolation. And is it ok if I let out a loud woot! for the just-found-the-itch part? Because that’s such a yay.

    @Chris – I think I got the idea about the materials from one of those stupid books. One more reason to think they’re totally annoying, yeah? (p.s. The photo isn’t Sid. Just a random Flickr kitty of much cuteness.)

    @Julie – I hope you’re able to get a little closer to the itch. I’ve got my digits crossed for you.

    @Elana – A bit like the sun. Beautifully said, you.

    @Starla – Me? A hijacker? Ruhroh Shaggy. I’m glad there was some usefulness here for you though.

    @Shannon – Mmmm. Synchronicity is so delicious, isn’t it?

    @Maryann – Totally welcome. For me, it was a big thing. It gave me another way to work through some major stuck. The head on approach totally wasn’t working for me.

    @David – Thanks man. I appreciate the support and the interest and the gentle nudge. I think I’m s-l-o-w-l-y headed that direction. (grin)

    Big thanks to all of you for stopping by and reading and sharing your awesome. Totally appreciated x 1000.

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