Artist & Writer, San Francisco Bay Area

Not Knowing How to Do Things

How does it feel to not know things?

If it’s a big stretch to answer that question, it’s one of these reasons:

(a) you lie to yourself that you know how to do everything
(b) you know you don’t know how to do things but prefer to not think about it
(c) you can’t remember a constant I-don’t-know-how life stage because you blocked it out
—ok fine there are additional reasons, like maybe:
(d) you freeze up when asked specific questions

But really! Sometimes, so much in life is a new experience, that the feeling of “not knowing how” can be so relentless and overwhelming. At least that’s what it’s like for me.

(BTW the top image is from some Inktober drawings I did… on Instagram in… October. 🙂. This Saltwater Crocodile claims to know how to do everything.)

I kind of bring this not-knowing on myself all the time. I constantly put myself in new situations of needing to learn how to do something, or how to be in a certain place, or where to go or what to do… . I don’t know if it’s the sheer variety of things I try out because of my insatiable curiosities (video editing! animation! website building! needle felting!), or if it’s because I am bad at keeping things straight in my head, but I really do constantly feel like I don’t know how to do things.

Case in point: Every voting day I am anxious about the process of the ballot and the pen and the machine it goes into and where do I stand? I do something wrong every time.*

Perhaps this is a learning disability thing? Brain injury thing? Brain fog from Ehlers-Danlos thing? Parent of a special needs kid thing? All of the above? Or… ?

Even so, I push forward all the time, I’m still searching for the way to, as an artist, say what I need to say, where I need to say it, all of that. This summer I joined SCBWI and I feel so at home in this group. That part is very good. But it’s still a continuance of putting myself in the I-don’t-know-how position because although I’m an artist, it takes work to know skills that are particular to illustrators. I’m a few months into it and I love the ways that I can translate my art-practice** into illustration. I already know how to work the creative process part of my brain, but I need to refine into the specificity that is illustration. How does one portray trepidation or fear? How does one convey eager anticipation? Besides all that, the publishing world is… a whole new place with all new people. I don’t even know how much I don’t know. All I know is, it’s a lot.

Anyway, to answer the question I initially posed, How does it feel to not know how?

It feels bad.

I don’t like it. But I keep doing it anyway because I keep thinking that on the other side of learning what I need to learn, there is something that is really really worth it. 

So right now, I am jumping into a fine-art-adjacent industry that is new to me.  I have been writing and making art since as long as I can remember. I’ve finished my first picture book manuscript (with a few others in the oven) and I’m finalizing a couple page spread illustrations to package for submission. It’s taken me all this time to get to the point where I’m trying out a thing that can be both image & word at the same time. Did I mention that I feel like I am slow at everything? For another time….

~ Maritza Ruiz-Kim

*this makes me think this habitual making of mistakes is something very Me. Ugh. Oh well.

**some art people hate the term “art practice” because it seems to haughtily elevate the work that artists do. Coz what are we, doctors? therapists? Those people have a practice. But I disagree about the use of practice being too fancy when paired with art or artist. I liken it more to a California vibe, like having a yoga or meditation practice. except without the closed eyes and focus on breathing. Better would be to liken it to the practice that happens with athletes. Because they do it every day. Except.. ugh wait, this is turning into a thing. Basically- I stand by the term “art practice”. It is what it is.



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