The everyday and the ordinary

[This is a guest post from the wickedly talented, Mr Michael Nobbs]

I was 32 when I learned to draw. Thirty-two and VERY tired.

At the end of the 1990s I was feeling very ill. I’d been struggling to keep my life together for what felt like years. I was in a cycle of coming down with flu-like symptoms, taking time off work (I was a self-employed writer and publisher so not working meant not earning) for long enough to feel well enough to work again, and then falling ill again. The cycle went round and round in ever decreasing circles until I was ill more than I was well, and eventually just ill. After six months of visiting doctors and consultants I was diagnosed with ME/CFS and told to stop work.

Suddenly I wasn’t a writer and a publisher anymore, I was simply an ill person. For the first few months I mostly rested and spent a lot of time in bed; I watched the world flow by and didn’t feel part of it. The relief I felt at finding out what was wrong with me, and having the stress of trying to fight on lifted, soon changed to frustration and boredom. I began to feel lower than I’d felt when I had been struggling to keep things together.

Then, from nowhere, I decided to pick up a pen and a sketchbook. Not from nowhere exactly. In the long quiet hours of the morning (I tended to wake up very early, I still do) I began to think back over my life, about the twists and turns we all make along the way, and began to wonder how things could have been if I’d made different choices. I remembered how I had looked on longingly at my friends who had decided to study art at school, while I concentrated on more academic subjects. How lovely the sketchbooks they carried around with them looked. How at times I’d even bought sketchbooks of my own — not to draw in, but rather to write, or just stick favourite pictures in.

One day, when I was feeling a little more energetic than usual and had managed to get dressed and clean my teeth, I went to the local art shop and bought myself a sketchbook and a pen. I bought a pen rather than a pencil because I had a vague memory of being told that if you wanted to learn to draw it was better to do so with a pen because you couldn’t rub out the lines, you just had to make them and accept them.

Because I was too tired to go anywhere I began to draw the things right in front of me: teacups, groceries, cooking utensils, my medication. I found I loved drawing the everyday and the ordinary; making a small drawing gave me a huge sense of accomplishment. Drawing helped give me a manageable structure to organise my day around.

I was 32, I had begun to draw and I was a little less tired.

* * * * *

Michael Nobbs is a full-time artist, blogger and tea drinker (not necessarily in that order). He is the author of the popular blog Sustainably Creative and regularly publishes, The Beany, an illustrated journal of his life. In the late 1990s he was diagnosed with ME/CFS and over the last decade has learned a lot about sustaining a creative career with limited energy. He recently published an ebook on the subject, Sustainable Creativity. He tweets most days about drawing and keeping things simple.

5 responses
  1. Katherine

    Whoa…thanks for this post Susannah & Michael. As I was reading the very intro, I thought “this sounds really familiar.” I too have CFS & it’s been a very frustrating path these last 3 years to getting well…still not 100% there yet. I’m happy to be introduced to another resource on the subject & look forward to exploring his blog & ebook for more info (and hopefully inspiration)!

  2. Helen

    Brilliant and inspiring. I am in a similar situation myself. It is great to hear from Micheal, his optimism and creativity are an inspiration. Life does not have to lived only one way, our limits can pull us down but they also allow insight and opportunities that we would not see otherwise.

  3. Nina

    Yep, I have CFS too and hadn’t seen Michael’s blog before – thanks for bringing it to my attention!

  4. Zac

    Nice blog. Sorry to see you have ME/CFS, too. You make me want to pick up sketching, too. If you keep on blogging about sketching, I might just do that.

  5. Meg Roper

    Thanks Michael, and Susannah for being a connector. I have since read most entries on Michael’s blog and realise that in the last years I have shifted to twenty minutes devoted to Important Work, i.e. me-work rather than them-work. I am not an ME/CFS sufferer but have been suffering from chronic pain and in this context appreciate the delights of micro.

Comments are closed.