What a cross made of boxes taught me about authenticity

When I was home for the Easter holidays from university, I helped out a couple of years with the Holy Week Club at my then-church. It was mostly the kids from the Sunday School, and some of their friends, coming for a couple of hours each morning to do some activities, give their parents a break. Oh and learn about Easter.

One of the crafts we did each year was a cross made out of cardboard boxes, painted with different images from the Easter story (by the children), and then displayed in the church for the services.

One year, a particular woman, the Verger of the church, was helping.

The children duly painted the cross. While it was drying, she said she didn’t think it looked very good. Some of the images were messy, she said. People might not know what they were.

The kids who painted them will know, I told her. And it looks like children made it. Because children made it.

When I arrived at church the next day, the cross looked very different to how it had when I had left the day before.

The Verger announced to me that she just couldn’t stand that the artworks weren’t how they were ‘supposed’ to look, and had ‘neatened them up’.

It was monstrous of her. The work was no longer the children’s’. It had lost the most important qualities that any art or craft can have- authenticity (by which I mean it’s an expression of the person who made it), and love.

I talk a lot about not worrying about perfection on this blog. Because it’s important. When a child makes or paints something, they do it with joy, and they don’t worry about getting it absolutely perfect (at least not until they’re older). No matter how it looks, that makes it worth displaying.

Some of you reading this, I know, are frantically finishing your Christmas crafts. Just remember, if you’ve put love- for the person you’re giving it to, for the act of making something- into what you’re making, it’ll be beautiful.

Why being punk rock will save your life, or at least your crafting

It started young. I got 8/10 on a spelling test and had to practice the mistakes. I got 87% on a maths exam (my worst subject), “what did you get wrong?”. There were the parents evenings where all I got to hear were the ways my teachers thought I could improve, the incorrectly answered questions in quizzes and trivial pursuit which I am never, even to this day, allowed to forget. All of it piling up into one thing: perfectionism.

Let me tell you, my lovelies, perfectionism will kill you. Maybe not physically, but there’s another thing that goes hand in hand with it.

Fear.

If you can’t get it absolutely perfect everyone will judge you (says your perfectionism). Better not to try it at all if you can’t get it right (says your fear).

If you listen to those voices, you’ll never try anything, no matter how badly you want to. Wanting to do something plus those voices ends up with statements like “oh, I’m so envious of people who can do that, I could never do it.”

Stop right there. Yes, you can. And this is where a punk rock attitude will save you.

Fuck the fear. Fuck perfect. As my heroine Veronica Varlow would say, just rock that mother out.

You want to knit? Pick up the needles and give it a go. It doesn’t have to be complicated. Yes, you’re almost certainly going to make mistakes. And that’s OK.

Just tell yourself ‘this is totally punk rock’. It’s not a perfect scarf, it’s a punk rock scarf. The stitch count probably changes from row to row, and there are probably more than a few dropped stitches. It’s “distressed”. It’s channelling Vivienne Westwood- seriously, look in any fashion magazine and just see what people will pay for things covered in those artful ‘mistakes’.

But most of all, darlings, stop worrying about it! If you want to do it, do it, and make the mistakes because that’s how you learn. When you learn how not to make those mistakes you can try new things and make all new sets of mistakes.

I know very well that my sewing, my knitting, my paper craft, are far from perfect. But they’re good enough. Getting OK with that is so important, not just because it means you’re more willing to try things that interest you, but also for your mental health.

Don’t let anyone ever tell you you can’t do something, especially when it comes to craft. If you’re willing to give it a go, and you’re willing to practice and make a lot of gloriously mistake-ridden things, you can, and you will, do it.

So do it. Be punk rock- just fucking do it. And just see the amazing possibilities that unfold for you.

Confession time in the comments- what do you really want to try? If you could break through that fear and perfectionism, and just do something, what would it be? Tell me…and you might just find yourself being pointed to things that will help. Go on…don’t be afraid. Share it here!