I often share the story that I was once told by my art teacher that I “made the most beautiful mistakes” he had ever seen. Looking back, I could have taken that all wrong. Instead, I wore it as a badge of honor. It was as if he had given me a place, some sort of value, a creative definition. Of course, that wasn’t all that I was—an artist who stumbled accidentally into her best creative work—but it felt like a perfect stake to claim. And so I did. And I have carried it with me ever since as a reminder that I can’t possibly see or even envision what might happen if I make room for mistakes and in turn, magic.
I recall him shaking his head in wonder and disbelief as I shared with him the end result of a project that appeared to be going terribly wrong. Until it didn’t. In fact, the process through it’s evolution went all right and to this day, the small series of Polaroid slides that we’re born from that process are some of my most prized pieces.
The assignment was simple really; shoot a small roll of Polaroid Instant Slide Film, place it into the little plastic contraption with a chemical filled processing cube, crank the handle and in a matter of minutes, processed slides would emerge. Only when it was my turn, my cube malfunctioned and didn’t process my film properly. I was so frustrated and disappointed, I almost threw it all away. Instead, my teacher encouraged me to see if I could salvage it. With nothing else to lose, I carefully pried open the plastic cube of chemicals to see if I could manually develop the slides. As I carefully dipped a swab into the gel, I remember a group of curious classmates gathering around me to see what my experiment might yield.
What happened next was pure photographic magic. As I wiped the black roll of slides with the wet swab, the thick, dark coating slowly lifted off and my images began to reveal themselves. It was thrilling! I noticed that the force of my hand moving the tool across the film was causing the surface to scratch but I was already headlong into a process that was far beyond my control so I just kept working. When it was all over, I had about a dozen of the most beautiful little masterpieces I had ever created.
You often hear people say that things sometimes work out better than they could have ever imagined. I know that was the case with my slides. And truthfully, I think it was because it didn’t happen at all as I imagined it. I believe with all my heart that the most beautiful stuff happens when we are open to seeing and embracing what develops despite our hard work and best laid plans. I wonder if our imagination is so limited, our dreams so tame, our ideas so restricted that the only way to bust out of the cubes we create is by the power of magic.
Whatever the case, there’s something out there working on our behalf, even when things seem dark, covered, broken, or unsalvageable. Allowing and acknowledging Divine intervention—magic—however we choose to define it, might just be the only way to create, live, and love beyond anything we could have ever imagined.