Beauty in the Chaos

Outside the lines my mother told me. That’s this month’s theme. Usually the phrase is associated with a child and their coloring book. The phrase references the lines, rules, expectations given by the book being ignored by children. They color in their own way, however they want. Strange, how as one gets older this concept becomes foreign. As of this moment in time, I am living through what is widely considered a pivotal moment in life. My freshman year of college.

I went into my first semester grasping desperately onto the “college lines.” I decorated my simple dorm room to the best of my ability with pictures of memories I craved to return to; I used my one cup coffee maker and decorative mug from my mom ; I went to social events when I could muster up the courage within me. But what I failed to consider is life doesn’t progress within the lines.

We think experiences are universal, that everyone feels and exists the same way. Even in the most creative spaces, artists are often given rules to follow, constraints to create within. There is a technique when painting to create a grid of lines on an image you mean to recreate and then on the canvas you’re using. It is supposed to help you proportion and scale the piece as close to perfection as possible, help you map how and where details should be. Painting, one of the most out-of-the-box, unexpected, inventive mediums, becomes limited within the expectation of perfection.

To the outside eye, I have gone through my first year the same as anyone other freshman—the staple hard-working, friendly, fun college student. But anyone I’ve shown my coloring book knows that I finished my first semester with zero friends, I spent the majority of my time in my room, neglecting to do my assignments, struggling to pass my classes. Not because I didn’t care, but because I was lost.

I couldn’t find my way through my sorrow for how everything that mattered most felt so far from reach, my hatred for what my life had become, and my desperation for things to change. How mortified I was!

“Why am I the broken piece?” I cried on the phone to my mom. “Everyone else is doing what they’re supposed to—making friends, getting 4.0 GPAs…”

Living inside the lines. Even now I have only made one good friend and it has been a struggle to find the strength to “successfully” finish my first year.

My life has been wildly outside the lines I’d hoped for in the past few months, but living successfully is subjective and life inside the lines is impossible.

As an artist, I am aware of the irony of hoping for a life inside the lines. It is not lost on me, but the reality of lessons learned and character built isn’t either. Nobody can truly live inside the lines, not If they’re honest with themselves. But one can see the beauty in the chaos and be grateful for the art made in a life outside the lines, even if it isn’t particularly pretty.

*paintings by Libby Johnson

Libby Johnson is a Graphic Design Major at Grand Canyon University. She enjoys looking at the world and expressing herself through whatever creative medium she can get her hands on including painting, drawing, and photography. She hopes for a future that allows much room for this part of herself.