Etch A Sketch Life

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R

emember Etch a Sketch? It’s still around as a novelty, “vintage” toy these days, but when I was a kid, it’s what passed for high tech.

I was fascinated by this magical device with the big red frame and the two white knobs — vertical and horizontal — and those thin gray lines that followed the whirl of the dials.

At first I loved Etch A Sketch. And then I hated it.

Because here’s the problem: You cannot selectively erase on the Etch A Sketch. It’s an all or nothing proposition.

Those lines are created by aluminum powder inside, scraped away by a stylus that constantly touches the screen, so that it leaves a connected trail of every spot it’s been. Creating with an Etch a Sketch was so unlike drawing with crayons, where I could lift the tips off the page, leave gaps and spaces between strokes. When I drew with my Etch A Sketch, every jot and tittle had to touch what came before and after. For a perfectionist kid, this was like a cursive handwriting assignment from hell.

We all leave a trail of where we’ve been in this life, and not one of us is going to always, invariably, like everything that’s left behind.

But now I understand: That’s OK.

That’s hardly a truth worth a total reboot. I don’t believe any of us needs to VIGOROUSLY SHAKE our deepest selves. I think we need – I sure need! – to accept a few stray lines with grace, and keep drawing to see what becomes.

I sensed this shortcoming immediately, but it took a while for me to completely turn on my new toy. At first, I was so continually impressed that the thing worked. Then there was the challenge of translating the free-form ideas in my head onto a screen with only two directions… irresistibly hard! I got really good at diagonal lines, because they required manipulating both dials at once. First I perfected diagonals and, then… CIRCLES!

It took a few weeks for me to hit the wall. And it was the inability to backspace that finally did it.  Not even a little back. Etch-A-Sketch had no way to reverse and UNDO.

You may remember this frustration, too. When you were deep into a picture and some little stroke went astray. Your grip slipped. And your drawing point ended up far from where you wanted it. You could either leave a record of the mishap and backtrack across the screen — or shake the thing vigorously to wipe it ALL clean.

The only “erase” was a total reboot.

And, boy, did I do a lot of rebooting. I was forever starting over to wipe out a mistake. And, finally, I never started at all.

…I did mention I was a perfectionist, right? A very high-achiever. I mean, I was, when all the lines of my life converged just right.

Roughly 4 decades later, I’ve been rethinking my long-held grudge against the Etch A Sketch. My youthful disdain for mistakes has been tempered by making a lot of them. My deep need for tidy appearances has been replaced by a deeper sense of self. A self shaken & made messy, but never fully erased. And, somehow, instead, embraced.

I’ve figured out it was never was the device that bugged me so deeply. It was the idea of the thing. And the thing I really railed against was life. Unfair life, with all its messy bits, asides and gone-astrays, that we have to live through and leave records of.

When I was young, I hated the idea that there are no selective undos in life. We start to doodle, we learn to draw, and all along, all that we add goes right on top of what was already there… every jot and tittle connected to what comes before and after.

We can change direction and begin to redraw our pictures at any time — but we don’t get to wipe away every errant line. The bad parts; the good parts; they’re all just THERE. In the history we make. And since they’re all connected, we mostly can’t clear the bad without losing the good.

We all leave a trail of where we’ve been in this life, and not one of us is going to always, invariably, like everything that’s left behind.

But now I understand: That’s OK.

That’s hardly a truth worth a total reboot. I don’t believe any of us needs to VIGOROUSLY SHAKE our deepest selves. I think we need – I sure need! – to accept a few stray lines with grace, and keep drawing to see what becomes. No more backtracking on the talents and inclinations, on the impulses and intellect, vested in us directly from God. Just keep drawing. Because we were all made to sketch.

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