The Rolling-Ruler Concept

When I was little I loved to draw. My mom and dad, wanting to encourage this activity, were always getting me different types of “supplies” that I might use to create my masterpieces. One of the things they bought for me when I expressed some interest in it (after watching the TV Infomercial of course) was the “Rolling Ruler.” That was its name… and that’s exactly what it did. It was a ruler with a roller inside of it so that you could not only make perfectly straight lines, but perfectly SPACED straight lines.

In high school I took this nifty little tool with me to my art classes and I began using it on quite a regular basis. Before long I was using it for ALL of my art projects. Everything I drew was black and white and comprised of straight lines. I’d draw lines closer together and with heavier pens or markers to make things appear dark and then I would draw light, spaced-out lines to make certain areas appear lighter.

One particular day during my senior year, my art teacher was watching over my shoulder as I created a cityscape with my rolling ruler. It was then that he uttered ONE sentence that would set a course for the rest of my life. He said: “Joanna, you really should consider going into Commercial Art since you seem to like things so clean and precise.”

That was all it took. I was a senior. I knew I would be going to college. But I had NO idea what I should study once I got there. So I looked for a reputable school that offered Graphic Design as a major. (Graphic Design was called Commercial Art at one time) I found a school—Bowling Green State University—I applied, was accepted and started the Graphic Design program in the Fall of ’93.

I graduated exactly 4 years later, moved out west, got married, secured a great job in my field, bought a home, and began building a life. I wasn’t aware of it at the time, but I was no longer using the Rolling Ruler as merely a drawing tool… I had begun applying what a dear friend of mine would later call the “Rolling Ruler Concept” to all facets of my life.

You see, what attracted me so much to the Rolling Ruler as an artistic device… was the control. Hello, my name is Joanna, and I am a control freak. I love precision and I crave perfection. With evenly-spaced, parallel straight lines everything ALWAYS makes sense. There is neatness and order, and I am the one making it happen. I am the one drawing the perfectly straight lines with the help of my handy little tool. Nothing EVER goes wrong, nothing is EVER crooked, everything is ALWAYS as it should be. As an aside, do you notice the use of all of the superlatives here? Heavy use of superlatives is another characteristic of textbook control-freakism.

At this point I should mention that if you are one of those go-with-the-flow-totally-not-a-control-freak-type-people… good for you! I envy you… but this writing will have little meaning to you whatsoever. On the other hand, if you’re anything like me, you understand exactly what I’m talking about.

There is a real problem that arises when one tries to apply a RULER of any kind to their life. Trust me, I know. For awhile I had the ILLUSION of being in control because things pretty much went the way I had planned them to… until they didn’t. And when they didn’t, my ruler went flying… and I was lost. I learned that the ruler didn’t work on other people’s behavior, it didn’t work on biology, it didn’t work on medical science’s intervention, it didn’t work on matters of faith and it didn’t work on external influences.

It was inevitable that at some point in time that ruler was going to get wrenched from my tightly-clenched fist and cast into the wind. Why is that? Because Life is messy. And since we’re talking about art, I would say that if Life were a painting, it would be a Jackson Pollock. All colorful and noisy and chaotic with spatters of paint, shards of glass and grains of sand and dirt tossed this way and that.

I’ve learned the hard way that Life doesn’t follow straight, evenly-spaced parallel lines. Life’s lines are crooked and bent and swirly and jagged and they cross over one another and collide unexpectedly and they are usually too wide, too thin, too short or too long. But even more important to note is the fact that WE are not in control. Many times I have exhausted myself trying to MAKE this “Rolling Ruler Concept” work in my life, but it won’t matter how hard I try… I have discovered that much of life was and is and will continue to be beyond my control… though I still fight it… A LOT.

One of the most difficult things I have to do on a regular basis is lay the ruler down… take a deep breath, step back, say a prayer and watch as the masterpiece that is my life reveals itself to me. Crooked lines and all.