Happy Accident

It’s as predicable as the trees losing their leaves in fall. At some point during any given art activity, one or more of the women at the Lighthouse will declare her art work a disaster. Some rush to throw it away. Others sit helpless in frustration. Because we know that impatience, a general inability to tolerate frustration and an inclination toward instant gratification are issues the women work with during their year-long substance abuse recovery program at the Lighthouse, we frequently introduce the idea of “happy accident” – an opportunity to create something better than our original intent out of something that seemed to be a complete disaster. And it’s always so helpful when my art partner or I can model a “happy accident” experience for them.

Well, I got to model a whopper of a “happy accident” at the last therapeutic art workshop. Several weeks prior the women had created some wonderful written pieces about shoes that told stories about their owners from the shoes’ perspective. I compiled those with a series written a year earlier by another group of Lighthouse women who lived at the Rose Ave facility. A master set was carefully formatted and printed at home then taken to a FedEx copier with all the bells and whistles. If all went well, the double sided copies would fold into a stylish twenty page signature to be stitched into the water colored book covers we painted the following week. If all went well was the operative phrase…

I requested assistance from one of the employees about making two sided copies. She expertly obliged. I punched in my desired choices and printed away. Yes, it was printing in color. Yes, it was two sided. Yes, it was sorting into the prescribed sets. Then a sequence of “disasters” struck. When I went to remove my credit card from the copy machine, I was thunderstruck to see the final amount. It was nearly $100! Way more than I’d expected. Apparently I had pressed the all color option rather than black/white and color.  A financial disaster that all but wiped out our art supply funds.

Then when I began folding the two sided sheets into signatures I had a moment of stunned disbelief. Yes, each sheet was two sided, but the second side was printed upside down! I hadn’t noticed that the young woman had repositioned the second page 180 degrees when she inserted it in the copier. Every other page – half the book was printed upside down. A printing disaster compounded the financial disaster. And I couldn’t afford to reprint all the copies.  How was I going to turn this into a “happy accident???”

Well, inspired divine intervention always helps. Sometimes it arrives as unusual cognitive associations. The women had water colored lovely fall leaf pictures by painting the remaining negative spaces with progressively darker warm colors as leaves were added. We intended to use these beautiful pieces as the book covers for the compiled writing pieces “These Shoes Were Made for Talking.” The fall leaf theme didn’t really have anything to do with “talking shoes” but I loved the art activity and decided to do it anyway. In the long run, that decision helped set the stage for a “happy accident” that would redeem the printing disaster.

In the original set of pages, the final page was blank. And that’s where inspiration entered in. I decided to intentionally print the following upside down on the back page.



read on…

A “happy accident” was under way. Yet a few additional disasters were still messing with my happy. My computer began having psychotic episodes printing all five pages of a document when I had carefully selected print current page. That spoiled a number of those insanely expensive color copies. Then the printer burped blue ink all over more copies. Frankly, it was maddingly frustrating and time consuming, but I never lost my cool. (No accident…more divine intervention.)

Since I’ve reached a point of being slightly more knowledgeable about my computer and printer than my husband, I had to put on my big girl pants and slowly solve the problems myself. It was a good lesson in perseverance and empowerment…and one I had fun dramatically sharing with the ladies at the Lighthouse the next day. Interwoven in my retelling of the “happy accident” saga were all the applicable life lessons we work with in recovery: dealing with frustration and anger, issues of perfectionism, the temptation to quit, overcoming failure, seeing how the negative came be used redemptively. It had all fallen together.

Have you ever experienced a “happy accident” – a disaster that turned your world upside down but somehow got redeemed? If one of your shoes were to tell that story, what would it say?

Ooh, can’t resist…. Leaf your comments for us to enjoy.

2 comments to Happy Accident

  • Joyce Lombard

    WOW!!! Aren’t you good! And with narrative, too. This one was a cliff hanger….brilliant. I’m sure when I recover from your description, I’ll think of something, especially in my artistic life.

    Joyce L.

  • Deanna J Bowling

    On almost all of my sewing projects, they tend to take on a life of their own, and wind up teaching me what they want to look like. Maybe these qualify as ‘happy accidents’.

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