Have you ever heard the analogy that life is like a blank canvas? And you, the painter, equipped with all the colours and brushes of your own unique traits and abilities, are able to paint on the canvas whatever you wish.
Some see their tools as insufficient for the idea growing in their hearts. Don’t focus on the lack. Use what you have now until something better comes along. The longer you hesitate, the less time you have to put colours down on your canvas.
Some glance from their canvas to look at others, and in doing so, consider their present creation inconsequential. Don’t compare yourself to others. No one can paint on your canvas but you.
The examples of these metaphors are numerous, but there is only one I wish to focus on today. And that is the canvas in the frame.
Some people find that their circumstances or positions have set before them a blank canvas already inside a frame. Life is stretched out before you already pre-determined in ways which you may see as out of your control. Family expectations, cultural regulations, workplace status, financial restrictions – whatever the guise, to you it is as it is. A frame. A limitation. A cage.
Kyoya Ootori, one of the primary characters from the romantic comedy anime, Ouran High School Host Club, has the perfect example of a life already set inside a frame. Kyoya is secretive, calculating, and highly intelligent, and is the third son of an extremely wealthy and influential family. His older brothers are also smart and intelligent, and have set the standards high both in academics and reputation.
Kyoya’s father is very strict and puts a lot of pressure on Kyoya not to stand under the shadow of his brothers’ achievements. He even goes so far as to say that the only way Kyoya will impress him is if he outshines his brothers in all aspects. Kyoya deeply desires to supersede his older siblings in order to make his father proud, but he also has respect for them, and will not disrupt their efforts in order to better his own situation. Hence, his life-canvas in a frame.
Below is a snippet taken from a scene in episode 24 of the anime.
Kyoya is immersed in his studies. His older sister, Fuyumi, lingers in his room, attempting to (unnecessarily) sort his piles of clothes back into their draws.
Fuyumi: Listen Kyoya. I know Dad’s really strict, and he puts a lot of pressure on you. But you’re different from our older brothers. Remember, he doesn’t expect as much from you, so it’s okay if you take it easy sometimes.
Kyoya: I know. I’ll never be successor to the Ootori family. I’m not like my older brothers. All they had to do was follow the path that had been promised to them–a path that keeps heading upward. It’s because I’m the third son that I can’t relax. I’ll surpass father’s expectations of me, and I will respect my brothers and never step on their toes in the process.
Kyoya drifts away into his own thoughts, picturing his life as though it really was a canvas.
*How can I demonstrate my abilities without exceeding the limits of being the third son? I have a daunting task. I must paint the perfect picture on a canvas that has already been placed inside a magnificent frame.*
Due to his standing, and the desire to please his father, Kyoya goes out of his way to make connections in all the right places and is very polite to those in power, or who are related to it. Generally, he appears egotistical and standoffish, and puts up a façade that he only helps others if there is something to gain. Then, by the request of his father, he ‘befriends’ the new transfer student (and sole heir to an exceptionally grand estate), Tamaki Suoh … and his whole world gets turned upside down.
Tamaki is flamboyant, whimsical, dramatic, changeable, unreservedly vain, and more often than not, quite idiotic (actually, sometimes idiotic is an understatment). In other words, the complete polar opposite to Kyoya.
Through the various trials of trying to accommodate Tamaki by very nearly bending over backwards to appease his curiosity and fulfil his requests, Kyoya is launched over the brink of his emotional indifference. His manifested frustration is probably the first time he’s visibly shown any raw passion.
And then, during an unexpected (and secretly unwelcomed) visit from Tamaki to his home, Kyoya comes face-to-face with an incredible revelation.
The following is also a snippet from a scene in episode 24 of the anime.
Tamaki: So, Kyoya, are you the successor to the Ootori family estate?
Kyoya: *Is this guy actually trying to pick a fight with me?!* (Outwardly retains his calm countenance) There’s no way that’ll happen. My brothers–they’re the first in line. I’m sure I’ll just end up working for them some day.
Tamaki: Really? That’s a surprise. Maybe I’m wrong, but I get the feeling you want more than that. I mean, when I look in your eyes I can tell you’re not happy with your situation. I’m surprised you’d give up so easily.
Kyoya: (Finding it increasingly difficult to rein in his irritation) This has nothing to do with whether I’m giving up or not. It’s just the way things are. You wouldn’t understand because you’ll be successor to your family’s estate without having to lift a finger.
Tamaki: It’s not certain I’ll be the Suoh family successor. My grandmother doesn’t like me. So if things stay the way they are now, then I’m not the heir. I’m not anything. …
Tamaki then proceeds to say he’s actually not that interested in inheriting his father’s business. He feels he’s too good-looking to let his features go to waste, and also begins to babble about starting an animal reserve instead. By now, basically every button of Kyoya’s has been pushed, and he can’t stand it anymore. In his anger he upturns the coffee table and launches himself onto Tamaki.
Kyoya: Shut up, Tamaki! Do you expect me to believe that crap?! How can you possibly give up on being your family’s successor so easily? You have no idea what it’s like for me. You actually have a chance at it–all you have to do is try! Take advantage of your fortunate circumstances. Don’t you realise the position that you’ve been blessed with?! I can’t believe you. (He realises from Tamaki’s earlier observation, that he’s seen right through his façade of being content within his framed canvas) Damn it! Who the hell are you?!
*You’re such an idiot! How can you see through me?*
Tamaki: Hold on. It sounds to me like you’re the one who isn’t trying. If you really want to surpass your brothers, then you can do it. But I think the one who’s given up here … is you.
The pin drops. The revelation hits. So does the irony. The truth is–framed canvas or not–the only one holding Kyoya back is Kyoya, himself. Kyoya laughs with a kind of weightless abandon. The barriers between them crumble down, and from that point on, theirs becomes a true friendship.
And something else happens, too. Kyoya understands that the frame is no longer the limit.
Tamaki: … So you’re finally showing your true colours.
So, if you feel like your canvas is already set inside a frame and you are unhappy about how that barrier is limiting you, I have good news. The frame will bar you only as much as you allow it. There are no limits to what you can do and be, if you want it bad enough. Your greatest desire determines your outcome.
Dream big. Dream true. What colours your canvas can only be done by you.