Playing with Fear
"And the world cannot be discovered by a journey of miles, no matter how long but only by a spiritual journey, a journey of one inch, very arduous and humbling and joyful, by which we arrive at the ground at our own feet, and learn to be at home."
My whole life, I've been surrounded by artists and their creations. My dad is a painter and photographer, and he has a production company specialized partly in photographing artwork. He had his business in our house until I was 22, so the local art world played an active role in my development. The constant shuffle of artists in and out of my home, the walls lined with paintings and sculptures, at times being sat in front of the camera to help measure the light, all certainly impacted the way I view my world. My sister is an excellent painter and sculptor, and I know this creative nature is a part of my DNA too. However until recently, I've chosen to express my creativity in a private journal. My passion for writing I've kept hidden, my curiosities in the visual arts I've never fully allowed myself to express. Despite the ease with which I welcomed the creative expression of others into my world, I'd cultivated a fear of sharing my creations, of developing my own talents and passions openly. I've realized that the dissection of this fear is critical in order to fully show up in my own life.
This truth began unfolding for me this past week. For whatever reason, last week became an accidental "Inspirational Women Week" for me, starting with hearing a powerful speech by Dr. Bernice King about the importance of sacrifice. As the week progressed I ended up attending an event where several women told their stories of being released from prison and changing their lives, and then another event where a woman told her story of escaping sexual exploitation in Portland, and her road to healing. These women's experiences were all so different, and my own experience felt incomparable. However, it struck me that these women were all united in that they were standing before me to tell stories of pushing through fear, and for some reason I was meant to hear all of them. I finished the week by stumbling upon a talk by Elizabeth Gilbert which seemed to perfectly connect this week of female inspiration to my desire to untangle my own creative fears. This talk was titled "Women, Creativity, and Moving Past Fear."
A connection I hadn't made before listening to Elizabeth Gilbert's talk was that women seem to have greater difficulty taking up space. She discusses the fact that for so much of history, women weren't allowed to claim their own identities, their own things, even their own money. She says that men often have an "arrogance of belonging," this subconscious ease of showing up, of producing and sharing and taking up space unapologetically. Women seem to have greater difficulty claiming this right. We tend to apologize for taking up the time and space of others, and make ourselves small in our chairs. We do things like hide our artistic efforts for fear that they aren't good enough. Now, I recognize that this creative fear is not solely a female struggle. However, I would argue that my own hesitation to claim my right to create can be linked to the fact that I haven't cultivated this "arrogance of belonging" that seems more inherent in creative men I've known.
This hesitation is also linked to a sense of perfectionism. I heard a quote by Ira Glass the other day where he talks about the gap between your taste and your abilities. He says people get into creative work because they have good taste. So in the beginning their taste is good, but their skills haven't become fine tuned enough to meet their own expectations for art. A lot of people quit at that point, or never even start because they know their work will initially be a disappointment to them. I know that this point is one I've had much fear of, showing others my creative efforts when they aren't as good as I know a million other people's already are. But this is also a life process that inspires me most to see others embracing. The women I heard speaking this week were all talking about being in a vulnerable place. Changing their lives, learning their own worth, grabbing the right to show up and take up the maximum amount of space. Pushing through these human processes, and sharing the experience with others is actually more important than ever achieving any artistic excellence. The admittance of imperfection, that swallowing of pride and embracing of disappointment IS the artistic process, and the key to pushing toward any new accomplishment.
"The work wants to be made, and it wants to be made through me."
Through encouragement from many vulnerable voices this year, I have allowed myself to begin not only admitting these fears, but finding ways of coming into communion with them. Elizabeth Gilbert has a magical thought that ideas hover and swirl around the universe separate from us, but seeking human labor in order to come into existence. Humans are the only species that can bring an idea to fruition through their labor, but so often when these ideas ask to be created, we say no. She says "inspiration delights in working with us," and when we do say yes, we establish a relationship with it. Like any relationship, this can be a friendly communion or a love-hate, kicking and screaming kind of relationship. She says to be patient when we can't express our ideas quite as we envision them, to sit gently with our ideas. They are separate, complex beings that are not trying to torture us, they just take time to be fully understood. I think that not only must we be patient with our ideas, we must also find patience with our creative selves.
In my journey to know myself fully, as a woman and as a creative, I have arrived at the importance of being open with my vulnerability in these identities. The acceptance of imperfection, and the admittance of fear allow tensions to relax. I become comfortable rather than frustrated with the knots and tangles in my brain. Through this process I create space for myself to have fun with failure, to play with the process of showing up to my own curiosities fully, however imperfect the result may be at first. The women who inspired me this week inspired me because they showed up. Bold in their own experiences, they stretched themselves and got uncomfortable for the sake of sharing their stories. Due in part to their encouraging efforts, I have allowed myself to begin boldly welcoming my own creativity, as I've always done for others. While my latest discovery is just one innocent drop in the sea of human experiences, I hope that sharing it will continue that flow of encouragement I have received this week, and spread the call to show up fully to passions, new endeavors, struggles, and fears, not to tackle them, but to play!