The idea that we have to overcome our fears and amxieties isn’t new, but the reality that simply living in the 21st Century generates some level of it is—by definition, even—very new.
Humanity moves from threat to threat, along its geologically short timeline. The big things we’ve done are still a scratch on the full line of eons. There isn’t just monkey mind to deal with, there’s lizard- and insect-level leftovers in there somewhere. It’s easy to dredge up trepidation and feel like we should just hide.
So along with that ongoing series of anxieties, I try to think about opposing feelings, and when I’ve felt them. We almost always have both in our lives. Some moments when we felt larger than life, loved, connected, part of a thing greater than our individual selves. It makes it easier to notice the small, ongoing fears and know they, too, shall pass, if we let them.
Indulging your distractions can be a comfort, especially if anxiety or fear is creeping up on you. But since it can easily turn into an additive substitute for doing difficult things, I’m trying to balance my fears and my determination this year.
I’ll allow myself a bit of distraction, but only if I’ve started something: drawing, writing, class work. Usually, if I’ve started, my fear melts and I tend to keep working for a while.
This goes back to the notion that we need to be making amazing things. No. We just need to make things, and some will have the opportunity to become amazing. We need to give ourselves permission to do some bad work, and let time do the rest. Make some terrible drawings, call on that kid energy, when it didn’t matter a damn you didn’t know what you were doing. Make the work, balance the fear, keep moving.
It’s sort of secret because it’s not talked about much. Artists who are just beginning to learn how to do what they want to do usually have periods of elation and frustration as they practice and discover. The funny—or scary?—thing is that experienced artists still have those phases when they try new directions.
Novelists, painters, musicians: if they’re beginning a new book, series, album, go through that push and pull of feelings, too, even though they might have done it many times.
The fear of the unknown isn’t just fear of failure. It’s primal. Creating truly new things than you’ve made before puts us into a weird and vulnerable state. That’s okay to feel, it’s normal. Just something to be aware of, that we all have those stages of growth. If we’re lucky—and willing to expose ourselves all over again.
Saying “it could be worse” can invalidate emotions and circumstances. It not that you want to try to always be positive. But “things can only get better” isn’t superior. That’s unrealistic and possibly harmful, too.
But if you say one, remember the other is just as valid. It’s a tempering move, something to brace against while you tackle to tough, real world with your soft feelings and ideas. Feel your feelings and keep moving along, move forward, move even though you’re afraid. Make stuff and make the next stuff better than this stuff. Sometimes that’s enough.
You can’t always tell if the path you’re walking—metaphorically, as usual—is productive or even really going somewhere. But sometimes it’s clearer. Ironically, the paths that get darker are often dead ends, you should be seeing some light approaching.
I’m not against the white light on the road to Damascus, or lightning strikes of epiphany, but they just don’t happen very often and not to very many of us. Most of the time, your creative journey is downright confusing and hard to see. It’s usually hardest to see at the beginning, though. If things are getting murkier, harder to interpret (for you, forget about explaining your work to others for this), or circular, it’s probably time to abandon it.
It seems counter-intuitive, because we’re often told we should stick it out in life. Successful people talk about the hard work that got them where they are, and how only losers quit. But you’ll know most of the time whether the road you’re on is getting you somewhere. You’ll be able to see, feel, and/or hear it. It’s not necessarily that things should be becoming easier. Just about everything worthwhile takes a lot of effort. But there are very few artistic gems that sparkle suddenly from a confusing and muddy place.
Don’t be afraid to start again. That’s your secret weapon as an artist: you can jump off the current path to a new one any time you want. You try things with as little fear as you can muster, but similarly you should feel free to walk a new road when you hit a dead end.
I’ve been working my way through Jerry Saltz’s “How to Be an Artist.” It’s full of good things to carry away, in typically acerbic Saltz-style. There’s plenty to think about—and things to do!—within his 33 rules.
One of his early rules is just to work. You have to work to be an artist. You don’t have to be great, or even very good. But if you aren’t creating. . . something, you’re not what you say you want to be. The habit is one way to keep creating, to make it just part of your routines, the stuff you just have to do every day.
And here’s to overcoming fear to become what you want to be. It’s intimidating, starting out. Its also worth the cost in time and energy.
We’re getting pretty good at fake-scaring ourselves. Movies and series and books that terrorize us, temporarily.
But being scared of bigger things is kind of helpful. At least, it can be to your practice. Helplessness, stagnation, despair, apathy—I think these are worthy of our fear, if it leads to our doing something against those. Your practice is your expression of your humanity. It brings a part of your essence into being. Into the world comes a new thing, and we need it.
I think it used to be fear. It still is a huge problem, but most of us face distraction to a degree never seen before.
Like calling yourself a writer because you write, if you make stuff, you’re a creator, or an artist. That’s it! No one can tell you when you’re allowed to be one, and by opposite turn, no one will stop you from not making. Indulge in distraction too long and it’s procrastination, then blockage, and finally you aren’t a creator any more.
It isn’t always easy, but it is a simple path. The most basic identity comes from what we do, and thus what we are.
NaNoWriMo excerpt, there’s a bunch of jargon building up in this, and I’m wary of such things. But it’s a first draft, judgment should wait:
Long abandoned by the corporate enclave founders, there were scattered opportunists who’d barricades themselves a few independent co-ops and communities, but they liked to stay isolated and wouldn’t exactly be open to a stranger and his bear, boosted or no. He knew of a small group somewhere south of the bridge that Manola had friends among, but that was it. He’d have to try to feel them out with his chatbit and see if he could get the message through a friendly wavelane.
Ahead of them, jumbled walls and the few buildings that still stood, open-eyed with glassless windows. Bluesong imagined hordes of people waiting for them, hidden behind the walls and burned out columns of temporary shelters. It was probably unlikely, he knew, but he couldn’t stop his imagination conjuring. But they were at the middle with no movement or sound from the other side. Only the slow rush of the river below them made a sound above their own feet, so he pressed on. They were just about to the other side, and Bluesong about to tell Ya-Ya he needed an access point, when the alarm sirens started pulsing behind the walls of Pearl City
About the Author
Marcus is a maker of things and thoughts. He currently resides in Portland, Oregon.