Friday, December 27, 2013

The First Steps are Beautiful

In my four years as an Art Teacher, my most significant challenge was to convince young men and women that they did, in fact, have something unique to offer - themselves - and that their unique self-offering was absolutely worth sharing with the world.

Easier said than believed. 

Humans are hilariously inconsistent. Within each of us, there's this perpetual tension between rationally-accepted propositions and their emotionally-experienced opposites. I know with my head that the unique coagulation that is me is something precious and beautiful and worth expressing, just for the sake of expressing. But in my heart (or bowels, or whatever), I often feel it's just not so.

My biggest creative fear is that I've got nothing new to add. Which is to say that the things I write, paint, photograph, and draw don't really matter. Which is to say that don't matter. Which is to say that I am not significant.

This feeling immediately raises Big Questions. If I'm not significant - if I don't have anything unique or worthwhile to contribute - then what is my life for? Why am I here? How does any of this matter?

This feeling spirals in on itself, coalescing into a generalized fear that is rooted, I think, in an emotional understanding of my own finitude... my own inevitable death.

This feeling is, I think, one of the primary catalysts for religious inquiry, and for any sort of exploration into the Nature of Things. Uncertainty (particularly regarding personal significance) is scary, and so we go to great lengths to remove it - telling and internalizing a story that explains the world in a way that situates us in it, giving us significance and at least the illusion of certainty. Everybody does this, often without knowing.

In some ways, it's useful. In others, it can be destructive and downright scary. For example: racism, nationalism, and absolutism of all kinds.

It is possible, however, to be aware of this proclivity and attempt - in small ways, over time - to reject it.

I think a good word for this sort of thing is humility.

Humility, at its best, has one, main function: it is a fear-killer. Humility acknowledges finitude. It acknowledges that I am small and weak and will one day die. It acknowledges that I can see and understand precious little. But somehow - in some way that I likewise can't comprehend - humility refuses to despair. Instead, it redirects the emotions of fear and despair into action... creative action.

Humility recognizes fear and it smiles at it. It says, "Oh there you are. I know you. You're not so bad - not really. Because as small and as weak and ineffective as I am, I nonetheless am capable of something. And so, by golly, that something is what I will do."

This is not an answer.

I have no answers.

When have I ever given you any (satisfying) answers?

No, this is more a question that points in an interesting, creative direction.

What I am saying is this: if you try to run away from your fear, it will chase you down, curb-stomp you, and leave you for dead. Instead, do something irrational: walk toward the fear. That's where your humility lies. That's where you'll find your emotional freedom - in the tenuous, poetic, humble emotional truth of your uncertainty.

Today, this means that I will move toward my fear and start writing a script I do not know how to write. A script I suspect that I am incapable of writing.

The first steps are terrifying.
The first steps are beautiful.

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