It is possible I seem like a very confident, secure person. I often stand up and say what I am thinking. I bravely forge forward into areas in which I have no clue what I’m doing. But I’m still scared. Insecure. Most of the time.
I’ve learned to embrace this fear and work with it. A lifetime of habitual procrastination has taught me that if you hold on you can survive just about any self-made crisis, but that doesn’t erase the feeling of fear when I do something I haven’t tried before.
And I have a very hard time trusting my instincts when it comes to new endeavors. What you see me doing is a small fraction of what I secretly want to try.
The challenge for me is that when I have a gut feeling, I’m nearly always alone. I float ideas to see if other people think they are good, but they don’t. So I back off. Over and over and over. But looking over my lifetime of insecurity – I wonder. What would it be like if I just went ahead and trusted myself? What if I didn’t wait for someone to tell me my work was good enough, my idea had merit, my plan might work?
Lately I’ve just been going with my instincts and even though I’m braced for the inevitable failures, things seem to be working out okay. So, I’m trying to trust that inner voice a little more each day.
The other day I was sitting in the dentist chair and a song came on the radio that I had never heard before because apparently I’ve been living under a rock. (On a related note, my husband finally believes me when I say I missed nearly all of the 90s because I was running a small business and my tiny black-and-white tv only picked up three channels…) Anyway, the song was P. Diddy’s “I’ll be Missing You” and I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. It was a complete ripoff of “I’ll Be Watching You” by the Police. Of course, I later googled it to get up to speed on all the copyright details, and that isn’t really the point.
The point is, I don’t like to imitate. I like to do my own work. Yes, I may never do anything wildly original, but I don’t want to just do what someone else has done the way they have done it.
But the problems is – when you start to realize what’s out there – what is original? Every story has been told. Every idea has been stated. Every picture painted. And when you start to do your own version, let’s be honest – it is probably not even as good.
This thought stalls me out completely – often.
So, why tell the story that’s already been told? Why create art derived from an idea you got from someone else?
Because it is your way of communicating with your own circle of influence.
If I share an idea with you in a blog post that I totally got from Seth Godin…well, you might not be reading Seth Godin. And because I am discussing the idea from my perspective, it will resonate with you in a unique way. And if you want to discuss it with me further, it is much easier for you to engage me in a conversation than him. If I draw a comic panel that is reminiscent of a Lynn Johnson (For Better Or Worse) storyline, it is still my own life I am talking about, and you get a window into my world and a new connection between us because you have experienced the same feelings.
Your art matters because it is yours. Your spin on a familiar subject is important because it is your way of communicating with your own people. My dear friend Suzy has called me her “favorite artist,” which I have struggled to wrap my mind around. How can I be anyone’s favorite artist? I’m solidly mediocre on a good day. But you don’t have to be the best. You just have to do the work, and be brave enough to put something into the world to make a meaningful connection.
I always hated making my bed. I was taught the “right” way to make the bed – with hospital corners, the way my mother and grandmother did it. And I NEVER EVER EVER made my bed. Through my teens and 20s, and at least some of my 30s. Never. Ever.
Then sometime in my 30s I watched Martha Stewart on tv make a bed.
Martha Stewart. The queen of domestic perfection.
No hospital corners.
I can’t do justice to how dramatically this transformed my life. She just straightened and draped the sheet over the bed. Suddenly a task that took several minutes of work I didn’t enjoy became one I had no excuse not to accomplish in 60 seconds with results that at least sort-of matched Martha Stewart’s. And from that day, nearly every day, I make my bed. It starts my day off well, even if the rest of my house is a disaster, and set me on the path of learning how small habits can lead to enormous life changes.
Why am I even talking about this? Last night I had a great conversation with a friend who has known me since I was 12 years old. Among other things, we touched on the fact that we are still in our 40s working through some of the patterns we carried on from our parents. And this morning, as I was making my bed, it really hit me.
There are multitudes of ways to do things. So many different ways to approach any possible situation or problem. Nearly infinite ways to answer so many of the questions we face in our lives. But it often doesn’t even occur to us to step outside what we always do or the answer we always give. We never even think that maybe this problem doesn’t need hospital corners – the answer that we were told was the “right” one. We can’t innovate because the rut is so deep.
This is absolutely true for me – and I am a very creative person. Creativity is kind of my thing. And I LOVE being challenged to think in a new way. It’s also kind of my thing. And I STILL end up locked in patterns so fixed I can’t envision a departure from the usual way of doing things.
Challenge yourself. What has you stuck because you can’t see a new possibility?
I finally had a breakthrough I probably should have had five years ago, but better late than never!
I’m the brand.
Everyone is talking about personal brands. I have listened to dozens of people speaking into the “personal brand” concept, and I still didn’t get it where it related to myself. I keep chasing the creative end product (a comic, a book, a story, a piece of art) as my identity, but it has never been that. And that is why this whole thing has never made sense to me. I don’t want to be a comic creator or a story teller (though I do want to do those things.) I want to be creative. To pursue ideas and make art that is constantly evolving and changing without worrying about what it means to the rest of the world. Which only works if I connect with people – not with a product, but with an honest connection to who I am.
So, I’m relaunching my youtube channel (you know…the one with nothing on it..?) and creating content there that connects to all the things I am and all the things I do. I am talking specifically to people who are like me – and I know you are out there, because I meet you every day. Come with me.
I made Hiccup’s Shield from How to Train Your Dragon (Hidden World) for a class to show how anyone can take junk and create costume pieces that are simple, quick, and cheap. I put it on youtube in case anyone else might benefit from the info for a Halloween costume or school project.
(Side note, I’ve been spending a lot of time revolving the “personal brand” stuff around in my head and I am at the point that I have decided I am just going to do and say and publish and create whatever I feel like doing and if anyone wants to get to know me, they have to deal with how random my stuff is. It is my “brand.”)
Lately I’ve been having conversations that all seem to go down the same trail. The effect toxic people have in our life.
The struggle is real to drown out the voices that echo in my head. Often their desire is to help, and the “worst-case-scenario,” the “reality-check” kind of thinking may be meant well, but can quickly send me into a negative spiral that is hard to recover from.
Negativity is the death of creativity. Creativity must be unfettered – it must be free to move to explore in unlikely directions. When you begin to question what someone else is going to think of your ideas, you are limiting what you are capable of. And trying something new is always going to get some negative backlash.
Yesterday I drew a different kind of bug fairy. This one was inspired by a beetle, so she’s got some defensive capability. She’s not going to be easily swiped up by some bird with sharp words that make her question her decision to throw caution to the wind and pursue an art career.
You choose who you let into your life, and especially who you let into your head. Only let the good in.
I am always overthinking everything. I lose focus because I stop walking and start looking ahead trying to figure out where I’m going. What’s the destination? What’s the point? Then I end up stopping entirely to fully give my attention to the big-picture questions. And…no big surprise, that means I stop accomplishing things. Does that happen to you?
I know I’m always going to be drawn to the “why” and I know it is important to figure it out, but I have to keep moving or the “why” doesn’t matter. I’ve already learned what happens when I stop to figure it out. I can go a whole decade without any creative progress.
So, I’m writing every day. I’m trying to finish a piece of art (at least a sketch) every day. I’m posting here, every day. I’m going to relaunch the comic when (or if) I get the buffer I’m supposed to have to make it work. I’m doing things that don’t make sense to other people simply because they make sense to me. I’m done looking for approval from people who are baffled by my creative choices.
Here’s a fairy I don’t think I’ve posted yet here. I’m loving these because to me they tell a little story, they are a creative exercise (interesting pose + interesting bug = interesting fairy… And I can play with watercolor and ink and finish one in a day if there’s nothing else I can finish.
I’m working on another little bug fairy, but I opted to do yard work today instead of finishing her. So, here’s something a little different if you’re new to the randomness that is my creative mess.
A long time ago (my files say 2008, but I feel like it was pre-kids, so 2007 maybe?) I did NaSoAlMo – like NaNoWriMo with fewer participants and less publicity. This is “a free annual creative challenge, wherein musicians are challenged to write, record, and release an entire album within the month of November.”
Seemed like a good idea at the time. I’ve been going through my endless digital files of random creativity and came across the folder “Chapter Four” (the title of the album.) This is actually my favorite song off the album, because my friend Bill Counts loved the sad child’s accordion I played for it and thinking of his demand for more accordion in future music always makes me smile.
I’m definitely NOT posting all the songs – they’re “meh,” but I do like this one, titled “Fear of Me.” It seems to fit with the theme I’m on this week – all the ways I avoid facing my own issues. And since I’m trying to share something every day, here you go. Sorry for the terrible synth cello. If I had access to a cello during the month I recorded this – I would have certainly tried to learn it enough to make it work. I might actually rework this and re-record it. In all my spare time.
Yesterday I wrote about hiding in plain sight. How I seem brave and successful by crafting an image that allows me to share what people can support.
But since that’s not what I really want for myself, it doesn’t work. I don’t want to be defined by any of these choices – a comic artist, a watercolor painter – whatever. To put myself in a box that I have to stay in to maintain approval. So I have these emotional spasms that cause me to change course all the time. “Reinvent” myself.
I’m still hiding. I didn’t share that post yesterday on social media, knowing that if I don’t share something on social media, virtually no one checks my blog unless they are looking at my 9 doll. If I’m going to be real, I’m going to do it really, really quietly.
I have been putting my art (from terrible to mediocre to not-bad) out into the world for about a decade now. Posting on this blog, sharing a webcomic, social media, all that. I did it to stop hiding. To teach myself to let go. I couldn’t let go of ideas – and I couldn’t move on to new dreams because I was still hanging on to all the unfinished ones. I did that until I started posting work online. Even if no one was reading this blog, putting it out into the world forced me to acknowledge that I had done my best with whatever it was. Set it down. Move on to something new.
But all this time, when I have been sharing my work, I have been doing it for you, not me. Whoever you are – even if no one is paying attention – I think about what each thing says about me as an artist. A person. I am doing it so I can make sense to you. THIS is the kind of artist I am. THIS is what I’m doing with my life.
The truth is, I have no idea what kind of artist I am. I’m figuring that out. I’m all over the place. I draw, I paint, I do comics, I sculpt, I tell stories, I write music and songs and poetry, all the things. I worry that if I put out there all that I am, in all my bizarre, random creativity – I’ll look like a nut.
So, showing work that “make sense” makes me feel brave. It makes other people think I’m successful. But I’m still hiding. I’m still insecure. Because being truly authentic is terrifying.
Everyone says it. I say it all the time. It’s worth saying again. I learn when I show up. I grow and improve and figure things out more when I show up. That’s it. But all around me I hear “I can’t draw. I can’t this. I can’t learn that. I’m not creative. I have no talent.” etc.
Saying you just aren’t good at something, or “can’t” is just another thing you tell yourself when you’re afraid to show up for something you might want. I get it. I spent almost two decades finding really awesome reasons to not show up. But when you’re ready, it is the only way.
Show up when you’re scared.
Show up when you don’t have it all figured out.
Show up when you are showing up alone.
Show up when that small voice tells you to do it now.
Yep. Today’s the day. The day I finally gave in. I’ve been fighting to hold on to the past for a year now, and I can’t do it anymore.
I can’t paint or draw without them anymore.
My only alternative would be to work on really big art and get really long brushes I guess. But life is like that. You can’t really internalize the fact that how you see the world will be very different in a year, five years, a decade. You do have to recognize that your paradigms have shifted and adapt. Or be stuck remembering how you once saw things and refuse to put on the reading glasses.
Anyway, I’m still working small. Here’s another tiny fairy. She’s a little wobbly because I didn’t put the glasses on until I was halfway through.
I woke up yesterday in a particularly proactive mood, which means I finished a painting, wrote 2k words, mowed the yard, cleaned the house, and had seven new creative ideas.
The ideas are the problem for me. Which do I keep and which do I discard? I have some I am determined to follow through with just because they have been with me a decade…but are they really worth all that time? Is that a sunk cost I should walk away from?
I said yesterday I have accomplished many of the goals I set for myself, so I was going to enjoy that feeling for a little while. Well, I lied. Life is short.
I am going to try to finish and post something daily, even if it is only a few words, because I need to get back into the habit of putting myself under pressure. So today you get some thoughts and a teeny tiny bug fairy I drew and painted yesterday.
I was pitching a new story idea to my husband the other night and his response was underwhelming. Which led to a discussion of why I don’t finish things and what success actually looks like for me.
Of course, I absorbed all of this in the most negative way possible and went off to do some soul searching as the big failure I am, and that meant listing all the personal goals I have not met. Down the list I mentally went.
But then a unexpected thing happened – I suddenly realized I have actually met many of the goals on that list. I do finish things now. Lots of things. I can finally say I am an artist who actually makes art. And I was so busy worrying about the things I hadn’t done I never stopped to celebrate my accomplishments.
It isn’t all the “success,” because success is a moving target – always a higher place to climb. For the moment, though, I am going to stop and rest and enjoy the view.