Thursday, May 13, 2010

The stories we tell ourselves

I spent nearly 40 of my nearly 59 years not doing much art. From the age of 14 I knew I was an artist, and that there was no other true path for me to follow. And for all of those years when I was doing not much art, I still knew this thing that was so obvious to me from early adolescence.

So what happened? How did I spend so many good productive years in the prime of my life not doing the thing that was known to me to be my core intention and calling? I spend a little time on this question from time to time, but not too much. I know that I cannot recall those years, and I know that they have shaped who I am, and inform the nature of the art that I am doing today. It's all good.

But a little reflection on the path I have taken, and the choices I have made can be useful. As I have looked back into these artistically sparse periods of my life, I notice that there was a lot of the voice in my head at those times...the voice that tells stories about why things are not possible. And I notice that the stories are not very unique, and not very imaginative.

The stories provide cover for procrastination. I need more money. I don't have enough time. No one appreciates my art (which of course they have not seen because it's still in my head.) I'm too tired at the end of a long day, or a long week. I have to keep this job, which takes up all my time and energy. I have jury duty. The dog ate my ...

These stories have a way of weaseling into our lives even when we think we are making progress. It amazes me to consider that for most of the past 7 years that we have been working on Windhook, I made the excuse that creating Windhook justified not making art. How crazy is that! It has only been in the past year and a half that I have called that little bluff and begun to make and show art in earnest.

There is, of course, a singular reason for all of these stories and devices, but it is a reason we don't like to look at. It is the fear that action will lead to failure. If I put it off, it will not be my downfall. If I keep it in the future, it cannot bring me disappointment. What if I put myself out there and no one appreciates my work? What if no one even notices? Procrastination combines this fear with anticipation to create a rather peculiar little monster, obsessed with a goal but paralyzed against taking steps to achieve it.

The reality is that none of these stories are capable to prevent one from making art. They are sometimes true, but never compelling. If you are clear and conscious about the fears and uncertainties that haunt the creative life, and commit yourself to face these demons head on, art will happen in defiance of all the contrary circumstances.

I know this is true from the experience of the past few years. It takes stepping off the locomotive of future-focus storytelling. It means walking every moment in present conscious action...dealing with what comes, as it comes, rather than telling and listening to stories about what might beset an imaginary future.