I’ve known for a while now that when I start to feel negative about one area of my life, it will usually spiral downwards into other parts. I often start off not feeling all that great about: a. the work I’m producing, or b. the work I’m not producing. I consider myself a pretty optimistic person 90% of the time, but I’m most definitely my own worst critic, and it seems that the only person whose kind words can get me out of this mess is, well… me.
I was in this funk just the other day, facing a deadline at midnight for a scholarship application to take a workshop at Penland this summer. My college professors had written me glowing letters of recommendation, I had spent countless hours on my essay, and all I had left to do was to add a few more images of my artwork and then hit “submit”. I was almost finished with the thing a couple of weeks ago, but I suddenly became completely absorbed in playing the piano, writing music, practicing scales and arpeggios, and feeling for the first time in my life that I actually might be really good at this whole music thing! I’ve been playing off and on for almost 20 years, so this isn’t exactly a new passion, but it is a new sense of confidence for me.
As I dedicated myself to perfecting my playing of Ave Maria and writing my first original piece, I had naturally kind of forgotten all about the scholarship. My lack of enthusiasm for my latest weaving coupled with my focus on music left me wondering, “Why bother? I never seem to stick with anything so why bother seriously pursuing one thing over another?”
“But then again, why bother playing piano? I hate performing, so no one is ever going to hear me play at Carnegie Hall any time soon, nor am I going to start making an album. In fact, I live at home with my parents, I work at a grocery store, blah blah blah…” You see what I mean about this downward spiral? Once I start on one thing it’s only a matter of time before all the other aspects of my life get dragged in for a harsh and unrealistic beating. “Why bother being an artist if you can never be renowned? Why bother being a pianist if no one will ever hear you play? Why bother making tons of needle felted wizards that no one will ever buy because you put them in a shoebox under your bed and wont sell them on Etsy?”
Why bother making art or music if I’m never going to be seen or heard? Because what else am I going to do to add interest and beauty and substance to my day to day existence?
Seriously, what else is going to give me the same sense of fulfillment and satisfaction and creative expansion and growth and joy and hope and self-expression that music and art give me?
So after mentally rolling around in this imaginary pile of stinky, negative, self-sabotaging poo all day, I sat down at the computer and I finished my application.
I wasn’t forcing myself to finish the application, but rather committing to what I had started. I was putting the brakes on my fear and taking back the steering wheel. When I finished uploading all of my images, it was the first time I had seen almost all of the tapestries I’ve woven in the past several years together in one place, and it was the first time I honestly reflected on how far I had come as both an artist and an individual. I saw brilliant colors and imagination and stories. I saw all of my growth, progress, discoveries, successes, failures, and most importantly, the emergence of my own authentic creative voice.
While it’s kind of sad to see how harsh I can be on myself, the realization has given me a catalyst to commit to making some positive changes in my life. I know fear and self-doubt and criticism will visit me again in the future . But the one thing I know for certain is that I have never, and will never, give up on myself or my creativity. Even if I don’t get accepted for this scholarship, the most important piece of this story is that I committed to my creative spirit, and that’s what really matters.