Some people tell me I’m brave.
I hold it together when my kids need me to. I keep my life and job afloat, even when the worst depression at hit, but that’s being strong. It has nothing to do with being brave.
I’ve known ever since I self-published my first short story that I wasn’t brave. I spent months working on that story, with the bulk of the time spent worrying if it would be any good and the next largest chunk of time spent wondering if it would upset anyone of my family who read it.
Writing demands authenticity. It demands courage. When I write about depression, when I write about teaching, authenticity is easy. There are no perceived consequences. When I try to write fiction or about subjects that might step on toes, my keyboard is quiet.
I’ve never found the courage to get around that.
For a few years, I found expression in painting. I paint landscapes because I need to save and share the intense, often simultaneous, feelings of peace and power they generate, the way new converts want to share religious awakening.
Authenticity is easy in that context.
I realized this week, however, that cowardice can seep into every part of your creative life, and that, as much as comparison can smother it.
Knowing that the school year is winding down and my schedule is opening up a bit, I registered for a free abstract painting workshop. The first lesson was two week ago, just after one of my last parent-teacher meetings of the year. I knew I had to re-organize my teaching space to make room for painting, a job that should only take a few hours.
Instead of digging into the filing of papers and clearing off of work spaces, I spent the evening using a design app to rearrange the office/studio. Then I went to bed muttering to myself that the best abstract painters could all draw better than I do anyway. On the night of the second lesson, I checked the workshop’s Facebook group, admiring the efforts of everyone else who had completed the first lesson and knowing that nothing I would’ve done would’ve been nearly as good, I started moving crates of books and desks in the office, wondering if I should be writing instead anyway.
And then I remembered that I often don’t write because I’m afraid to be authentic. I’m afraid of taking a risk and making people uncomfortable. And worse, I’m afraid of just being bad. They were all the same fears that kept painting from happening the first few nights right up until Sunday when lesson planning put cleaning and creativity on the back burner for another 24 hours.
By the fifth night, there were no excuses. My office was a studio again. My progress reports were finished. And the only thing keeping brushes in drawers was a fear that the work would be bad, that people who liked my old art would hate the new art, that people would laugh in my face or behind my back.
But the free course was short, and so is the summer when creativity can be on the front burner. And that is exactly the time to be brave. Or at least, to make a start of it.