The fear never goes away
The day after I wrote A Confession of Narcissistic Fear, I came across a podcast conversation by Dave Charest and Kesha Bruce addressing How to Squash Your Fears and Advance Your Artistic Career. This is a great conversation to listen to if fear has ever held you back, even if you are not trying to advance an artistic career. Fear, after all, is universal.
Listening to their conversation inspired me to write more about fear as an integral part of the creative process. Squashing my fear isn’t my technique. If I do that it just seems to squish itself out somewhere else, even bigger than it was before. Instead, when fear decides it’s going to reside as an uncomfortable knot in my stomach, I hang out with it and a piece of driftwood. I thank my friend Brittany for this.
Where’s the Memo for This?
Brittany came into my life just after I started my now-dormant (probably more accurately stated, now-defunct) graphic design business. I decided to venture briefly into the commercial arts business out of, you guessed it: fear. It seemed a much more comfortable and reliable way to be able to make a living than painting. In retrospect I can say how much of a misstep acting out of fear was.
Brittany was my very first potential client and I didn’t want to mess up. We scheduled a meeting at a coffee shop to talk about her project. I spent hours preparing for this meeting. I wanted to come across as being professional, competent and knowledgeable… all the things I was definitely not feeling.
I arrived at the coffee shop early to prepare for the meeting. She showed up, beautiful and confident, with Alex, a glass artist. Luckily for me, they were both quite affable and I started to mellow out as we talked. They even brought me homemade pumpkin bread. But then they threw me a monkey wrench that I could not have dreamt of being able to prepare for.
Once we were done talking about the project, they asked me to follow them out to their car because they wanted to give me a gift. Alex pulled out a case and put it on the trunk of the car. He opened it and said that I could pick out any one I wanted. They were both smiling at me as they watched me scrutinize which glass dildo I would like. My brain was trying too hard to go through its extensive file cabinet to pull out the memo that explains how to act professionally while two people that you have just met want you to choose a dildo. It didn’t find the memo and instead went into a fog mode. In other words, I was abandoned by my mind. No help there.
Now, I need to explain a little about why I was standing in the street trying to choose the perfect dildo. It’s not as out-there-in-left-field as it sounds. Brittany has a dream of starting a business that empowers women who have had a traumatic sexual experience. She does this through beauty and she chose to work with a glass artist that truly makes beautiful glass dildos. Gratefully, once my overly concerned mind abandoned me, I was able to see them as what they were – beautiful objects – without having to deal with the proper protocol of how to professionally choose a sex toy. And I know how to relate to artfully made, beautiful objects. I made my choice confidently.
But the fear never really goes away.
…And unfortunately it kept me out of my studio for far too long.
Later, Brittany gave me another gift. We had been talking about fear. I was wallowing in it. I was on the verge of making the decision to drop graphic design and to get back into my studio where I belong.
When I saw her next, she gave me a piece of driftwood. Wood, she told me, represents strength, flexibility and leadership. Wood seeks to grow and expand. It’s aggressive, assertive and direct. And it is affected by water which represents your fear. She asked how the piece of wood could serve my fear.
I took the wood home, not knowing what I was supposed to do with it. I brought it into my studio. It sits on top of my radio’s speaker as if it’s on a pedestal. I pondered her question.
Fear and the Creative Process
Kimberly Brooks gave a TEDx Fullerton talk on her creative process. I very much appreciate her perspective because she brings fear into it at several points. Her progression looks something like this:
- Silence: (I love this one, especially because of this plugged in world we live in)
- Vision: When that amazing idea hits you in a flash
- Hope: Swooning over that idea as it bumps around in your head
- Diving In: This is that critical stage for creative people. You have to dive in to develop that idea. Some people never get there for many reasons, one of them being fear.
looks something like this:(The next four are cyclical and don’t happen in any particular order)
- Doubt: (fear that this is the most stupid idea in the world, I’m not good enough for this idea…etc. etc.)
- Clarity: That fog of doubt has cleared!
- Obsession: When you can work for hours on end and not get tired (Wheee! Super Artist!)Coming out of this cycle you reach…
- Resolution: Now it’s finished and time for…
- The Artist as Exhibitionist: aka more fear.
When I was masquerading as a graphic designer, I was afraid of diving in. I couldn’t even walk into my studio then. I am often plagued with doubt as a painting progresses. Please see Confessions of a Narcissistic Fear for one example. The danger with the doubt is that if you are not careful you can get stuck there indefinitely and no resolution is ever reached.
And then there is the absolute fear of Artist as Exhibitionist, a special kind of fear.
- Kimberly Brooks literally hid under her desk as if rocks were going to fall on her head after pushing the email send button to announce her show to her friends.
- In Dave Charest’s podcast, Kesha Bruce mentioned a challenge that she had made to artists about connecting with other artists: write an email to five artists that you admire. Don’t ask for anything. Just tell them that you like their work. Just say hi. Two people told her that the thought of doing that made them want to hyperventilate.
- And after creating my newsletter, it took me at least two weeks to even put the sign up form on my website, let alone ask anyone to join. It’s so much easier to hide.
For me, the advice of just diving in and doing it is good, but it doesn’t go far enough. I need a step before this, just like Kimberly Brooks added Silence before Vision in her creative process progression. I need to add acknowledgement and acceptance of fear before I can dive in. When I am actually working in my studio, I usually don’t experience fear. My mind is busy with the work. It’s the in between times that fear gets me like the space between writing this and publishing it. This time can feel paralyzing. And that’s where, if you are not careful, acting on fear can get you in trouble. It can focus your energy in the wrong direction. Trying to make the fear go away doesn’t work. It magnifies the fear because it gives it too much attention and importance. But the simple acceptance that fear is there can go a long way. Fear is part of it. It has a place too. Without fear could excitement exist?
Eventually, whenever I would embark on a task that made me feel uncomfortable, and there are plenty of those, I’d take out my piece of driftwood and put it on my lap, or place it directly in front of me where I can see it. The fear doesn’t go away. Instead it sits there with me like a constant friend. Even when it’s uncomfortable to do so, I hang out with it, I acknowledge it. I also hang out with my piece of wood from Brittany. And then I do what needs to be done, with fear present and a beautiful piece of driftwood.
How do you move through fear? Leave me a comment!
Learn more about the fantastic people mentioned in this article:
Along with making great art, Kesha Bruce is also a co-director at Baang and Burne Contemporary and offers her services as a Creative Consultant to help artists advance their careers. She is a DIY maven who is getting her 6 x 6 project off the ground this summer. Learn more about that on her Kickstarter campaign.
Brittany is building a solid foundation for her two business ventures aimed to people’s lives better by empowering them through beauty and energy.