Failure and Success

Archangel (Raguel) - Cat Fink (blog)
‘Archangel (Raguel)’

I have a pattern of not celebrating my successes.  Mostly I ignore them, occasionally I allow myself to briefly enjoy them.  Never do I allow myself full appreciation of what I have successfully completed, be it writing or drawing or anything else in my life.  Always, I immediately move on to the next thing.

I’ve been wondering why I do this.  Two days ago, I discovered a big reason.

In school, I was one of those brainy kids.  The A’s on my report card came easily to me.  Because of this, my teachers gave me extra enriched work, mostly math and science.

I loved, and continue to love, learning new things for the sheer enjoyment of it, but this was not something I chose for myself.  I loved school, but this extra work felt like work, and I wanted to be with my friends playing and having fun.  I rarely completed the assignments.  The teachers eventually gave up, which was a relief for me.

In my child-mind, this experience created a belief that stuck in my subconscious.

I believed I was a failure.

I did not do the enriched work and become someone who changed the world through discovering amazing scientific things.  I did not meet expectations.  I did not fulfill my potential.  It did not matter that the expectations and ideas regarding my potential belonged to someone else.  As a child, I knew I was smart and I trusted my teachers, so I took this on as something reasonable.

When I look at my life now, I love where and who I am.  I love love love drawing and writing.  I love the learning I do, moving toward life with an open, creative heart.  I love the family and friends I have around me.  My life is good and I know I created this, which means yes I am successful at what I do.

I do not owe my school teachers or the world, or even myself, anything.  I owe neither success nor failure.

I walked the path I needed to walk, so I could be exactly where I needed to be.  As a child, love and joy were the most important choices I made for myself every day.  I didn’t consciously realize what I was choosing, and I couldn’t articulate it.  I didn’t realize love and joy could be choices, yet there I was choosing time with my friends as the most important thing.

That time with my friends shaped me.  We read, traded books, made up stories, and played pretend.  We drew and made things with whatever was at hand.  We were creators who played, loved, and enjoyed what we created.

As I grew up, every choice I made, everything I was, everything I created led me here.

I appreciate what my school teachers did.  Unknowingly, they pushed me into making my own choices, helped me find and experience the things that were right for me.

I know and feel how the words and images I create, the love and joy I share, the life I live changes the world around me.  That is success.

I did not waste my potential.  I have been fulfilling it all along.

Between Writing and Trying to Write

laid-to-rest-east-detail-small
Laid to Rest 80,000 Obstructing Spirits, East (detail)

It’s fun to write.  It’s not fun trying to write.

Earlier today I tried to write a blog post.  Progress was slow, painful, and frustrating.  Finally, I gave up.

This is not like me to give up.

Writing is not a smooth process for me, despite the enjoyment it gives.  Most days I procrastinate, but eventually push my way into writing.  I begin slowly, fishing around for those slippery starting words.  I jump all over my ideas as I write my draft, and have to rearrange sentences and paragraphs until I find an easy flow.  This is my process, and I always get there to the finished piece.

Today I feel like my creativity is offline.  My thoughts are jumpy and disconnected.  Every idea is brief, lacking a depth to play in, nothing to dig into and develop.  I know I am not the first nor the last writer to experience this, but knowing it doesn’t make the experience less frustrating.

What I do know from long experience as an artist–my creativity remains intact despite today’s evidence to the contrary.

Here’s what I am going to do once this short writing-disaster post is done.  I am going to read.  My own words aren’t cooperating, but at least I can revel in another writer’s world.

Pushing The Edge Of My Creativity

notetomyself.enteringhope.blog
“Note to Myself: entering hope”

Picture me standing knee deep in turquoise ocean waves.  Bare toes, all ten, digging into the sand to keep balance.  Leaning my body forward, a telescope to my eye, searching the horizon line.

I want to know what is out there, what’s beyond the range of my vision.

Writing a book has turned me into an explorer, and what I’m exploring is the edge of my creativity.  How far can I push this seeming edge?  How far can I expand my capabilities as writer and artist?

I’d always thought a project of several years’ length was beyond me.  I’d get bored and dump it.

I was wrong.  My curiosity for what is next in my book remains as bright as when I began.  Not only am I curious about the book, I am curious about my creativity.  It keeps changing, reaching and expanding.  Every time a new idea shows up, it is something beyond what I have already done.

Helen Frankenthaler, an artist whose work inspires me, talked about not wanting to do something she already knew she could do.  I feel the same way.

I don’t mean wildly leaping into complete unknown.  I mean standing on what I know, reaching toward what I don’t know, combining the two, known and unknown, and experimenting.

My book project is becoming an experiment.  As I complete the work in Lisa Cron’s Story Genius, my vision of the book is shifting.  I see something that sits between all text and all image.  Not a graphic novel, and not a standard word-only book.  I am marrying my capabilities as artist and writer, and challenging myself to go further than what I already know.

As yet, I have little idea where this expanding vision of my book and my capabilities is taking me.  My telescope shows me only the open space at the edge that is labelled “here there be dragons.”

I am curious about dragons.  I hear they can fly, and some can be ridden.  I hear they guard treasure and need to be coaxed to share.  I hear they are made of fire.  I hear they were invented by someone like me.

I want to write a dragon of a book.  A book made of fire and treasure.  A book that takes flight and I need to hang on and fly with it, the ride of my life.  Guessing I may need asbestos pants in order to stick my seat.  I’ll find some.

In the meantime, every day I learn something new about the edges of my book and my creativity.  Today it is realizing my interest in my book remains firm, and this makes me happy.  Today it is discovering my creativity is capable of handling both short and long term projects, and this makes me happy too.

Today I push out the far edge, and place my new knowledge there.  Step forward and stand on the new edge of my creativity, lean forward and balance.  Put the telescope to my eye, and see where my vision takes me next.  There is an amazing dragon of a book out there, and it’s mine.

_________________

In this post:

Story Genius by Lisa Cron, Ten Speed Press, 2016.  http://wiredforstory.com/story-genius-1/

Helen Frankenthaler, Artist, 1928 – 2011.  http://www.frankenthalerfoundation.org/artworks/paintings

 

Success, Vulnerability, And The Pocket Demon

1.'Laid to Rest 80,000...Spirits (east)'--halfsize
‘Laid To Rest 80,000 Obstructing Spirits (east)’

I’m playing with Lucy Bellwood’s book 100 Demon Dialogues.  I keep going back to cartoon number 83.  In the cartoon, Lucy says, “I think I’ve figured it out: you’re more afraid of success than you are of failure.”  Her demon, who is trying to hide in a box, says, “I’m afraid of EVERYTHING.”

I am afraid of success.  When I succeed in my art or my writing, I am not sure what to do.  What should happen next I can never figure out.

Here is one example.  When someone offers me praise, I don’t seem to hear it.  The words don’t go all the way in.  I feel happy, briefly.  I smile, say thank you, glad you enjoy it.  Then I feel uncomfortable and need to escape.

It makes me sad to realize I am unable to wholly accept a kind comment.  It makes me feel there’s something wrong with me, that I can’t celebrate something I have created when it touches and connects with someone else.

Weird thing is, this is one of the main reasons I write and draw, to create that heart-to-heart connection.

It’s easy, in my studio, to open my heart and be vulnerable as I create.  My studio is a safe place, I am alone with my work, and I trust myself to go as deep as the work requires.  If I don’t get there the first attempt, or second or third, I keep going until I reach the feeling I want.  I’ve done this long enough, I trust what shows up and trust I am able.

Put me in the situation of accepting praise face to face, and I am in fear.  Someone connects with my writing or drawing, it evokes something for them, they appreciate the experience, and they want me to know my work succeeded in touching them.

My deepest success, and yet I am afraid to open my heart to this person and feel what they are offering me.  Instead I feel naked and vulnerable because someone has seen the feelings I place in my work.  How ironic when someone really sees my work and connects heart to heart, I want to run the other way.

My deepest success and my deepest fear.  I got this wrong.  I’m not afraid of success.  I’m afraid of being seen and connecting at my truest self.

I am an artist and a writer who creates heart to heart.  I know no other way to create.  I refuse to allow any kind of fear to stop me.

Next time someone praises my work, I need to remember who I am in my studio.  Trusting, open-hearted, and reaching for connection as many times as it takes.

__________________

In this post:

Lucy Bellwood, book 100 Demon Dialogues, Toonhound Studios, 2017.    https://lucybellwood.com/