I have spent a long time relying on scraps of praise from those who should have nourished my development and even more sparingly from myself — I think when no one provides what should be obvious, you just forget to do it yourself, and the little weevils* in your head can’t always suffice.
Do not be quick to boast over others, but neither should you be without pride for your achievements nor deny yourself reward. If no one has ever told you: your work is satisfactory. Your work is perfunctory. Anything you have put your heart and your hands to is perfect. Make sure you tell yourself this often, and that you have people who tell you this; over and over and over again.
Usually, if someone is not ‘performing’ well, there is a reason. So, what are your reasons? You can answer this question for yourself, but I have a secret to share with you, something I did not learn and internalize until I was nearly sixteen, listen carefully now: They are yours, and yours alone. You do not owe them to anyone. Remember this.
You may want to justify your every action — perhaps you don’t. Regardless, keep the knowledge close to your heart that you do not need to let anyone be privy to the precious innermost workings that are your thoughts. You have your reasons; if you need help, that is another matter entirely, but not one I care to discuss now.
A lot of people — including myself — worry about finishing before they’ve even started. Whether it’s writing or some sort of creative project, a hobby or new skill, many people are quick to adopt hesitance rather than leaping at it with both hands. Why? Everyone was new at one point. Shame is… natural, to a point, I would say, but do not shame yourself beyond your means. Feel it, for a moment, and let it go. Allow it to propel you towards your goal. Do not stop and listen to the doubt in your mind, that tells you this shame is anything more than a reminder that you are still an animal with limitations to keep an eye on so you do not over exert them. That you must be cautious and aware. And then return to your endeavor with all the rigor of a curious child attacking a new adventure, for that child has not truly left you, and this will nourish them.
You are an animal, and animals do not feel shame when they try something and don’t get it right the first time, do they? Does the squirrel berate themselves for missing the branch on the first try? It tries again, and again, and again. And if that way does not work, it finds another way.
Shame is a learned emotion, a learned instinct. A taught one. Beaten and enforced into us from even the youngest age. Us humans, we have separated ourselves, our conscious, from the animal in our brain, with this existential ability to think. We believe that because we can, have this ability to do and feel and think so differently, that we should be able to do things a certain way.
Throw that away. ‘Should’ does not exist anymore (really, it never did - but most will have a hard time expunging this idea from their minds immediately in a binary world filled with status quos and rigid expectations).
In regards to writing, something I see said a lot is that anyone can write, and I agree, contrary to people who may think my standards more rigid. A lot of people who haven’t written before — and this actually does go for a lot of things, in general — usually have done that thing at least once or twice, but may have not felt confident in it (perhaps shame rose up in them, and belittled their honest and earnest attempts) or maybe they were graded on it or judged, and now have had that follow them even into adulthood, so they’ve allowed that shred of doubt to rule them, that anxiety to convince them they cannot perform this task.
Even if you’re still in school, write for things that aren’t grades or points or awards. Just write. There’s no reason not to. It doesn’t have to be special. You don’t need a journal made with ram leather or parchment made of only the finest papyri. It can be on the back of a receipt, a scrap piece of paper, on a piece of cardboard - it can be words written on a crumbling wall in spray paint. You don’t even have to have an innate talent for writing. Writing is important because you wrote it. Those words came out of a human brain! That amazing, complex organ inside a living animal made that!
The human nature of connection is that someone else existed and thought and wrote that — and one day someone else might be in your position, needing to reach out across time, looking for someone’s words of solace, and your words might be those. And they might not be flashy or larger than life, but they were there, and they were the right ones when they felt there were none like them.
So create. Write. Go do that thing you have always wished to do, but never did. Continue that project you abandoned when it did not produce the fruitful result you expected. Do not worry about who watches you, who carries on beside you. Keep your eyes forward; your allies will stand by your side no matter where you rest or what your gaze is fixed upon. And one day they may need you to do the same for them — always be ready to stand by the side of those who would do the same for you without question.
The world desperately needs more people willing to share a piece of themselves inside something; an artwork, a hobby, a community activity. The world desperately needs love. So, love. Love, love, love. Do not ever be afraid to love, even if it’s clumsy. Even if your brush strokes are shaky at first or forever, they are yours. Even if your stitching is crooked at first or forever, it is yours. And it is full of love.
“And your doubt may become a good quality if you train it. It must become knowing. It must become critical. Ask it, whenever it wants to spoil something for you, why something is ugly, demand proofs from it, test it, and you will find it perplexed and embarrassed perhaps, or perhaps rebellious. But don’t give in, insist on arguments and act this way, watchful and consistent, every single time, and the day will arrive when from a destroyer it will become one of the best workers — perhaps the cleverest of all that are building your life.” Rainer Maria Rilke
I have the above passage sitting in a small notebook I received for my sixteenth, and been dubbed my ‘poetry notebook’. I keep excerpts of authors that have given me great comfort or insight inside of it, as well as my poetry. I have also reaffirmed with the help of my therapist in the time since adding that passage that I have OCD, but I use this passage as… a guide, I suppose. It helps me keep it reasonable and somewhat grounded. It isn’t perfect, but it’s something.
I have only ventured back into creating anything in the past several years, and only even touched very scarcely on the reasons why I felt that I could not even pick up a utensil of any sort and create physically, not even in therapy - it was stunted, difficult. Like the art didn’t want to come out of my hands. It felt like we were polar opposites, at that time, me and art; like the plus and minus sides of batteries, or water and oil, or citronella and mosquitoes. I would stare and stare and stare, trying to find the ‘perfect’ way to start. My heart would race a little bit and I would space out.
“What does it mean to be ‘perfect’, Adelaide*?”
I know what that therapist had been asking, but I couldn’t verbalize it then, what the problem was. Of course, I had also been only fifteen then, and I know much more now. With that in mind, it’s like everything I tried to say back then came out strangled; the machine in my throat needed service, the wires were shorting out. It was never easy expressing what I needed or what I meant before I began to truly understand myself.
Once, when I lived in North Carolina, a neighbor friend and I were at her family's fire pit. The night before, they’d had a bonfire (I’d been invited — the first bonfire I’d ever been to that had fire go 10ft in the air with tree branches hanging over it. Frankly, we were lucky the forest didn’t catch on fire with that; our little rural town’s land area was mostly woods and very little town) and we were poking around in the late afternoon. This was before DayLight Savings, I think, because the sun was close to setting, making me think it was maybe three or four in the afternoon.
There was a grey and white blanket of ash covering the logs and when we dug under, there were some lumps there, still burning. The two of us looked at each other and, as we were two kids who had previously been given unsupervised use of pulley bows together, driven a tractor all over the property, and played man-hunt in the woods in the dead of night with her cousins BB-guns— this activity was adult supervised, however, the adult participated—this was a pretty easy decision for the two of us to make.
We set to work quickly as two elementary school children would, bracing against the dry, cold air; we grabbed magnolia leaves and dry brush, on the side of the pit facing away from the direction the wind came. We created a decent, if not pitiful, ‘tent’ of brush and leaves, and started blowing gently.
We didn’t give up on our fire, even though it was a chilly and slightly breezy day. We got it to start several times, even with the infrequent gusts of wind that caught us off guard. Eventually, we put it out for fear of being caught. Smothered it with sand and watched the smoke rise from the remains of our little honest attempt.
I’m lucky my ability to create could be rekindled from an ember, still burning lowly just barely beneath the ash.
Being denied praise and given punishment for earnest and eager effort will make any creative spirit die like dust on the tongue, laying dormant and still in the remains of an abandoned, long condemned house that sits on the corner of an intersection in my hometown.
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