My husband and I had two friends over for dinner last night. For the second time in recent months, the dinner gradually gave way to readings. Readings of our own writing – poems, essays, short stories. Anger, confusion, joy.
It is not customary for me to gather around the table with friends to read aloud. That the words come from our minds and hearts astounds me.
I’ve confessed to friends in the past how I love to sit and “do nothing” together. To read separate books alongside one another or to simply enjoy each other’s presence as daily life carries on. Few friends take me up on the offer implicit in the confession.
So to suddenly have others draw near to hear thoughts breathed aloud catches me off guard. I feel as though I have a secret, hidden even from myself. The secret now slowly seeps out and I frantically try to stuff it back in.
I want to contain it, far below the surface, until the speck of sand that continually digs into my side has been tossed and turned and covered by so many layers it is no longer vulnerable to critique, but pearlified into beauty none can resist.
My secret is this: I am an artist.
Locked behind walls of cubicles and professionalism, I spent years convincing myself and others I was not who I am. The newsletters, the proposals, the propaganda – all made the most of a gift I soon came to dread.
Lost in the details, I found myself perpetually paralyzed, berating myself for lack of production. Yet I produced what they wanted, I always delivered. I believed their assessments, both of me and my work. I cowered beneath their trampling feet, yet they said I towered too high.
Eventually the tower toppled and I was set free.
Where once I wrote, now I create. My coming out is sharing my writing.
As a child, I shied away from art, perhaps because I couldn’t quantify it or memorize it or ace it. I strove for perfection, and with the beauty of art lying in the imperfect, the discomfort for me was unbearable.
My mother found it her duty to inform me of what she really thought of the homemade gifts I bestowed upon her, and art seemed to be the one area I came up short on in comparison to others. For this and other reasons I have yet to understand, I fled from any sort of artistic endeavor.
One of the ugliest seasons of life finally coaxed out the artist within me, perhaps out of desperation for beauty and freedom. I was frantically trying to clamber out of the pit of depression, surrounded by blackness and dead air that threatened to suffocate, when my hands reached for a paint brush and canvas. Perhaps they had grown tired of finding nothing to cling to as the mud caved further in.
I didn’t think about what I was doing; I just suddenly found myself whipping one streak of color after another on to the canvas in the middle of night.
Photo courtesy of Anna Cervova
Before I laid my head back down, I held a sunrise of pinks and yellows and greens in my hands.
Shortly afterwards, I put paint to the walls. Stifled by 13 years of pink and white stripes in my room, I was liberated with teal, periwinkle, pastel yellow, and magenta. Dad brought me a step ladder while Mom was out of town and I gifted her anew with my creativity.
Twelve years, a college degree, and five jobs later, I find myself this time with pen in hand, ready to defy yet again. So much makes sense now – the organized messiness, the responsible flightiness, the predictably unpredictable, the structure enforced on chaos. The forgetfulness and playfulness and intuition. The disdain for corporate rule and the itch to be out from under the thumb of others.
God has been faithful to hold the artist in His hands.
When I read aloud the other night, I shared a piece exploring how procrastination and fleeing from God originate from similar depths within me. After sharing general feedback, one of my friends tossed back to me as he walked out the gate, “Sounds like what you’re afraid of is the unknown.”
Yes. I am terrified of the unknown and all that lies outside of my control – death, life, God, greatness, writing.
I find myself wanting to package my writing with a pretty, pink bow, affix a price tag, and entice all to buy. But I’m left with only that grain of sand to display, and I know it’s what I need most to offer. So I’m finally putting it out there, though the waves toss as they may and a single grain can be lost to the shore. May a pearl yet emerge.