Untangling Myself

I Excavate Tentacles of Fear

Photo by My Name on Unsplash

Are you falling behind?

I am.

Especially since I have all this time to improve myself.

  • Learn how to play an instrument, master a new skill, meditate, get fit, learn how to cook. There’s endless advice out there on how to use the time I have, now that I’m staying home.

I know it’s not a race, but my inner hamster has stepped onto the wheel and now I’m running like crazy. My nose is twitching, my heart racing as my feet scamper up a never ending ramp that circles back onto itself.

I’m working hard, going nowhere. It boils down to this:

I’m not accomplishing anything. I’m not making Art.

My efforts to produce are rewarded by flat, uninspiring work. Too much effort and not enough flow. Letting go is a risk I’m reluctant to take.

“Why not risk it?”, I ask my heart, “What do you have to lose?”

  • Some art supplies. Big deal.
  • My pride. I’ll live. I’ve weathered bigger losses, larger defeats.
  • The idea that I can’t make art……

Now there’s a fear I can dig my hamster teeth into.

I’m afraid of losing my identity. Again.

My Artist identity is like a new pair of shoes. They’re still in the box they came in and they’ve barely been worn. I’d like to take them dancing but I’m waiting for the right partner.

I’m not ready to give up on this dream. I’ve only started and yet I’m afraid I’m going to lose the fight. It’s too new. I still have my training wheels on.

****

I think I’m in a rut.

I sit patiently at the keyboard and drivel flows from my fingertips. I write morning pages, repeating the same words over and over again. It’s an exercise that’s supposed to help move past the blocks.

I write:“I’m frustrated. I’m frustrated. I’m frustrated”. My wrist cramps.

Julia Cameron, the author of the iconic book The Artist’s Way describes her technique to clear artistic blocks.

She calls it: Blasting Through Blocks

I listened to Jacob Nordby interview Julia during his Creative UnBootcamp group. She said we need to dig past buried anger and resistance before a project can succeed.

Here’s her excavation process.

• List your resentments regarding the project. All of them.

• List your fears, even the petty ones.

• Ask yourself if any small or stupid fears or resentments are missing. List them too.

• Ask yourself “What you have to gain if you Don’t Do The Work?”

• The last step is Make a Deal”.

Her process is pretty powerful. If you’re honest with yourself, it can move you out of your blocks into the work.

****

How did I end up blocked?

I chose an artist’s mask and now I’m not sure it fits.

When you’re young, you aren’t sure who you are. It’s alright to try different things. It’s the perfect time to take risks.

As you get older, there’s an expectation that you’ll have it all figured out. You’ll find your focus. Then you tell yourself you don’t have enough time.

And now, with all the time in the world, I’m discovering I’ve been making excuses.

This is supposed to be where “You Find Your Dream” (cue heavenly music….)

Photo by Johannes Plenio on Unsplash

I’ve never settled on a dream life. I’m still waiting to see who I’ll be when I grow up.

We tell our children — you can be anything you want. When I was small, they told me that too.

At the same time, they were building a box, just for me and putting things into it. There were rules that told me how to act and think. Only certain dreams were allowed in the box. They furnished it and filled it like a hope chest for the future, but they were someone else’s hopes — someone else’s dreams.

I tried to fit inside but I couldn’t bring my light with me.

When I realized that all of me I didn’t fit inside the box, I ran away. I was sixteen. I went out and found my own box. I put color and laughter, dancing and art inside it. I lit candles, and burned them brightly. I bought a flashlight for emergencies. My dreams began to grow.

Then someone came along and I invited them in. They came with cool people and fancy parties. Drugs and alcohol found their way inside until they were the main event.

It took me years to climb out. I broke the box into pieces and put them in the dumpster in the parking lot of my apartment. I saved the flashlight and put it in my pocket.

I could see the dumpster from my window. It served as a reminder while I put my life together.

I focused on becoming.

I looked back on the rules and dreams I was taught. I opened that hope chest and pulled them out. I made a respectable persona — one that would be acceptable. I put on the mask and stepped onto the stage.

I built a life. I became someone else’s dreams and told myself the dreams were mine.

Then I built a wall.

Photo by Abdullah Alam on Unsplash

It was deep and high and sturdy. When someone hurt me, I made a brick out of my sadness and carefully troweled it into place. I made a home behind the wall, alone in a tent made of blankets. No one else was allowed inside.

I was OK. I had my flashlight.

Years of bombardment ensued until the wall fell down.

The carefully crafted persona of my adulthood was a contrived life that was no longer sustainable. I couldn’t maintain the illusion but it was really hard to let it go.

First, there was the detaching of the mask. I had worn the mask for so long that it was like a second skill. Layers had built up, like makeup on a circus clown. It seeped into my skin.

I released the ‘competent manager’, the ‘capable parent’ and the ‘reliable friend’.

Long persona tentacles had wound their way deep inside my mind. It was tricky to untangle them, especially while they fought to stay in place.

I pulled them out, piece by piece like a surgeon extracting buckshot with pliers. Each piece made a clanking sound as I dropped them into a basin.

Next, I clamped the life supporting veins and focused on creating new pathways for my energy. I attached the supply to a new way of thinking and living. A new life.

All the while I bargained with my ego as it fought to stay intact.

I thought I got it all.

Over the years many illusions fell away as I removed the masks.

I exchanged them for new ones — artist, writer, musician. Creative soul. I loved the thought of becoming someone new. My heart soared at the idea of being free to create. Then I became afraid again.

When I felt this familiar Fear, I realized it was part of my old story. Tiny tentacles of my past were still inside, holding me back.

This time I was determined it would be different. I knew what to do.

Photo by William Carlson on Unsplash

I got my flashlight and shined it on the Fear.

I faced up to it. I put it all in words.

I wrote: — “I’m afraid to discover that I’m not an artist. — I’m afraid to discover that I’m not a writer. — If I’m not these, who am I?”

Artist. Writer. Creative sort. The answers were the same.

Why am I still afraid?

Who will I be if not a writer or an artist? What would I call myself?

The idea hits me deep inside my chest and fear rises up into my throat.

Who am I without the mask?

I.

Would.

Be.

Me.

I’m feeling naked now and it’s delicious.

(P.S. I still have my flashlight.)

— — — — — — — — —

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