Who am I, What am I?

I’m hard on myself. When I feel like I’m not getting enough accomplished, I wallow in the “I can’t blah, blah, blah….’s because of blah, blah, blah...” There are people who don’t feel this way and don’t go down the spiral of their own internal dialogue. I wish I was one of them.  If you are one of the lucky ones, blessed with total confidence and an ease of purpose, tell me, how did you get like this? Are we simply born a certain way, or is it how we are raised? 

If you were raised by parents who told you that everything you did was the best, then it may be difficult to make a move, thinking you may fail at any minute. On the other hand, if your parents made you feel like you couldn’t possibly live up to their successes, this could be equally difficult as well. If you are a creative person, along the way you may have lost your artistic voice temporarily and felt like, “Who am I and what am I?” I’ve felt like this many times. Maybe you just need to “buckle down,” as my grandmother used to say.

One of my major issues is about just getting down “to it”. I need to remember my grandmother’s advice. Yes, I’m writing this blog right now, but I spent several hours doing other things before sitting here. I could tell you in detail what those things were, but honestly, it’s not that interesting. What’s interesting is that while I’m doing the other stuff, I’m simultaneously thinking that I should be doing something more meaningful. It’s like watching two movies simultaneously. I can justify my actions to myself if I change perspective and decide that all things are equal and meaningful. That there isn’t necessarily a hierarchy. I love to paint and I like to write, so why is it so difficult to begin? Does it all come down to fear of failure? That it just won’t be any good? Are mundane activities more meaningful sometimes? Are they just exercises before the big leap? Maybe the creative ideas are brewing while vacuuming.

I’ve had many amazing students and over the years and I’ve learned so many things from them and about them. One thing that always astounds me is how hard most of them are on themselves. 

One semester several years ago, on the final day of one of my classes, I asked the students to write down the final grade they would give themselves for the class. Most gave me a grade much lower than what I would give them. How many of us are the same? Why are we so hard on ourselves? What grade would you give yourself in life? How do we begin to measure this? Is it a measure of how much money you have or how many followers you have on Instagram? Or is it something deeper, more internal and personal? Maybe it’s true that you could never live up to what you thought your parents expected. Maybe you compare yourself to everyone on Facebook. Maybe you know deep down that you have a lot to offer, but you really haven’t found your calling yet. I always tell students it can take many years and then your calling could change. Maybe we all need to make better friends with ourselves.

Being hard on ourselves can be paralyzing. The voices creep in, “I’m not good enough, not smart enough, not pretty enough, not this enough, not that enough.” This can produce a lot of anxiety. 

When I paint and actually finally do get down to it, all these negative voices begin to fade away. It’s kind of like taking an anti anxiety drug. The act of creating art is almost instantly calming, as if I’m in a time warp and it’s just me and the painting having a conversation and everything else fades away. It’s not always easy in the beginning. In fact, most of the time it’s not. But somehow I know the artistic conversation is an extension of an inner world that is begging to come out, even if it takes a lot of time and effort. I’d like to do it all the time and not be so hard on myself when I don’t, but by now I know that I’ll probably never change. At least I’m doing my art some of the time and that refrigerator really does need to be cleaned and the upstairs bedroom vacuumed.

Past, Present & Future,  gouache on paper

Past, Present & Future, gouache on paper