I have been thinking a lot about creativity lately. Creativity and fear, in particular. There are a great many things that I want to try, do, make. They burn beneath my skin. But I let fear keep them there. I would rather spontaneously combust from the collective heat of all of my undone projects and unexplored ideas than put something imperfect out into the world.
Above all else, I fear rejection. I fear being told that I am not good enough, that I am not worthy. That I do not deserve love. The idea of making art and having it not be good enough for other people, even for me, makes me nauseous with terror.
For our baby shower, I put out a giant canvas that I’ve had for several years. When I hold it in front of my body, only my head and feet show. I put it out on the island with a bunch of paint and asked people to create a communal art piece that we would then hang in our daughter’s room. A lot of people were overwhelmed by this small act of creativity (aren’t we all?). “But I’m not an artist, Jessica.” “But … what would I even do?” “But I don’t paint.” My dad practiced his birds on a scrap of paper beforehand; they were literally the M-shaped birds that we all drew as children, though my father is capable of drawing a pretty realistic tiger. My mother painted an off-kilter diamond and then waved at it vaguely, asking one of our friends, “Do something with that, maybe?” (It seems that creativity and fear go hand in hand for a great many people.)
In the end, more than half of our guests contributed and the end result was a colorful, chaotic creation that looked like it was made by a bunch of manic kindergartners. It was far from a masterpiece, but it was made with great love.
There was a lot of white space, though, and it was disjointed. Bryan said it made him feel anxious. I thought I would add to it, fill in some of the white space, balance it out somehow, while preserving what our friends and family had poured themselves into. Had overcome their fears to create.
I put it off, though. What, exactly, should I do? I was deeply afraid of ruining what had been made that day. So it sat on a table in the basement, where I never really had to see it.
I thought about it, though. A lot. It wrapped itself around my brain like some kind of strangler vine. My anxiety grew. The truth was that I didn’t like it the way it was. I liked parts of it and I liked what it represented, the idea of it, but the canvas itself? I had no desire to hang it in the nursery.
A few weeks ago, finally, I decided to do something about it. There was resistance; the effort it took to actually heave myself off the couch after I’d announced I was going to paint was monumental, even by third trimester standards.
I did a warm-up painting, which I ended up liking quite a lot. Then I turned to the big canvas. Still, I had no idea what to do. Still, my mind was a complete blank. I could not picture anything to do with it that didn’t involve painting over the whole thing and starting again from scratch.
So I decided to just…start. I squirted some purple paint onto my palette and I just…started. The more I painted, though, the more I panicked. The more I looked at it and thought, “Fuck. Fuck fuck fuck, I have really messed this up.”
After about ten minutes, I stopped. I took a step back to survey the work that I had done, and my heart sank. I hadn’t loved it before, no, but now…well, now, I really hated it.
I was frustrated and angry. See? This is why I don’t take risks! This is why I don’t make things! Because they end up looking like this.
I wish there was some great moral to this story. Like, “I took a risk and it paid off in spades and now I have this amazing thing for our nursery.” But it doesn’t. It didn’t. I don’t. I don’t know yet how I am going to fix it. If I am going to fix it. It is still sitting on that table in the basement, my palette abandoned beside it, some brightly colored tissue paper next to that which I thought I might glue onto it. Just to make the whole thing look a little more disjointed and chaotic. Bryan said he would try to help. And maybe that’s the point: failure is just an opportunity to try again. And again and again and again. So answer the call to make art, even if you fuck it up, even if it makes you sick with fear, because there will always be another chance to try again. The fear is our signal that this is something important, this is something worth doing. And really, what is the alternative? Spontaneous combustion. That’s what.