What Inspires Me

When My Heart Cracks Open

Today I have been in a place of my heart cracked open. I’ve been thinking about how I’ve been feeling creatively constipated. My problem isn’t a lack of ideas to develop. My problem is a lack of ideas that I want to develop.

For example, I’ve been interested in acrylic painting and I have all the supplies I need. Yet I put it off and put it off. It’s maddening!

I tell myself I don’t want to have more stuff to clean up. That I don’t want to paint lots of stuff that looks like shit. I want to paint things that I feel good about. When I tell myself that I won’t paint things I like until I paint some things I don’t like, part of me says “shut up.”

It wasn’t always like this for me. When I was a kid I was happily fearless when it came to any art project. If I saw something I liked, I’d go home and try it out. I was lucky to go to a school in which time was set aside for kids to do arts and crafts. I created all kinds of cool things and had no problem if what I created was less than perfect. I put it aside and moved on.

This changed for me when I became a teenager. I know adolescence is a tricky time for girls. Often they drop things they loved when they were younger: sports, science, and math in favor of fitting in with their peers. Some of this was true for me, I received a lot more attention and praise for wearing cool clothes, my sense of humor, and my musical ability than art. I focused on the things that made me feel like I belonged and was valued.

When did I start pushing art to the side? When did I start caring about how good my creations were in the eyes of other people?

I think back to a class I took on painting. I was 12-years old and we were each given canvases and pots of acrylic paint. I remember a boy sitting next to me who was younger than me and I was amazed by how good his painting was. It looked like something a “real artist” would create.

I felt a strong mix of emotions: admiration, jealousy, and dismay. I was used to being the best artist in the class. It felt good being the best at something. It could always go back to knowing this was something I could depend on.

But now, here was a kid younger than me who was clearly a better artist! I knew I wasn’t as good as a professional artist but took comfort in knowing that one day I could be. I assumed I would have to take more classes and work at it. I assumed you weren’t a truly good artist until you became a grown up. And here was evidence that this wasn’t true.

I put down my brush, looked at my blank canvas, and stopped right there. I told the teacher that I wanted to leave early and that I would come up with an idea before the next class. I wanted to come up with an idea that would be clearly better than anything this boy had done.

And I tried to follow through on what I said I would do. I thought about what I could paint. I tried sketching my idea on the canvas. Ultimately, what I imagined I wanted to create and what I had the skill to create were too far apart. Deeply discouraged, I threw out the canvas and told my mom I didn’t want to go to the class anymore.

Here I am decades later with a box full of blank canvases, paints, and brushes still fearful of being unable to capture my ideas in a way I think is “good enough.”

I ask my community, my wise, loving ancestors for support. They hug me and tell me how sorry they are that I have struggled. They sit with my 12-year old self who was hurting and didn’t have a place to take her feelings. Who decided she wasn’t good enough and gave up.

I ask my ancestors when will it stop being so damn hard. Will I ever be able to paint as I did as a child? With joy, for myself, and without fear.

The ancestors tell me, I am already in the process of getting to this place. That I have just hit a mass of scar tissue and the only way to dissolve this scar tissue is by witnessing without judgement. Without having “next steps,” and without any “fixing.”

So today this is where I am. Feeling my heart cracked open and at the same time feeling safe and accepted. Here is where I sit today.

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