As a teenager in high school, I’d occasionally poke my head into the art classroom or look through the window of the door. I was curious. I’d look at the drawing tables and potter’s wheels, and the students’ artwork hanging along the walls. And I’d wonder what it was like.
I wanted so.badly. to take art classes, but I was afraid. I didn’t know where to begin. I assumed I was lacking whatever skills were needed even to begin.
The older I got, the further I felt I’d fallen behind. I hadn’t taken the beginning art class, so how could I take the next level and the next? So I looked on in college, too, envious of those who were taking those classes and having art shows on campus. The more years I let go by, the more I felt I’d fallen behind, making it all the more impossible, in my mind anyway, to jump in.
It hurt. And it still hurts when I think back and remember those moments as a fearful younger me. When I was in college, I was curious to explore art, in general. I especially wanted to study writing and photography. I had a gauzy hint of how dreamy it would be to be a writer or photographer.
I did not take photography classes. When I went to a fellow senior’s photography exhibition as his graduation show, I remember feeling like I’d missed out. I also thought that what he showed was not beyond my capabilities, even though I’d yet to receive an ounce of photography instruction. But it was too late. I too was about to graduate.
I would take writing classes as electives during my junior and senior years, however, because I knew I was interested in it but I didn’t believe there could be a path into my future through writing.
One of my writing professors was the faculty sponsor of the campus newspaper at this small liberal arts college, and he invited me to write for the newspaper. I was afraid and insecure, and I let the fear prevent me from accepting his offer. I was afraid of what others would think of my writing skills, or of me laid bare on the page.
It’s emotional for me even now, to look from outside myself these 25 to 30-plus years removed. To know what that young boy and young man had in his heart that he was afraid to touch, to explore, to speak up for, to let shine. To fail and succeed with. I wish I could tell him what he needed to know and give him the encouragement he needed to hear, and urge him to believe and leap.
Still, that boy found his way, in time. Now, here I am, 20 years into a career as a multifaceted creator, including as a writer and photographer. And what I’ve learned through experience and time is that what calls to us calls until we hear it, until we let it through our armored shells of fear and uncertainty, and acknowledge it. Until we take action on it. And then it walks with us, unfolding the path as we go.
Now, as a parent of two sons and as a creator who shows and publishes work in various mediums, I feel for that younger version of myself and for anyone like him.
I am sad for teen me and college me, and for younger adult me, all the versions of me who didn’t feel worthy and who envied artists who were showing their work, and writers who were publishing their work, and all who dared to create and hold it up to the light.
For expressing themselves. For feeling into the vibrations of their voices rising up and out from somewhere deep and visceral and eternal within. For facing their fears, which I now know they too must have felt. We all do. We all feel the raw, exposed nerves of vulnerability as creators and self-explorers, and as voices expressing in public.
The courage we gather to face that fear is the difference. I came to my courage by eventually recognizing that the weight of fear about not creating, about not listening to the call from within, began to outweigh the fear of doing it.
We’re all called to our work, and we all have work to shine. What has your heart and soul been trying to get you to hear, maybe for many years? It’s not too late. It’s not. Let the voice rise. Feel it, allow it, hear it. Heed it. One step at a time. There’s no wrong way forward in answering this call, as long as you answer.
Making art and expressing ourselves is a never ending process. It’s a practice. Courage is a practice.