Having the courage to create and show up at the drawing table

The courage to create“An artist must be open to the muse. The greater the artist, the more he is open to “cosmic currents.” He has to behave as he does. If he has “the courage to be an artist,” he is committed to behave as the mood possesses him. . . .The price an artist pays for doing what he wants is that he has to do it.”–William S. Burroughs

If you’re not an artist, that might not seem like such a high price to pay. In fact, it might seem like “she gets to do it,” rather than “she has to do it.” But it’s not. It’s akin to a bungee jump for someone who has never bungee-jumped and has a fear of heights they want to overcome. You stand at the precipice of the jump, determined to conquer your fear, and it’s a binary choice: I either conquer my fear or I don’t. I either jump or I don’t. If I change my mind and step back and don’t make the jump, I’ll still be facing this fear for the rest of my life until I come back and make the jump.”

I’ve never had any desire to bungee jump, but my whole artistic life has been on hold because of other things that I felt I had to do. Duties. Obligations. Responsibilities. Now, I have the room, the time, and the space to pursue the artistic life that I’ve put on hold for 40 years. Daily, I find myself at that precipice, hesitant, afraid to make the jump. So I check the straps and the cords, and do some deep breathing…I made the artistic jump. I’m in a free fall and haven’t hit that point where the cords pull me back yet. It’s a LONG drop. It’s terrifying. It’s everything I was so afraid that it would be if I ever got to this point.

But I made the jump. That’s the important part. I put myself out there. I didn’t retreat at the precipice. When I was about 10 years old, I was visiting my cousin of the same age and we went to the pool at Andrews Air Force Base. He wanted me to go off the high dive at the pool. There was a line all the way up the tall ladder and back down around the pool. I was terrified of heights. We got in line together and waited for our turn. He went before me. I got all the way up there, walked out onto the board, looked down from the end, turned back around, and worked my way back down the ladder through the line of annoyed kids until I had made my way back down to the concrete around the pool. It wasn’t a bungee jump but it was just as terrifying in my ten-year-old mind.

To some extent, where my art is concerned, I’ve been doing that my entire life. Right at the precipice I’ve pulled back, climbed back down the ladder. The concrete around the pool is my safe, important, and very respectable job. I’ve always thrown myself into that, giving it more time and energy than it actually needs. I have plenty of time to also work on art and put it out there now that I”m not working on that PhD, and I can still do the teaching job that I love (and plan to for many years). There is room in my life to regularly walk to the high dive and jump, then return to the concrete; then do it again, and again… The important thing is to climb up there at regular intervals and keep jumping.

Burroughs was right. It’s a “have to” situation. To not do it is to live a life of regret and longing for what could have been. That’s a recipe for depression and despair.
You will never see me bungee jumping or on the high dive at the pool, but you will see me at my drawing table every morning at 4:00am, and in that art studio every Friday night, listening to the muse and doing her bidding.

Life is good and I am grateful.

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