"It looks like about thirty different people made the work on this table." It was the end of the semester critique, and my ceramics instructor, Katherine, was looking at my table, which held about thirty different pieces of widely varying styles, sizes, shapes and colors. "Yeah! Cool, right?" I was super stoked. There was nothing I loved more than spending my afternoons in the studio making whatever came to mind.
"Well, no," she replied, "not if you want a following." I ended up getting an A in the class, but this comment would not be the first or the last of its kind throughout my artistic career.
I have a problem making the same thing over and over again. It starts to feel non-creative. It starts to feel like factory work. It starts to feel like my soul is being crushed. Souls crushing carry with them an awful sound, so I do as many different things as I can; for instance, writing, drawing, found object sculpture and painting in order to keep my mind and body properly engaged.
My need to mix it up is why I am now making a drawing a day instead of taking a photo a day for my body confidence project. I ran out of questions to answer with my photos, and started having questions that my drawings could answer. So that is that, every day I will make a drawing, sell the originals on Instgram, and sell prints on my print website. Until I come up with the next thing...which could be any time at all.
This great need for variety also exists in other areas of my life as well, which is why I am so comfortable with uncomfortability. Staying in any one place, doing the same thing over and over again and getting the same results makes my skin crawl. I become deeply depressed if I am not at least attempting to move through something like emotional trauma, fear, or anger.
Fortunately for me, I was born to therapists, and when they split they both chose new therapists to partner up with, so all of my life I have been the subject of analysis to some extent. For a long time, this made me quite crazy, full of self-doubt, and as a bonus I developed an uncanny ability to be hard as stone on myself when it came to my shortcomings.
I was discussing my temperament the other day with a new and exciting friend of mine, as we were discussing the various and complex dynamics of open relationships. The thing about open relationships is there is a lot of jealousy. It is common, I would dare say ubiquitous, but, because open relationships are not yet a widely acceptable way of living one's life, there are few avenues for support or assistance. This puts the people in them at a bit of a loss, because while there are literally millions of books/therapists/support groups out there on how to handle heterosexual conformist relationship dynamics, there are painfully few that discuss open relationships.
Additionally, there is a fear among monogamists, it seems, around couples who are in open relationships, which I can only compare to the fear that straight men have of gay men. That is that because a couple is open, they will automatically want to sleep with every person/couple they come into contact with. As I said, it is much like the straight men who fear that every gay man will automatically want to sleep with them. It is unfounded and ridiculous, but of course, most fears of this nature are.
Which brings me back to what we fear, and how to break through those fears. It is not typical. It is not something you hear people talk about in casual conversation. But I have to tell you, it is a bit like a compulsion with me at this point in my life. Very often, if something is painful, or hard, or I sense that I am afraid, there is also something else. There is this little excited voice in the back of my mind, yelling and cheering because she knows that things are about to change.While I am vividly aware that it could suck for an as-yet-undetermined amount of time, I know for sure that at some point in the not too distant future, (hopefully), shit is gonna be amazing. My life is going to change and improve in ways I have only dreamt of. My world view, most likely, is going to expand. And that is most often, just the beginning, and that is because I have found a way to break through my fears.
A lot of people get close to their fears then they back off. Or, they get close to their fears and they stuff them down. Or, they drink, eat, smoke, or shoot them away. That is because these fears very often come with pain, and pain, well, is pain, and we are not socialized to understand what that type of pain might mean.
When you break a bone, cut open or burn your flesh, or in some other way do serious damage to your physical being, that pain signals damage. It is your body telling you it is in need of healing. Emotional pain is much the same, but because there is no physical evidence, it is challenging to know where to start. The similarity is that emotional pain is also a signal from your body that it is in need of healing, and it is up to you to figure out how to go about that.
For me, it is a matter of pattern recognition. There are certain types of pain that I have become quite familiar with; these are the pains associated with fear of abandonment, fear of neglect, and fear of being crazy. Over time, I have created ways to deal with this pain, and very often, in fact I would say in almost every situation, it involves communicating with the person who is involved in this dynamic. Every time I do, the situation resolves itself, and even before that happens, I feel better.
I can best illustrate why I feel better by comparing my fears/pain to that of a building up of steam in a tea kettle or any kind of energy that has to be released. If it is not, very often, there are disastrous results. But, when it is released, the fear and the pain resulting from it evaporates. This is why, in almost every situation, when I am feeling uncomfortable due to my concern over neglect, abandonment, or the perception that I might be crazy, I voice it as soon as I can. I also do something that has helped me in every area of my life; I ask questions about my behavior and how people perceive me. It helps me to understand why people react to me the way they do, and what I might unknowingly be doing to create the painful situations I sometimes find myself in.
So, get organized about your fear and pain:
Due to this history, I developed a habit of being WILDLY INDEPENDENT. Capitalized because it was almost unreasonable, the extent to which I took my independence. I did not like asking for help, I did not like accepting help, and frankly, I tried to act in almost EVERY SITUATION as if I needed no help. At all.
You know what would happen next? I would become profoundly emotionally wounded when the people I loved wouldn't help me. I told you it was embarrassing. I would set myself up to be in situations that pushed all my buttons and caused me extreme amounts of pain. I did it to myself, but was not aware of it until I had the courage to ask an instructor of mine why she never paid attention to me or helped me during class. She told me it was because I put off the energy that I didn't need or want any help. The answer surprised me, but it did not shock me.
That was not the first time I heard an answer like that, but it was the first time I listened. I was 26. I am now 46 and still need reminders of this painful but incredibly useful lesson.
Now, I ask for help. Sometimes, I even ask strangers. I am not perfect. I don't ask every time, and sometimes I catch myself setting up my boyfriend to disappoint me, but I know that one of my things is that I tend to set people up to disappoint me, so when he points it out to me, there is very little in the way of argument.
How about you? What do you do to hurt yourself? What situations do you find yourself in over and over again, that cause you pain? What can you change about your behavior so that you can move through your pain and get to growth?
All of this is not easy. I know that. Mostly because I do it. But it is so worth it. Life does not have to be about what you are not. Life doesn't have to be about what you don't have. Life can be about surprises, it can be about how much you can be. But it will be hard to get there if you repeat patterns over and over again which only bring you torment and suffering.
So why not give it a shot? Look at what you are doing. Ask your friends and the people who know you best what they see, and really listen to what they say. It can be scary, I know, it can also be painful. But, it can also be the beginning of your big, new life. It can be the start of your new found greatness.
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