After committing to my one word for 2015, now I’m defining a big task I’d like to take on this year. I want to use my focus to create intentionally. Below is an essay explaining why I am embarking on a journey of making 52 Projects in 2015. It is long, but for me this journey has been complex, and I want to record every bit of it here.
On the morning of November 6, a realization hit me like a ton of bricks.
I was made to make.
To those who know me, that might seem silly. One of my greatest passions has always been making things. When I was a kid, I spent hours dreaming about future projects, even as a kid. I daydreamed about drawing. I saw a sunset and wanted to spend rolls of film trying to capture it. I planned 4-H projects all year in anticipation of creating them and learning from them in the summer. I painted, canned my own jam, made beeswax candles, planted vegetables, and made my own jewelry as an elementary, middle, and high schooler. I was always involved in the performing arts, especially in singing.
At some point, I got out of my rhythm of creating. I abandoned the act of creating for a period of time to pursue good grades throughout college, to audition, and to try and get scholarships and win awards and grow up. But my heart always wandered back to making my own bread, sewing gold sequins on shoes, making dresses, making my own cheese, and planting my garden. I had a hard time focusing on a career traveling, auditioning, and singing opera. I could not picture myself in business suits, networking, growing up, being what I saw as responsible.
My heart soared when I captured beauty through my camera. That act of creation alone coaxed me away from 12 years of voice lessons and two degrees in voice performance and into the first years of my photography business. For me, creation is a transcendent experience. God reaches for me in that space, I think because I reach for Him there more than anywhere else. I see the endless possibility he has created. I see a space he meant for me to inhabit. Charcoal was once my favorite medium, and I would get lost for hours, endlessly blending and smoothing and sketching. I would forget myself and be inhabited by that deep, sweet longing for something beyond myself. When I’d finally pass by a mirror later, I’d see a girl staring back at me with charcoal smears on her face and a light in her eyes that wasn’t there before. It was both intoxicating and terrifying.
In some of the darkest moments of my life, I have had the impulse to squelch the creator in me. To grow up, to be what others defined as “normal” or “responsible”, to give up on what God made me to do. Some part of me would awake and scream at me to sell my cameras, to throw out my paint, and to go do something that reasonable, successful people do. Why didn’t I get my teaching degree, again? Things would just be easier if I sat behind a desk. In those moments, I forget that we were all made to work and contribute differently. I don’t have to fit into someone else’s ideal. That bitter swell of spiritual warfare wells up inside of me at times when I least expect it. When I am in bed in the dark, about to fall asleep, it grips me with an intense anxiety unlike anything I’ve known. It whispers that I’m a failure. It grips me when I sit amid my undergrad friends, most six or seven years into their careers, with children, beautiful houses, investment accounts. That is my great Enemy, The Resistance, whispering to me that something else will make me happier and complete me, whispering that I’m deluding myself and that I’m not enough. I forget to see the beauty of what is around me. I fail to see the great and generous God who made me. I fail to thank Him for my fellow artist and creator, my wonderful husband, who stands beside me. In those moments, I am not thankful for the desire to create, that great gift, and a family who has supported me and encouraged me. I forget to be thankful for an entrepreneurial spirit, belief in the impossible. That girl in the mirror, face smeared with charcoal, eyes bright with that fire to create, that is my gift.
2014 was a major year of spiritual growth for me. I am more acutely aware of the fact that no matter where I find myself in my life, I will never feel fully satisfied by this world, because I was made to crave more. As C.S. Lewis said in Mere Christianity,
If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world.
I felt paralyzed by that revelation for awhile. I was afraid to make the most of this one life, fearing that I’d latch on to hoping too much in the next phase, instead of hoping in the God who gave me that phase. Finish college, finish grad school, get a job, buy a house, have kids, invest…I find myself in the middle of that list, almost stuck. Grad School was my great disappointment. I pushed and pushed and pushed toward it. I thought a full ride to the top-rated vocal program in the country and getting to work with an incredible voice teacher would satisfy me. Of course, when I reached that goal, it did not satisfy. The disappointment was so sharp, it was one of the most confusing and difficult times of my life. So I pushed toward finishing the degree and starting a photography business. Surely shooting weddings would satisfy me ultimately? It did not. I have found much joy in creating, in documenting beauty, in helping others see how singular they are. Joy, yes. Ultimate satisfaction, no. I fight against my nature so I no longer delude myself into thinking that once my photography business makes “x” amount of dollars, once I quit shooting weddings, once I have more money, once I lose 30 pounds, once we are ready for kids, then I’ll be happy. That kind of waiting and banking and praying causes us to be blind to the beauty and the perfect in the everyday. We ignore what God has placed in front of us and within us by looking toward what we are hoping in beyond us.
And so I struggled in that space. My photography business was more difficult than I imagined. I felt that I stood on the outside of a ring of “legitimate” artists. I met new people and when they asked what I do for a living, I felt unsure of how to tell them that I’m a photographer. And a voice teacher. And a designer. And an encourager.
I had an ‘aha’ moment this past November when a good friend of mine invited me to an Arts KC event – their annual inspiration breakfast. I sat with 500 other people, listening to inspirational stories about the arts, hearing statistics about the jobs that the arts create, and hearing from other creatives who are making a living creating. Many of the people I sat with were donors and patrons. I distinctly felt in the wrong place in that moment, sitting among them. I was moved to tears as I listened to one of their grant recipients get up and talk about her childhood, the way her parents nurtured her art, and her insatiable urge to create. I walked away from that event with a a realization burning and pulsing deep within me.
I am an artist.
I called my Dad on my way home that day. I cried into the phone. I’m sure I sounded like a basket case to him as I sobbed. I told him, “I’m an artist…I was born to create.” I was born to sing, paint, design, hammer, sweat, cry, and form. I told him if I do anything else, a huge part of me will die. But I confessed I just didn’t know what it looked just yet to make it all work.
So he laughed and told me in that way that only parents can, “Be patient…it won’t be easy for you…don’t give up.” And I wept for how little I deserve such parents as mine. They believe in me most of all when I don’t believe in myself.
And out of these things was born an idea that rolled through my mind as I was trying to fall asleep (a common occurrence for me). There are 52 weeks in 2015. (Ok, there are actually 53…but who’s counting?) I began to ask myself, what would it look like if I created in a rhythm this year? What new skills could I learn? What new doors could God allow me to open up inside and outside of myself? How would this affect my art, the way I view myself, the way I view the vibrant arts community I’ve been standing just outside of? I rent a studio space among other artists in Kansas City, and yet I’ve not counted myself among them. Why?
So this year, I will make and document 52 Projects. These don’t have to be big. I’ve already made an idea list. The goal is that I will aim to finish one each week. At the end of this project I hope to have learned more about myself as an artist, a creature of God, and an entrepreneur. I will turn 30 in 2015. For the first half of my 20s, I sprinted toward finishing my college degrees, toward getting married, toward the future. I rarely worried I’d made the right choice. I had a lot of confidence. For the second half, I’ve spent a lot of time being afraid, feeling uncertain, second guessing myself, feeling like a failure. It hurts to admit that, because I want to pretend I have it all together. But the truth is, I’ve been paralyzed, waiting for my future to happen to me.
God has gifted me with the realization this past fall that I was made to create things, to document beauty, to live this life vibrantly. He gifted me with relationships and encouraging friends and clients who have helped me to realize that I’ve been called to create and to guide others toward knowing themselves as artists. Sometimes I think my struggle toward acceptance and embracing my creator spirit has taught me so much about counseling others and helping them to view themselves as legitimate artists and businesspeople. I’m excited to use this space to document that journey of creating and making…and for those of you who have read this essay to the end, I am so grateful that you would join me.
Happy Sunday, wonderful friends.