Tuesday, January 20, 2015

The "Underneath" Story

Note: I'm re-posting this from my art blog.

A reader commented on my 2014 Re-Cap post that her year was full of less tangible accomplishments than mine. I like that observation. It's true that some years are full of busy activity, and some can be more low-key in terms of visibility, but a lot can go on underneath the surface. I'm going to use my Golden Moth Illumination Deck to show you what 2014 felt like to me.

I receive e-mails with tips and quotes from a creative business coach named Alexis Fedor. One quote I liked a lot was by novelist Zora Neale Hurston:
"There are years that ask questions and years that answer."

For me, 2014 was a year for both. I asked a lot of questions and experimented with trying to get the results I thought I wanted. I'm still sorting through the answers. I wanted to find a way to make a reliable living through my art, to find a way out of the ups and downs. I wanted to prove myself. But the truth is, I'm still experimenting. And I doubt that will ever end. Maybe I thrive off of the ups and downs more than I'd care to admit.

As an artist, I have never liked being fully in the spotlight. I want to reach people and share with them through my art, blog, and newsletter, but sometimes I feel very exposed doing so. And last year I felt more exposed than ever.

I wanted to take on a new role last year. One of "business person." I put myself out there in ways that felt exciting but sometimes uncomfortable. I worked a lot with my printer, figuring out solutions to issues that came up and figuring out the best ways to print my products. I called store owners and sent out many e-mails to try to get my notecards into stores. I had some success with that. But trying to learn how to run the business and apply it immediately sometimes felt like this:

It was a balancing act and a lot of scrambling. I went from feeling triumphant when I received an order, to feeling scared and overwhelmed that I couldn't handle anything or that nothing would result from my endeavors.

By throwing myself into my business, I also realized that running a business is unlike anything else I have done. It's not a flight of fancy. To grow a business, I'll need to keep it going on a day-to-day basis. I need to think about the next steps, how to make things work better. I run on cycles. The idea of long-term anything can feel like a burden. I wondered, "Is this really what I want? If not this, then what else should I do?"

By the end of last year, I had reaped my harvest. I wasn't a millionaire, but I had achieved small financial successes. Through trial and experience, I had made some good decisions. But I didn't feel good about it. It didn't seem like enough. I didn't feel good enough.

Right before I traveled to Rochester, NY to visit my family for the Christmas holiday, I spent an evening with a friend. Through intense conversations over dinner, in the car, and on a chilly walk through my old neighborhood, we both experienced a catharsis. 

"I feel pathetic," I told him. There were so many things I wanted for my future - children, a family, to continue to be a working artist. And I still couldn't see how that would be possible. It felt like so much work just to keep afloat. I felt lost and in need of a change. 

I still judged myself so harshly based on my social/monetary standing in life. Over dinner, my friend and I realized that's silly! Modern society places so much emphasis on our social statuses. As humans, we can no longer be happy with just surviving. We need to prove ourselves to other people, to bolster our own egos, to strive for what is considered "success."

I placed so much emphasis on money, thinking it would bring me happiness. I thought I was being reasonable, that I need money to raise a family, to buy a house, to continue to make art. I don't think there's anything wrong with wanting those things. But feeling like I'm not capable of achieving them has tortured me for so long. That night, I realized that those things were outside of myself. What matters most is how I feel.

Rather than trying to be someone worthy of feeling happiness, I just want to be happy. And for me, that means not trying to control the future. Not thinking Point A leads to Point B leads to Point C. Not trying to find the answers that will fix everything. I know my desire for control will flare up again and again. But when I get that anxious feeling of dread when I think about the future, I'll know that something is amiss. And I'll try to move toward the thing that feels better. Moment by moment.

It's been almost three weeks since I returned to Richmond from holiday, and this is where I'm at right now:

I feel like I'm floating through my life, incubating. I'm not trying to push myself too hard. Last year was a year of willfulness, of trying to put things in motion in the outside world. It taught me a lot. 

But I'm very tired from all that striving. Now I feel like retreating into the part of myself that bubbles with creativity, stories, visions, unknowns. I want to nurture the part of myself that doesn't want to be rational or successful. It's the part of me that creates for pure joy.

I want to write and illustrate the stories that have been living inside me, half-formed, for years. I don't want to think about the long-term plan right now or where my work will lead me. I just want to do it. 

I don't have all the answers. But answers just lead to more questions, anyway. 


  1. I can really relate to your words. This morning I was talking to my sister to share an epiphany I had, "let down people only gives a bitter taste when they (or ourselves) are loving us for the wrong reasons". Because there is no letting down, there are only decisions. Decisions that make us happy, that are true to ourselves. I've been looking at your deck on Etsy for a while and I'm really happy to discover your blog! (sorry for any English mistakes!)

    1. Hi Rita,

      Your English is great! Thank you for sharing your epiphany. I agree with you about decisions. Last month, I realized that making the right decisions for yourself is what makes you a true adult (because I sometimes feel I haven't grown up!), not money or status or material possessions. I have also gone through "letting people down." I used to think I had to say yes to what anyone asked me to do. I felt so overwhelmed. Now I have certain guidelines about what I say yes to. It helped me a lot. And it made me realize the world goes on even if you don't do something for someone else! I'm glad you enjoy the deck and the blog, thanks for visiting!