Last Tuesday morning as I sat in a cafe chatting with a friend and getting ready to launch my new art shop, my best friend was preparing her culinary midterm project. This is her first term in pastry making, and she was nervous. Ten minutes into the process, she accidentally sliced open her finger as her professor watched, sliced it open badly enough that she had to leave her midterm and go to the emergency room for stitches. The poor girl. Mercifully, her instructor told her she could retake the midterm on Thursday. He knows from experience the nervousness, the danger of being a brand new chef in a kitchen full of fellow brand new chefs.
And this morning was so much like another morning I remember. It was late August, at the very beginning of my sophomore year. I was standing at my easel for the first day of Drawing I. The classroom was warm in the haze of an un-air-conditioned building, but I was scratching away at my sketchpad, glancing back and forth between my page and the prop - a lone orchid on a stool in the middle of our circle. I glanced at the girl next to me. My orchids drooped, clunky with the weight of too much shading, while her feathery petals sloped delicately across the page. I felt suddenly, regrettably faint. My face flushed with anxiety and blackness clouded the corners of my vision. I couldn't breathe. The professor walked past, and noticed my hand poised motionless over the paper.
"How's it going?" she asked brightly.
In a shaky voice I asked to sit down. She went and found me a glass of water and let me sit, head between my knees, until I could breathe again. I couldn't bear to look up and see if the other students were stealing glances at me and my incomplete page. As soon as class was dismissed I rushed back to my room and collapsed in the middle of our floor to the half amusement and concern of my roommates.
These moments pile, one on top of the other, like bricks. My insecurity is the mortar that seals them all together into a thick barrier that separates what I am doing now from what I want to be doing in the future. I become hardened and indifferent to art, believing that there is no place for it in my life. I am not meant for it. It is not mine to enjoy.
But it's a defense mechanism, this wall. It puts me in a dark place where my blog posts and poetry and sketches stay buried, lest someone finds them lacking and amateur. It's where all my excuses are born, reasons to keep my cooking and my art and my writing to myself. It helps me hide away my thin skin.
But what joy is there in art unshared? A slip of the knife is an easy mistake. No matter how steady our hands, we are all thin-skinned and fragile, vulnerable and easily exposed. A wall will only bury us and who we really are. There is no joy in that.
I'm working to break down the walls I've built around myself, to bare my thin skin and share my art with others, no matter how painful the process, no matter how raw it makes me.
We have to be willing to slice ourselves open, to pour ourselves out onto the page.
Are you in a dark place? What walls have you built around yourself? What painful moments are you holding onto, or rather,
What painful moments are holding you back?
[All images by me, Bethany Suckrow.]