For a long time I cited as my favorite quote that memorable line from Strictly Ballroom: "A life lived in fear is a life half-lived." It's a beautiful and profound statement, but if I'm being completely honest, it's never done a thing for me.
Fear has this insidious way of worming itself into every nook and cranny of your world. Sometimes it's overt, but often it is clandestine and works its dark magic obscured by rationalizations and excuses worn like an endless supply of costumes plucked from the dark recesses of a trunk with no bottom. You're avoiding a thing not because you're afraid but because you're tired or don't have enough time or don't want to participate or know you'll hate it or...
I knew fear drove me away from things like performing or dating, but I had never realized just how pervasive fear had become. And then I saw a movie...
I recently went to see Call Me By Your Name, a small independent film that has captivated its audiences and even secured a Best Picture nomination. On paper the story sounds nice but not that remarkable: Two guys fall in love during a beautiful but all-too-brief summer in Italy.
But the movie was so much more than that. I could write about it for days, but for the purposes of this blog post, I'm going to limit my commentary to one specific point the movie makes: living your truth.
One character, a young man heartbroken by the unavoidable dissolution of his first real romance, sits by his father and mourns. The patriarch comforts his son and encourages him to live in the pain instead of trying to suppress or dismiss it. He pleads with his son at one point, "To make yourself feel nothing so as not to feel anything - what a waste!" The passion in his voice is so clear it floats off the screen and dances in the air. He knows Elio wants the pain to vanish, but he also knows that pain is necessary if one is to remain a whole person. If one is to live in authenticity.
It was in that moment that I felt a fundamental shift within me. A long-dormant seed popped open in the frozen tundra of my spirit. Roots wiggled out of the husk and threaded their way through my brain and down into my heart. The life radiating from these tendrils filled me with a strange combination of grief for the life I've denied myself and bliss from the realization that I no longer needed to entertain such a denial.
I sat in the parking lot for a while, allowing the car to rumble to warmth while I pondered the shifting tides within me. I wept and examined every tiny piece of my life. The closer I looked, the easier it was to spot all the ways in which fear had obliterated so much of who I was and stymied so much of who I wanted to be.
One such example is how consistently I've suppressed smiles and laughs over the last year or so. Anytime someone's made a joke, complimented me, asked how my day was...I've denied myself that expression of mirth, gratitude, or happiness. Although I've had enough self-awareness to recognize that it was happening, I was never quite sure why. But sitting there in my idling vehicle, I realized that it was all fear.
At some point, I'd started to equate emotions of any kind with exposure. Exposure with weakness. Weakness with pain, specifically an inevitable abandonment or rejection (or both) and the excruciating pain they always include as a free gift.
Fear of emotional vulnerability. I could almost feel the click-clack of mental dominoes falling in a path that lead to nearly every part of my life. My creativity, my love life, my family life, work... This irrational phobia of feeling and expression had far-reaching claws.
As an artist, I've always wanted to spend more time in museums absorbing art and writing down what that art inspires in me. But I've never done it. Fear always wore fantastic masks. "I don't have time." "The museum is too far away." "I'm tired." "I don't have the money for the parking garage." "I don't want to go alone."
Driving home as Sufjan Stevens trickled out of my car stereo, I recollected past visits to the museum and hunted for any hint at why something so simple had become so impossible. It was that fear of vulnerability. It stared me in the face, laughing at how oblivious I had been and double-dog-daring me to do something about it now.
You see, in the three (or so) visits I'd made to the art museum over the past decade, I'd always lingered in the galleries that did not affect me in any way. But I'd nearly always sped through the emotionally-arresting galleries as if my very life had depended on it.
I was scared to feel the things these paintings and sculptures force me to confront, often without warning. For example, a luscious Rubens painting (which I'll talk about next time) might barely register one moment, but then some small detail catches my eye and makes me ponder my mortality and the religious narcissism that all but ruined my childhood.
It'd always been much easier to lie to myself. (Here, I am reminded of my favorite Aqualung song, "Easier To Lie.")
And so I've made a choice. It is the first of many toward reclaiming my true name. I've decided to let those works of art inspire, challenge, and hurt me if that's what the moment dictates. I promptly became a member of the museum and have already been back.
And that's where this blog comes in. It's true that I'm using this public forum to force accountability (old habits die hard), but even more than that, I'm using it as a way to push myself to create even more.
My current plan is to include the four things below in each post (excluding this one, of course):
1. At least one image of the artwork that inspired me
2. A brief write-up (essay, if you will) of my contemplations on the art in that moment
3. A poem or set of lyrics inspired by those thoughts and musings
4. A self-portrait I take in an effort to visually convey how the art (both the original artist's and my own) has affected me
I hope you'll join me on this journey to reclaim my true, authentic self. I am excited for you to see who I am and for all of us to see who I become as I push fear aside and give myself permission to feel and live inside each moment, even the...no, especially the painful ones.