Being a maker is a clumsy, glorious business, and I suspect, though I can’t be certain, that it’s the same for someone who paints as it is for someone who writes, or builds a chair, or fixes up an old car, or tends a garden, or raises children. Being a maker asks us to simultaneously believe we can do anything, and be okay with the reality that we can’t do it all, to work without the guarantee of support or praise, but to accept what we receive with grace. Being a maker, at its core, asks us to try, and sometimes it’s the trying, which in itself is a beginning of sorts, that's the hardest part.
When I was teaching and a student declared their inability to begin or tackle an assignment, overwhelmed by the possibilities, paralyzed by the fear of not knowing, I would say these words: find your own way in. At the time this meant critical thinking papers on Lil Wayne, 30 Rock, and Santa Claus, all of which were better than anything I could have arbitrarily assigned as a topic, because so often in life it’s more about the how and why instead of the what, and their what was the door that allowed them in to the work they needed to do. Now, almost six years since my last class, I find that I say this same small reminder to myself all the time. When I wanted to make full page scrapbook layouts, but nothing felt right, when I was trying to tackle my first Doodled class and I kept wondering how on earth I’d teach someone else to draw, when I designed my first, second, third, fourth kits, when I took on a new project recently that felt thrilling, but daunting; during all of this, I would whisper to myself, find your own way in.
It’s easier, I think, to follow the path that’s being tread by the person before you, and safer, surely, to keep going on that path even though you can hear the call of the invitations to veer off on your own, but most real success, internally or externally, is not found in safety.
And this, the zone of discomfort, is where I find myself lately as I look for my own way in. I’d like so much to say that it’s static, that once it’s found it applies to everything, but for each new project, each new thing I make and try, I find myself fumbling in the dark, looking for the door. Here’s the thing: I am so good at stubbornly refusing to find the door at first, and climbing through the open window, and trust me, there’s almost always an open window; in making, like life, there’s usually an easy way in, but it’s almost never the right one. Here’s the other thing: it’s okay to go in through the window, realize it’s not working, and go back out to look for the door. A delay is not death when it comes to the act of creating, and a wrong choice does not mean it’s the wrong project, but simply that it might be the right project done in a way that could have been better; a way that is more honest and real. If it’s important to try, then it’s even more important to try again.
When I’m searching, I get quieter on the outside, and louder on the inside. My mind races from “oh, that’s it!” to “how would I ever make that work” to “of course!” to “what was I thinking?” Lately, instead of letting these ideas exist and tangle, and letting the thunderclap of my thoughts create a new way in, I’ve been using them as excuses to stop. Too much, too little, too typical, to different, too easy, too hard, too silly, too serious, too, too, too; it seems I’ve got a reason for every step back, and I think I know why.
I’m getting closer, I can feel it, to the edge of the cliff, and the possibility of tipping off into some new way that’s both incredible and terrifying. Being a safety of the shore type girl, the thought of getting close to the edge of anything makes my heart race and palms clammy, and my head screams, “STAY WHERE YOU ARE! IT’S SAFE HERE WITH TROUBLE YOU KNOW,” but my gut thumps, “you have to keep going, you’ve got this.”
I’m sharing this now because I’ve been watching so many people go through what I think, at least from the outside (which is deceptive, I know), is the same kind of thing. If you’re anything like me, it’s so tempting to look only to those who seemingly have it all together, and to decide that these worries are silly, that we should all be so strong and brave and well-adjusted that we really don’t need to give time to these petty concerns, and just push through. I love the idea of just pushing through in theory, and sometimes it works, but the best kind of bravery I’ve seen is the kind that stops, admits to what’s not working, and then finds a way that will. The kind of brave I want to be is the kind that owns up to all the feelings and fears, but keeps going, keeps finding the doors, and keeps walking through, not unscathed, but bold and beautiful, even if battered.
There’s a good chance that it will take longer than I’d like to get myself to take the leap I know I want and need to take, but that’s okay, because I’ll keeping moving, and making, and one day soon, likely when I’m not even noticing how close I’ve gotten, I’ll find myself on the other side, smiling back and how brave all those hesitant and honest steps really were.
For now, I will keep finding my own ways in.