A few months ago I made a some decisions regarding my life, my sincere and urgent need for change. While there is little I can do, right now, to make some of the changes I wish, there is a lot I can do to make changes in my heart, and in my mind. Slowly, I started implementing those changes–I did things differently, or allocated more time to that, and less time to this, or signed up for a class, a contest, a long race. I began imagining a different future in another landscape doing something else.
And can I tell you? The further I go, the longer I travel, the easier it becomes to declare this new reality. It is a series of small repetitions–difficult, at first, like learning to do a bicep curl, but over time, with increasing ease and effortlessness. With heightened care for the process, and lessened care for the result. The strength matters more than the muscle’s appearance.
The more I do these things, the less I care about the outcome, about getting it right, getting in, finding some level of immediate success. The more I do these things, the more I am convinced that I’m finally, after so many years of feeling lost, that I’m finally on the right path. Or at least a path–not treading mindlessly through recurrent tides of fog, hoping it will finally let up, clear away. My mistake was the hoping. The thought that if I just kept going, it would have to get better, the fog would have to clear. Well, I will tell you, in some valleys, along some coast lines, the fog never lifts. It is perpetual, it is persistent, it is almost permanent. My mistake was not going right, not going left. My mistake was worrying about which turn was correct, which was wrong, and continuing straight instead. My mistake was thinking that there was a wrong turn. It turns out that simply turning was all I needed to do. It turns out that as soon as the air is clear, as soon as I can see, then I can decide if I should have gone the other way. And you can always go another way, so long as you can at least see where you are.
There is still so much I don’t know. There is still so much that is so far out that it does not matter how clear the air is–I can’t see it yet. I will admit I still get nervous: is this right? Did I choose the right direction? Should I have turned the other way? What if I don’t get in? Then what? I don’t know yet. I suspect I won’t know for a while. But every step I take is easier than the last, if you can forgive the cliché. The fear of going in the wrong direction loosens, its gravity is slowly released. The world is round after all, and I will always move in circles. The other ways will come back to me, so long as I keep moving about.
I have to say one thing, though, before I depart. Regardless of the possibility of going in the wrong direction, one item is clear, is certain, is nearly tangible: I was put here to create. I was put here to make things: sentences, stories, essays, poems, photographs, drawings, paintings, small sculptures and other contraptions. The fact, though, that I was put here to make things does not denote success. Does not promise I will be congratulated or even known for my efforts, for my little creations. It indicates only one thing, really, and it is the only thing that matters:
Making has to be at the center, it has to be the axis of my life, around which everything else moves and shifts, comes and goes. It can’t ever go. I can’t ever forfeit it, bury it, ignore it, or criticize it. I also cannot go full force into education, politics, the environment, or social justice; those can be things I do, but they have to be planets, lunar bodies. The sun, that central axis, must be the act of creation, the source of everything, present and steady always. Sometimes, when I’m angry about all this, I like to think that if my parents had had more money, that if I hadn’t had to take out so many loans, that I might have figured this out sooner. That I’d have gone after the degree I really wanted (that holy MFA) and not the degree I felt I needed in order to pay back my loans. But I don’t think so. Even way back then, as an undergraduate, I was lost, I was too unsure of myself to take anything that came out of me seriously. I couldn’t really believe that I belonged in the world of makers, of creation. The only way to know was to leave that world, and then watch myself suffer the consequences.
It will, undoubtedly, be infinitely more difficult to maintain creating and making’s central location in my life if I never do find success, but I also have seven years of memories as a reminder: what happens to me when I don’t make things, what becomes of me when I ignore my instincts and desires and creative impulses, where I end up when I stop.
The valley of perpetual fog, of blind weather, of monotone scenery, of soundless footsteps. A beautiful place to walk through, perhaps, but not along, not forever. Simply put: I have to try. My small and singular life depends on it.