This is the process of tackling self-doubt, (Resistance), follow thinkers, creatives, want-to-be-strivers and hiders.
Yesterday, around midday was probably at the height of my most recent convictions. A friend called and I described my newest revelations in what was like a manic confession. I had it all figured out. I told her about how everything was coming together for me. Not only had I finally found a direction forward, but everything was syncing. Way forward, life goals, being authentic, living my identity and so on. Whoo!
Little later in the day doubt crept in after a design failure. I had been struggling with this beer can label design that not only was not coming together for me, but I kind of hated. Design failure doesn’t phase me (usually). It’s just work and something to work through. Often it means not enough ground work was done at the beginning and I was flailing away. But the frustration of it made me wonder why I was even doing it. Or whether I should be doing it.
Last night I worked on this blog and changed a few things. I changed the title of the Lonely Fog photo series and then changed back again. The last title was dark, but more interesting. But dark. How can I ever hope to appeal to anyone that way?
Besides which, the impulse to photograph it in the first place came from an appreciation for the mysterious and magic, not from a place of post-apocalyptic despair. Which is lovely fuel for my mind – when it the process of creating art actually done… but what will people like?
I was feeling the direction debate creep up. Quietly, the weight of self-doubt crept up and sat on my chest for the night while I slept.
Calling or Folly?
By morning all of me was heavy. As I walked home looking for things to shoot, I experienced the most intense self-doubt I have experienced in a very long time.
Who am I to think I can take this direction in my life – to commit myself to art? Who am I to act as if this has always been in me and this is my purpose? Was I peeling back layers or simply cloaking myself in the grandiose illusion that I was? Do I actually have any talent or have I let arrogance and misplaced belief fool me? Who am I to think I am not just like a zillion other mediocre people who think if they only wish it it can come true?
When we talk about impostor syndrome as artists, they often say, you are not an impostor if you are worried about it, because true impostors never have any doubt.
I’ll counter that. I think that when I experience it, its completely valid. It is not to say I am deliberately being deceiving. It’s more like I’m living for others. More adaquately I am living out of fear and have lost myself. Counterfeit me.
I’ve been tempted by million directions at once in my life. I accepted that I am a multipotentialite. But I thought I had tackled it. I thought I arrived. Yet here it was, I didn’t even know what to shoot: I’m continuing split minded thinking in my work. Nothing had changed, I lamented. I just let myself get carried away once again.
Suddenly I didn’t really know what I was doing. There was a self-consciousness in my work that wasn’t there before. A trying too hard. A filling in for something that wasn’t actually there. How about this? How about this? How about this? What fits the requirements?
I was not operating from the heart and soul.
The striving towards an authentic living had vanished from action and thought and you don’t see what’s not there.
The stuff of dreams
I have had these recurring dreams of being up high in these rickety high structures. Structures that aren’t built properly or are collapsing. Falling through parts of the floor that are not level. Perhaps stairs missing.
It seems very obvious to me what these dreams mean. I had my head in the skies of illusions and lofty ideas that are not properly supported. I’m not grounded.
I’ve walked by this structure a zillion times, but it wasn’t until I saw it from across the small river that I realized it was the perfect metaphor for those dreams and currently the wave of self-doubt I was experiencing.
This treehouse really was something once. It caught fire at some point. There is still a string of fake flowers that hangs from it’s roof. Was the railing always missing from that spot? Like a dream I hadn’t been conscious about it until now.
This photo was the first step toward self-repair. When self-doubt or fear creeps up you must act anyway. And so I did.
But repair didn’t mean feeling better and getting my mojo back. It meant going deeper. Darker.
The Path to Authenticity: Deeper. Darker.
By this point I did not think anything of authenticity. You can only strive toward authenticity of you are conscious. Like mindfulness, it takes practice and nurture.
I’ve had this idea that a way to start my career is to start by going local. I had this idea to shoot Ajax in a way that the residents here can love it. I want to do a local show somewhere and make people excited to see their town in a new affectionate light.
It’s a bit of a forced exercise.
I long for the city or rural landscapes. I’ve had to try very hard to find things about the suburbs I can enjoy. And there are things. So I decided it would be a good exercise to re-imagine this town in a positive light. Healthy even.
It’s a bit of a forced exercise, did I say? What I left out was the idea of doing something that other people would like.
Instead I find myself attracted to the stuff I don’t really like about being here. I find myself looking for it. It occurred to me that it’s a choice. But worse, maybe it was even a preoccupation. Like the way people complain. Like the way we blame other people when things go wrong, blame them for our own unhappiness. Like the way we look for things not to like in the people we decided we don’t like as if gathering proof to support our own miserable decision. Look at how ugly it is. How hopeless you are.
It’s me. Oh boy.
I become anxious with some of these views, like things aren’t being taken care of. I feel it in myself when the day to day living becomes overwhelming. The endless trying to clean and make pretty only to repeat it over and over again. But when you let it go, that way lies madness and despair.
The chain link fence. How hard it makes things. Chained in, chained out. It represents a kind of a hopelessness in man. A lack of concern. A lack of reverence for the miracle that we are alive. Life reduced to functionality. Just get through the week.
And yet this is actually shot through a baseball diamond in a school yard. Maybe during the summer there is a man who whistles while cutting his grass, who pauses to smile on the children shouting and cheering as a kid slides into home.
This horrible realization: I photograph negativity. I was looking for it. Barrenness. Bleakness. And it occurs to me that this was my view. I see the world like this. Not other people. Me.
And it’s quite a thing to think about. It’s quite a ting to own. The depth of my negativity. My alienation. Me. The resilient one. The one who wants to look at life through a lens of compassion and understanding, who resists being weighed down by bitterness of others and resents when I am.
And there it is. I wanted to live an authentic life, didn’t I? Maybe the real reason I haven’t until now is not that I was afraid of being found a fraud but because I was afraid of what I would discover. Oh the scariest of the thing to discover: You’re shitty. You don’t don’t know it yet.
Resistance is sneaky. If the tactics don’t work one way, it will find another.
Who says what I have to discover is so bad, Resistance? Who says my view of ugly is not worthy?
Do the Work Anyway
The purpose of this over reaching project that goes beyond my work is to let you artists and strugglers and hiders to live vicariously through me. To document this discovery of getting there. Turns out it’s not all pretty.
But. Maybe being ugly is not the worst.
I decided that my self-doubt was Resistance as Steven Pressfield personified it. Resistance does not want me or you to aspire to something greater. I don’t know if photographing the ugly is aspiring to something greater, says Resistance rather cynically. Maybe.
Or maybe there is something in ugly to cherish, I wondered. Because in reality, although there is negativity, so much of my preoccupations is with the joy and wonder I find in being alive, in the universe. The depth of the negative emotions cloud that from view. How could have I forgotten? I didn’t. Resistance is insidious.
The thing that pushed me through (or maybe deeper into) the self-doubt was this one mantra I’ve been using to direct all my actions. Do Not Squander Life. Like that is the reason I worked though all those values, and got to the heart of what is important, did all that over-thinking (as many would have it) in the first place. I’m supposed to be doing this work. Remember that. Remember. Don’t Squander Life.
Maybe it’s true I don’t have want it takes to make a living from my art, Resistance. Maybe my work will meander all over the place without direction. Maybe I am a fraud.
But my goal was to give back by documenting the attempt in living an authentic life as an artist. So fuck you, Resistance, my directive is Don’t Squander Life. I have to do it anyway. And if I reveal an ugly part of myself, Goddamnit, let me be the symbolic sheep to the sacrificial slaughter for my tribe.
I love the following shots and I will claim it, I wrote. For whatever reason these are among the ones that I’ve been going back to. Like I caught something here. It’s satisfying. And that was what I concluded that dark day.
Days later I come back to these again as well as some other photos I’ve been thinking. What I feel now that the cloud has passed is excitement. It’s here!
The word ugly is judgmental. When you catch yourself using such a judgemental word, you are being judgemental. I was being judgemental. Resistance had it’s ugly hard around my throat.
If you are a creative or a budding entrepreneur or what to make a change in your life for the good, check out this book. This is an affiliate link to Amazon which means I get a small commission from Amazon for sending you there should you decide to buy 9at no cost to you), but that is not the reason why I am recommending this book.
I recommend it because it has been really helpful to me to personify the things that hold you back and gives it a label: Resistance. Because when you can give it a name and acknowledge it’s job, it’s far easier to overcome it. I don’t agree with all of the book but for that alone it’s well worth buying. Written by Steven Pressfield who wrote The Legend of Bagger Vance among other things. A quick read!
The War of Art: Break Through the Blocks and Win Your Inner Creative Battles