Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Little Secrets - Big Lessons

Some years ago I confided in a dear older friend, "Here I am thirty-nine years old and I'm still scared!"

As an artist I often feared: what if no one understands the work I put out in the world? What if I make something that causes people to react, offends, makes people angry or think less of me, or worse yet, what if they laugh or dismiss what I am doing as irrelevant or meaningless?" I was struggling with what I felt I had to do to please others and with what my soul begged to do.

My fear had immobilized me from trying so many things. It controlled my creativity and restricted my ability to approach my art with the total commitment and enthusiasm required to reach my full potential. It kept me from embarking on adventures, from meeting new people, and closed doors even before I reached them. It limited my opportunities and prevented me from fully embracing the life I had been given.

My dear friend closed the distance between us, held his hand out to hold mine and whispered, "I'll let you in on a little secret. We are all scared."

I looked at him in total shock and surprise. "What? You're all of what...fifty? And you're telling me you're still scared?" The most confident and capable person I knew was standing right before me telling me, in all seriousness, that he was scared too.

That encounter caused me to re-examine what it was I was truly afraid of. I realized that it wasn't so much that I would fall flat on my face but that there would be no one there to pick me up when I did.

The secret that my friend shared gave me faith that if I took the risk of extending my honest, inner-most self to others, there might be someone, either through their counsel or by example, there to assist and guide me through the scary times. The biggest revelation of my life came in the form of comfort in the knowledge that I wasn't alone, that everyone faces fears in life - fears that far outweigh the mere inadequacy and frustration that I was feeling by trying to lead a life of little consequence.

Making art got a whole lot easier.


  1. "The least strained and most natural movements of the soul are the most beautiful." -montaigne

    Your post is beautiful Arlene, it is the answer and the secret. It is what makes good art and a good life.
    I always write handfuls of quotes whenever l give a workshop. Jeannette Winterson is a favorite because she writes about what you've said. And my bible :The timeless way of building" speaks of this as well.
    "The power to make things beautiful lies in each of us already. It is a core so simple and so deep, that we are born with it." -Christopher Alexander (timeless way of building)
    In my five day workshops, l spend the five days trying to teach this, to teach what you've written. And it is so simple, but so complex.
    Thanks for a beautiful post Arlene.

    "They do not teach us they only remind us of what we know already and what we shall discover time and time again, when we give up our ideas and opinions, do exactly what emerges from ourselves." (timeless way of building)

  2. It is an experience I can not yet have at this point of my life. I often think that because I am an artist, what I concern can not be easily understood by others. Thus it becomes an excuse of not knowing something that is intrinsic to the human body such as fear as you described. Sometimes I take it for granted with my sensibility so that I believe what I can see can not be seen by the others. My gift blinds me. Perhaps that is why I feel it is so important to interact with others.