Doing the Scary Parts
I recently got my haircut. It was long overdue. But, it was no simple task. It turns out that it is rather difficult to convince someone in a foreign language that you really do want them to cut off 10+ inches of hair. I know, I know. You can’t put it back on once it’s off. And, there is, perhaps, a natural hesitance to lop off that much hair at one time. But, no matter how clear I was in my resolve, my meager (read: non-existent) Polish vocabulary for salon situations was struggling to overcome my hairdresser’s reluctance. Finally I looked right at her and declared, “Jestem gotowa!”—”I’m ready!” She laughed and set to work.
The thing is, it didn’t scare me to cut my hair. I was ready. And, I’ve always approached my hair with an it-grows-back sort of an attitude. It was far more intimidating for me to reach out to two strangers on Instagram that week. But, I did it. And, it was more difficult yet to cut into this quilt.
You see, this quilt isn’t just about something to cover our bed. I’m still struggling to articulate in words all that this quilt is trying to say. But it’s very clear in my heart. But none of that sentiment was showing up in the quilt.
I found myself with rigid rows of black and white, when the purpose behind this quilt is movement. Instead of leaning into the discomfort of expressing my truth, I was hiding in precision. As I looked over my progress, I saw that there was fear written all over this quilt. Fear is paralyzing and this quilt was a distillation of inflexibility.
And so, I began to cut. To be honest, it was scary. It felt out of control. But it was also liberating. Letting go of my death grip on the design meant the finally began to take on the form it needed to be. I cut and sewed and felt the lightness of letting go.
But facing down fear is not a one time event. And simply exercising my scissors a bit is not enough to inoculate me for the rest of the project. I wish it was. I even believed that it was. I thought I had gone as deep as I needed to go. After slicing up each neat row of stripes I thought I had done all the hard creative work. I spread them all out on the floor and came to a horrible realization.
I didn’t love what was coming together. I could manipulate it. I could make it so I liked it well enough. But, there was no spark in it; nothing that truly lifted my heart up and made it want to sing. It all seemed to be falling apart.
I looked at this mess all over my floor and I saw two choices. I could abandon it entirely. As I scooted these pieces endlessly around one another, this was a very real possibility. Or, I could create something I really wasn’t thrilled with. Neither of these prospects were particularly attractive.
I wanted to turn away from them both. I wanted to put it all in the closet and pretend it was just marinating a bit. Two things saved me from my encroaching indecision.
The first was this space. Knowing that even one person may be waiting to see what becomes of these black and white snippets that I’ve shared helped me to keep going. I’m grateful for that because this quilt is an important work for me. If, at times, I need the external motivation to remember that, I’m ok with that.
The second thing that helped me persevere is the fact that I know this is part of any creative project. It always feels like an unexpected tsunami. But it shows up every time. Somewhere in the middle it all falls apart. The pristine vision I had in my mind isn’t coming to fruition. There is only disappointing reality. I can see only a worthless flop. It’s a catastrophe. No, it’s an utter debacle. The thoroughness of this failure only proves my uselessness as an artist and a creative.
The great news is that it’s often this oversized hopelessness that snaps me out of its spell. Though it’s still far from what I envisioned I can see that it’s not an abject failure. There is still potential here, and there is still potential in my vision.
And so, I am in the sticking with it part. It is not finished. But I am not abandoning it. I am approaching it with courage. Courage to persevere but also courage to keep iterating. One twist leads to new insights. The bravery to try one scary thing opens new vistas. I realize that it was the staying in the safe place that made me believe there were only two choices. I am not at the finish line yet, but I can see a way forward. There will still be brave actions required ahead. That’s alright. Jestem gotowa.