(This isn't the fox I drew, but rather one I found online to work from - isn't it charming delightful?)
Last week I started work on a painting I planned to give to a friend. Standing at the old sink in the Little House (where my office is) I covered a small, square, wooden canvas with a mixture of turquoise and dark purple paint and left it to dry. The next day I added one or two more layers of the same colors. I liked the combination and was happy, so far, with my little project.
(This, often, is the beginning of the problem.)
Next I played with some tulle netting, painting over it like a stencil to add layers of texture and depth. Now I liked the painting even more and the more I liked it, the more my progress slowed.
Love for what was made me hesitant to move toward what might be.
But the painting was nowhere near complete. With the background finished, it was time to add an image and words. I already had words in mind and thought a fox would be a fitting image, so I looked online for a few samples to work from. With luck, I easily found a sketch I loved. I printed it and prepped my canvas board with a glossy gel layer that would preserve and protect the background while also allowing me to ‘erase’ my drawing at any point if I made a mistake.
Then my progress stalled for several days. I loved the background, loved the fox, but I was afraid to mess up either one. I was afraid to start, afraid to try, even though the gel coating meant I could begin again at any time.
I hemmed and hawed, I set my work aside and did not look the sly fox in the eye.
Maybe it wouldn’t be worth writing about if it wasn’t such a common occurrence – the way fear creeps in, cloaked in perfectionism and I, a creature of habit and instinct, caught between fight and flight, freeze like a deer in headlights.
Again, maybe it wouldn’t be much if it hadn’t happened also last week when it came to updating my book files, and if success updating the print files had (as it should have) given way to confidence to deal with the e-book files. Instead, each step ran up against (and temporarily stalled out in the face of) its own wall of fear.
I see this pattern again and again in my creativity and, if I’m honest, in my life. I prefer the known to the unknown, even when the known is not particularly good, but especially if the known is good and filled with delight.
How much time, how much energy, do I waste in this fearful pause?
Why do I fail to believe that the grace of one step might carry over into the next?
Maybe I need to become like the desert monk, Abba Paul, who worked all year long weaving baskets only to burn them and begin again each year - maybe I need to learn again and again the art of detachment, the gift of faith beyond sight.
I talked with a college student about this the other night, one who’s currently taking a drawing class. We trotted together across the cold, dark campus on our way to a Bible study and I confessed how fear had me frozen.
“It’s ridiculous,” I said. “What am I so afraid of? Especially when I could just erase it, just paint over it and start the whole thing over?”
She offered no answer, but confessed to witnessing the same tendency in herself and we continued through the crisp winter night together until we reached our destination – a small house aglow with warmth and light.
The next day, having voiced my fears aloud into the frigid night air, I pulled the fox from its lair beneath a stack of papers on the kitchen counter and looked it in the eye. With a white gel pen, I sketched the outline on my canvas first, then filled in the fur. I kept a bowl of water and q-tips nearby for erasing mistakes, but truth be told, I got it on the first try and barely erased a line. Then, emboldened by success, I added low-lights in midnight blue to bring the fox alive.
I was happy with the drawing, happy with my success.
Yet, I stopped, again, frozen in the face of the next step - hand lettering the words. How would I space them? What fonts should I employ?
I set the work aside, because now I was even more invested, had even more to risk, even more to lose. Against the purple and blue background, the white fox sparkled silver and fixed me with its shining eye.
Every wall of fear has a door. The door cracks open, for me, when I recognize fear as an invitation to examine my own intrinsic attachment and perfectionism.
Now, when the wall rises up in front of me, I imagine stretching out my empty hand and opening the door. On the other side stands the fox, staring. Then, in a flash of beauty, she turns and runs off into the night.
Every day that I create something, I bump up against fear’s wall. And, faster now, I hear the fox's sly whisper, “Look for the door.”
How do you experience and deal with fear in your creative life? In your faith life?
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Welcome to the #SmallWonder link-up.
What if we chose to deliberately look for small moments of wonder, the small sparks of presence, of delight or sorrow, of true humanity in which we meet God?
That's my proposal - that we gather here each week to share one moment of Wonder from each of our days. You're invited to link-up a brief post about a small moment of wonder. Don't worry if your post is too long, too short, or not just right - you're welcome to come as you are.
While you're here, please do take a look around and encourage at least one other blogger with a comment. Thanks for being part of our community!