A few notes on fear

How did I get here?

To this place of wanting to do something and feeling as if I don’t have the skills.

How did I get here?

In the gap, laboring away but with an IMPORTANT deadline looming so fierce, so final.

How did I get here?

Worked hard. Showed up. Asked for what I wanted. Got turned down. Worked some more. Kept showing up. Repeated steps 1-6 dozens of times. Asked again. Got a yes.

How did I get here?

All I ever wanted was for people to see my work.

Show Anxiety. Imposter Syndrome.

Call it what you will but I’ve been feeling it. Since signing the contract for an actual art show at a legit venue a couple of weeks ago, I’ve had all the nerves. There’s making, which I do all the time; and then there’s making art, which I occasionally stumble into accidentally. So signing a contract but having no work completed for it yet makes for some stress.

I’ve done a good bit of creative procrastinating. I’ve taken on graphic design projects. I’ve brainstormed for future Get Messy posts. I’ve done tangential work to the art show project. I’ve tidied my work space. I’ve written a few blog posts for this blog. This is all good work but isn’t the work that I actually need to get done.

But then I decided to just dive in. To make the thing. If it’s the wrong thing, I have time to make it again. If I don’t like it, I can make it again. If I make 7 out of the 18 before I figure out the right way to do it, I can do the first 7 again. I have nothing to lose. It is strangely liberating.

The topic of sexism is an important one. It’s vast in scope and history and that’s intimidating. I want to shine a spotlight on it via my work but I can only make the thing as good as I can make it right now. I might take the same material and make it again in 10 years and it will look entirely different with my 55 year old eyes and experience. But I can only make the thing as good as I can make it right now with the experience I do have. I will endeavor to make it as good as I can make it right now.

So I have the first one sitting behind me on my worktable. I keep gazing over my shoulder as I write this. I know it’s missing something. I don’t know what that is yet. I will put it aside and work on the next one. I will put the second one to the side and work on the third. By the time I get to the fifth, I might be able to tell if I’m going in the right direction. It feels like walking on a trail in the dark with only a match to light my path.


In creative endeavors we artists throw around the acronym “WIP” a lot. WIP stands for Work In Progress and it’s handy for a lot of reasons. If a thing is a WIP, then there’s some grace for the “in progress” part. Whether it’s been in progress for an hour or a decade, we know the artist is probably going to go back to it at some point and hopefully get it to the point that she can say it’s well and truly finished.

This process of applying for an art show has made me feel my own WIP status. I, too, am a work in progress. I am part confident, part nerves, part work, part looking for the answers, part determination. Maybe I’ll work it out some with this project but if I don’t work it out for 50 more projects, I’ll just be thankful I’m still allowed to get paint on my hands every day.

One of my favorite quotes is by a theologian named Frederick Buechner. He says:

The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.

I feel that so strongly with this project so all I can do is the work at hand and let everything else sort itself out in time.

What to do?

I keep learning there’s no solution without the work. Maybe there’s 15 minutes of prep, maybe there’s a few hours of prep, maybe it’s weeks or months or years but eventually if I just keep showing up and doing the work, regardless of the fear, something will happen.

Sometimes I don’t feel the work. I’m not saying that you shouldn’t take a break sometimes. Our bodies need a chance to recharge. But “not feeling it” day in and day out won’t get me any closer to the goals. I have to keep showing up even on days I don’t feel like it.

Fear doesn’t get to make my choices for me. Elizabeth Gilbert in “Big Magic” says fear doesn’t get to drive. It’s allowed to ride in the car and occasionally pick the radio station but it doesn’t make the decisions. I am there for that! Fear is the worst demotivator. I choose to NOT listen to it.