Happy Anniversary to Me!

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Today, February 8th, is a big day—my own personal holiday! One that I hope to mark from this year forward. That’s why I’m writing (part of) this from the funky little cafe down the street, rather than my dining room table. I’m splashing out, taking myself out on the town, venturing almost a whole block away! Ha ha. ;)

Here’s what’s up today: It's the 15th anniversary of my first art show.

Woohoo! After I explain why I’m celebrating, I’ll tell you how I’d love for you to honor the occasion. No Hallmark cards necessary, and it’s not just me being full of myself and wanting your kudos.

My Coming Out

Until about a month ago, when I stumbled upon evidence in my journals and storage bins that helped me pinpoint the date, I actually had only a vague idea of when my first show took place—plus or minus two years, let’s say. That’s why I didn’t celebrate the 1st or 5th or 10th anniversaries. I think the event was wrapped up in a long emotional-psychological blur that I wasn’t able to start processing until much later. I needed a little hindsight.

However, I remember the occasion vividly, and have told the story many times. In my mind it is THE EVENT that marked the start of me (and perhaps others, though that’s been less important) seeing myself as an artist. My coming out, if you will.

It was huge!

It was still, however, just a teeny start.

For about ten more years after that show, I still had to use air quotes and disclaimers when other people called me an artist. Or I’d—ha ha—laugh it off. Yeah, right! What a poser! Me??

I needed to have a few more shows, sell a dozen or so paintings (including large ones at what I imagined were “real artist” prices), and lead 20 or 30 mural projects before I could call myself an artist with a straight face. I’ve never been an early adopter of anything, and that includes new titles for myself.

A Close-Up View of The Leap—or Rather, The Flail

So that first art show in 2003 was a giant leap in my creative journey. Let me tell you about it.

It was not a graceful, balletic leap. It was more like an ungainly flinging of my mortified self over a gaping chasm filled with hot coals, all of my demons, and so, so many eyeballs. So many!

I didn’t feel even remotely ready. (You never do. Don’t ever wait until you feel ready, because you’ll grow old and die while still waiting. It’s rare that anyone you admire who has ever done anything interesting has ever felt ready to do that thing they did that you loved. Readiness is totally over-rated. You learn how to do that thing you want to do by simply doing it, not by waiting. Ever. And that’s the end of this impromptu mini-lecture on Readiness.)

I didn’t feel the least bit qualified. I had friends who were artists and they didn’t need to use air quotes when they said it. They didn’t have all the hang-ups I had—or at least they weren't crying on my shoulder about them. They could put prices on their artwork, stand beside it in a gallery, and smile graciously as people gushed about how lovely and meaningful it was.

That was not me.

I Was the Puddle

Instead, this was me: In the privacy of my bedroom, I was a puddle of tears just at the thought of having the audacity to put prices on my so-called "artwork.” (Not to even mention the bizarre act of deciding what those prices should be!) I could barely stomach the idea of someone looking at my paintings and collages, and judging me—how could it not be harsh when this was not even art?? It would be me torturing people by forcing them to look, and them pitying me: “How embarrassing for her that she thinks this is good enough to hang on the wall. Poor thing!”

I knew that was what everyone would be thinking.

This meltdown occurred a week before my first show. I was a hot mess: heaving sobs, shaking limbs, twisted-up guts. Fragile, exposed, and with a very, very uncomfortable—what—ego? psyche? soul?

[If you think I’m being over-dramatic, here are some psychological/personality inventory-type terms that describe me: introverted, highly-sensitive, extremely shy as a kid. On the Enneagram I’d say I’m a 5: Observer/Thinker, even though I’ve been pretending to be a 2: Helper for several decades. I'm an INFP according to Myers-Briggs. There’s not a cell in my body that wants to sell door-to-door. The mosh pit of the stock exchange is my idea of hell on earth. I still feel uncomfortable when people look too hard at me, and I get a bit queazy publishing blog posts—like this one—in which I talk about myself. Why am I doing it, you might ask? Well, I’ve always liked writing (it’s so solitary! so quiet!) and I’ve seen that my message can occasionally be useful to one or two others, so I’m committed to sharing my story. Plus, it always helps me figure myself out, which seems to be a life-long pursuit. Question: Do you have yourself figured out already? Do you care? Maybe I’m the only one still interested in working on it at age 52. Anyway, that's me.]

Out of My Mind and Back into Reality

I mentioned in my last blog post how a “real artist” friend helped me through the mess of reckoning with and pricing my so-called artwork. Then this happened: By some miracle, many friends and colleagues actually turned up at the cafe for the opening reception of my show (no fancy gallery, just a cafe). They were nothing but supportive.

 This is the announcement I placed in the school office for my colleagues.

This is the announcement I placed in the school office for my colleagues.

Of course they were. Because my friends are lovely people, not pitying snobs. Not evil, soul-sucking villains.

The tears had passed by the day of the reception, and I was able to enjoy myself. I’m sure I discounted and deflected any compliments that came my way, but by golly, I survived it. I had stepped waaaaay out of my comfort zone, showed up, and faced the eyeballs that were on me and what I’d made. That was my victory.

And No One Was the Wiser

That’s why I feel like celebrating this milestone. Because it was a gutsy thing I did back then, and I’m really glad I did it.

Despite being temperamentally unequipped for such a public display of braggadocio (how it appeared to me at the time), deep inside I knew it was my “next right step.”

I was true to myself. I didn’t cave into fear. I stepped out of the shadows and into view.

And I got away with it! Ha! No one seemed to notice or care that I had no idea what I was doing.

Please Celebrate With Me

I’m not telling this story so that you can sit back and say, “Good job, Pam, you did it.”

Oh, pah-leeze!

I’m much sneakier than that. I'm placing a bet that YOU have a secret desire lurking somewhere inside. You have an urge to put yourself out there, to exercise your little creative muscles, push your boundaries.

To sing at an open mic. To sell your necklaces at a craft fair. To learn the tango, pick up your guitar again, or enter baking competitions. To write a book. (Hello again, outer edges of my comfort zone!)

Even if you’re out in public as a capital-C Creative, you still have secret urges, new directions you want to go. Maybe you’ve been in a tidy little artistic-looking box for a while, and you’re tired of it, but it’s what people expect of you. You’ve been writing sonnets, but you want to start writing screenplays. Or acting them out onstage.

You know what it is. (If you don’t, then I wish for you some much-needed quiet time to reflect.)

So please, I’d love to have you celebrate my anniversary by moving toward that thing. Take the first step, or maybe the 87th step, or a big, awkward, flailing headfirst dive.

You don’t even have to come out of the shadows with it yet. I didn't go from zero-to-art-show in one step, after all. Just go do that thing of yours, please.

Or here's an idea:

Tell me what it is you want to do,

and that can count, full credit, as your first move. :)