Art As (My) Life
by Elena Greco
September 24, 2016
I will surely break open.
That’s what I’m feeling today. Falling into the abyss, emotions too big to contain. Defeated, despondent, dejected, depressed. Angst in the form of great sadness, anguish, despair. For once in my life, regret is a factor in this emotional soup. Regret for time wasted, opportunities lost—something I haven’t been familiar with until recently. I guess that comes with age.
It often—or perhaps usually—happens that my life reflects the creative project I’m currently working on. Life forces me to go through the project’s concept in a deeply personal way, fully experiencing the theme and coming to grips with its essence. I don’t know why that happens, or if anyone else lives through this with every creative project they pursue. I don’t want it, didn’t ask for it. Today I hate it.
Today I am falling. I do not see how I can “take any more,” as people sometimes say. I’ve never understood what that means. Of course you will “take more,” if that’s what life has to offer. There are some things that are beyond our control. We survive anyway.
Somehow my own “issues” sometimes come to the fore during the playing out of this project theme in my life. I would greatly prefer this didn’t happen! I would prefer to address these things intentionally and privately, rather than through life events that pound me.
The theme for the project I’m currently working on (which is actually the second project of the season, since most of the work is done on the first one) is something about human beings that makes them unique among animals: the attributes of courage, hope and determination.
We don’t think of the action of a mother cat defending its kitten in the face of real danger from a predator as courage. We think of it as instinct. The mother cat instinctively puts her life in harm’s way in order to protect her kitten because she is programmed genetically and evolutionarily to do that. At least, that is what we currently believe. (At some future point, we might discover that animals have more self-determination than we currently believe; that remains to be seen.)
Humans are different. They have the ability to think, to weigh options, to imagine different scenarios, to make choices, to act in the face of adversity—or not. So when a human sees challenging or life-threatening circumstances and chooses to act heroically anyway, we call that courage. When a human faces a dismal set of circumstances that appear insurmountable, but chooses to have faith that something better is on the horizon, we call that hope. When a human chooses to follow a dream that seems almost impossible to achieve, we call that determination.
What gives me courage in these current circumstances is that I know that as long as I am clear on my commitment and cling to it no matter what life presents or how difficult it might be, I can survive and thrive, even in the face of what appears to be sure defeat. I will do what it takes to fulfill my commitment, even if it feels risky.
What gives me hope is memory, memory of overcoming extremely challenging circumstances several times in my life. Not the memory that a cat might have that results in instant replay. The cat, facing challenging circumstances in the past, might have performed a certain action and survived, and when confronted with a similar situation in the future, performs that action again automatically. The difference is that, as a human, I have conscious memory, a memory of a difficult circumstance in which I prevailed to give me hope that I will survive once again.
What gives me determination is a defiance against those who try to stifle what I uniquely bring to the world, by belittling me, bullying me, withdrawing support from me, shunning me, “disowning” me (do parents actually own their offspring?), directing hatred towards me, or intentionally or malevolently trying to crush me. I am fortunate that I have possessed this defiance since I was a child. I quite literally would not have survived without it, as I was born into a soul-crushing environment. “Just try to destroy me!” could be my motto. What also gives me determination is the conviction that what I bring to the world creatively is of some value to someone else in the world, that it can make a difference in their lives. That is the place where my art originates, that conviction of meaning and usefulness, that the beauty and emotion I can help support or create truly matters in this world and is needed. It also comes from an intensive inner drive to authentically express my highest stream of creativity, always a challenge due to the filter created by our humanness.
I have always had to battle issues of self-esteem. I suppose that is not unheard of in creative artists. Lack of confidence in my ability to do anything well has resulted in a lack of what most people call “success” in my life. What has allowed me to function and produce reasonably well in spite of that is my embrace of the commitments and intentions I have in life. I focus on those instead of my doubts.
Now I find myself in a very difficult life situation, one in which I am in danger of becoming homeless or starving. And because I cannot pay an accompanist—a requirement for a singer/producer to make music—I cannot do the one thing that brings me solace and joy, which is music. These are dire times.
About a year and a half ago, I had a serious spinal injury. Immediately following a lengthy recovery from that so that I could once again function, I became very ill with a long-term illness. Unfortunately, due to not being able to work or generate income for that period of time, I used up all my savings. Now I am able to work, but cannot find a job in this very difficult economy, particularly in a profession which is dying or being outsourced.
I took two low-paying temporary jobs successively which were the worst two jobs I have had in my very long life. I was treated abusively in both, something I hadn’t encountered before, and in each, there was a particular emphasis in belittling me personally (never in criticizing my actual work, which was well-received but ignored, but rather focusing entirely on my very being) in a particularly malevolent manner. I feel ashamed, like a worthless clod who doesn’t deserve to exist, and I find that I don’t really want to because this feeling is so painful. These attacks have gone right to my core, re‑wounding my oldest wound. I am still stunned by this, having never encountered it in my working life previously. Why now? Why would people in a professional environment attack me personally in this way that goes right to my most sensitive issue, my self-confidence? Ah. The project.
The one thing I have had to overcome time after time in my life is a lack of self-confidence. That is the thing for which I have repeatedly had to find courage, hope and determination to succeed in spite of, and courage, hope and determination are the things I must find now. That I will not allow others to prevent me from fulfilling my destiny through attacking me at my weakest point, but will instead have the courage to do whatever is required. That I will not allow my self-doubt to prevent me from seeing that there is hope that I will still manifest the vision I have, and perhaps even—a luxury for creative artists, I know—find belonging and family. That I will persevere with utmost determination to survive, not only physically, but to thrive and share what I have with the world in whatever way it most effectively and authentically manifests.
This is a bit personal for me to share. But I offer this bit of journaling to you in the hope that it helps another creative artist who might be struggling—with self-doubt, financial issues or just life—and forgets that humans are always capable of courage, hope and determination. They kind of come as a set, but if you can latch on to just one, there will be no stopping you.
See Elena’s bios for more information about the author.