On Facing Fears, and the Art Created as a Result
Artists are constantly facing fears. From what I can tell, all artists, working in any medium, everywhere in the world, throughout history. There’s fear of failure of course, and fear of rejection. But also fear of imperfection, fear of being exposed as a fraud, fear of upsetting people close to us. And a tricky one that I’ve recently come upon: fear of what we might uncover about ourselves in making our art.
Earlier this month, I faced a couple of my own personal fears - one that’s a 22-year-old fear of a place with very specific and complex associations for me, and one that’s a more primal and universal fear: swimming in weeds. Like most people, for me one of the creepiest and scariest parts of swimming in a lake is the occasional something that brushes up against my foot or leg. Even if you know it’s “just” a weed, there’s something deeply disturbing about running into it’s slimy embrace. Unlike most people, I have also deliberately avoided the lovely cottage country around Haliburton, Ontario for over two decades now. That’s a longer story than I’ll get into here (or pretty much anywhere), but suffice it to say that I have strong personal motivation to steer clear of the area.
So how did I end up there, deliberately swimming in weeds??
Like this: I’m currently doing a program called “The Artist’s Way”, based on a book of that title by Julia Cameron. For those of you unfamiliar with it, it’s a 12-week commitment to creative self-discovery and recovery. And as part of it, I’ve been going out on some limbs, trying lots of little new things (or old things, which I had forgotten how much I loved). I’ve come to realize that I need to start doing more things that scare me, because in my experience, down the road those are usually the things that end up being the most important. And almost as soon as I boldly set this challenge for myself, we got a very random chance offer to spend a few days the following week with friends at a cottage in Haliburton. I said “yes please!” first, and figured I’d worry about the fear later. Just to take it up a notch, I brought my mask and snorkel - in case I could find some good weeds.
We had an uneventful drive up, but I could feel myself getting slightly anxious the closer we got. What if I had a complete meltdown? What if I managed to bottle up my feelings, only to suffer from them for weeks afterwards? Upon arrival, before we’d even unpacked the car, I spotted a juicy patch of weeds perfectly situated on one side of the dock. The other side was shallow and sandy, which meant I could walk in that way, and approach the weeds from clearer water. All fears were forgotten as I changed into my swimsuit almost as soon as we unpacked, and waded in to see what I’d find underwater.
That’s what I found. A silent, gently swaying, otherworldly beauty.
Over the few days, I did 3 “missions” to photograph this world. Those eerily haunting times were soothing to my soul in a way I could never have anticipated, and can’t really explain. As I work through the images, and what they mean to me, and how I want to present them, I wanted to share this experience. There’s no way I’ve suddenly healed from what happened all those years ago, but it’s a start. And a beautiful one at that.
Have you ever faced a fear, and been so glad that you did? I’d love to hear about it..