It was a ritual. Every morning I would uncover my head as the sunlight weaved its way through my blanket like a golden thread. According to my sister the sunlight was evenly distributed throughout the room, but to me, it shone like a spotlight on my new acquisition— a bag of modeling clay. I looked at the bag of clay resting on my sister’s vanity next to my comic books. My intuition could hear it whisper, calling my spirit, as if it wanted to speak to me through my sense of touch.
And every evening, after finishing my homework, I passed by it again while I changed into my home clothes. I looked at it, timid, but with the same desire that filled my day with expectation. At school I kept looking at the clock tick minute after minute, waiting for intimacy with creation between my hands and the clay. I looked forward to this moment, but when it came, I ignored it once again. I was so little, yet I feared of messing up. I grew tired of this happening every day. My natural response at that moment was leaving the clay in its state of perfection and putting it back into a basket where I collected my crafting materials; far away so I wouldn't remember the pain. But my last look at it lingered. The bag stared at me in disillusionment; but maybe it had been my own.
This feeling had been replicated on several occasions, often leaving one hobby for the other and hearing my uncle’s reprimands as he said “you never finish anything, kid.” He made me feel like an expense for not turning everything I did into gold. His words were excruciating to my eardrums, but not as painful as they were to my heart.
Sometimes fear can make us feel lost or insufficient. Especially this fear: of wanting or having to be perfect- demons and monsters we fabricated in our minds. We feel like we are not good enough in a world where we are constantly battling with people’s accepted standards, our own perceptions of the world, and the lies we tell ourselves or the ones we choose to believe.
It is all interrelated. When we are little we find ourselves facing the pressure to have perfect grades, the pressure to be well-behaved and composed, the pressure to be just like that perfect someone in the family everyone looks up to. And when we grow up, we are expected to have it all together, to be politically correct, and to look like we came straight out of a picture from a magazine. Then, we start taking pride that our only imperfection is being perfectionists. And what are we left with? Waiting… we stop living and wait on life until the day we feel perfect. We tend to forget that it is the destination and the journey, the lessons learned, the things we overcome, and our growth that brings the ecstasy of living.
One day, I was reading the words of a snobby writer; his nose rose as he talked about what writing is and what it should be. My reaction – I freaked out; no ideas, no words were coming to mind. I stared hard at the page, having dialogues with myself and my other voice creeping in with doubt. It felt like the words of my uncle traveled through time and echoed in my consciousness turning into self-criticisms. Judging my words with the mind of a line editor made writing a mechanism rather than an art. It’s true, we need to learn the tools that will help us grow, but not so far that it leads us to criticizing ourselves and feeling insufficient because someone else thinks that a certain form of painting, writing, dancing, or singing is correct. Or that a certain body shape, voice, creation, (you name it) is the only definition of perfection and beauty.
It just means that someone’s perception of beauty is different than ours.
We've got to be careful with our words: the words we say to others and the words we say to ourselves. Self-confidence is something we need to rebuild until the belief in ourselves is strong enough that nothing can hurt us, offend us, nor destroy us.
For what do you think these words can do to us, to our self-confidence, to our creativity?
Flashback to 10th Grade Art Class...
It was time for art presentations; my chest holding a heart which pounded faster than its usual rhythm. My voice and the sweat drops on my upper lip betrayed my calmed countenance. The redhead in the class, the class clown who I strangely liked, shouted “raise your voice, no one can hear you" while mocking my soft-spoken voice from the other side of the classroom and started ridiculing my work.
I admit I didn't create a masterpiece, but it was a work of art because I poured my heart into it. I presented a portrait of Yanni, one of my favorite composers —“It looks like a woman with a mustache” said the redhead. Blood rushed from my arteries to my capillaries filling my cheeks with the color of his hair and delayed tears of embarrassment and anger. Suddenly, his charm no longer existed and those romantic scenes I formed in my head between him and me - collapsed.
His contemptuous expressions and the laughs of acceptance to his remarks filled the classroom with toxic air and the seed of a thought, a lie, a self-suggestion that I kept repeating –telling myself I wasn't good enough. So I quit the art program and switched to the medical program. I sought shelter in the power of my brain. The smarts that built my reputation --winning prices, compliments, and the acceptance of others –to the point that I had forgotten I also had a body and a soul. My intelligence was a safe place, where none of those slackers could make fun of me nor embarrass me in front of myself.
My creative side couldn't resist, I still looked for that something that would make me feel complete –the fire of a passion I jealously admired from people that had already chosen a path and heard their calling. I was so young yet I put so much pressure on myself. I continued experimenting with my creative side, this time through music.
EXPLORING MY MUSICAL SIDE...
I loved the freedom of singing. I felt like an acrobat, performing acts in the air with low, middle, and high notes; releasing shots of dopamine in my body, giving chills to my own skin. The notes on the sheet music looked like birds perched on the electric wires, flying from one string to the other, in different tones and coloraturas. I found my joy in improvising, in mixing the sweetness with the darkness, in feeling the passion and flow of the moment. But at times, I found myself trapped in a cube with my freedom withering inside its six walls. In opera I was unable to fully express myself. I had to show passion for songs that I didn't feel and to force my voice to sing fortissimo when I wanted to sing pianissimo with the tenderness you would whisper into a child’s ear.
In my last competition, I was terrified of the judges; worried about what they would think and if a part of me would break again in disappointment. My heart ached in advance. The worry had taken all the fun out of the night. As always, I had to juggle: acting, singing, enunciating Italian words correctly –while pretending to look at ease. My look of discomfort filled the room with silence and robbed my lungs of air. After the last note of the piano, came the last part of the song – a note in a higher octave. ”You must impress them” said my coach. I was afraid but it was my best dramatization of the song; I made it my own and the audience loved my performance, but apparently it didn't fit between the walls of opera. The judges didn't have the courtesy of providing a word of encouragement, yet, they wrote me a letter including all the things I must do in my next performance.
Pssh… Must do? Is that kind to art? Is that kind to the heart? Why allow me to sing only those chirpy songs because I was gifted with a higher register when I also wanted to sing dramatic roles that truly sang to my heart? That moment was a wake-up call and I discovered the true meaning of art: freedom of self-expression. I decided to live outside their limitations and to sing only the songs that serenaded me in my sleep –even if I had to sing alone.
Looking back, I wish I read a quote by Henry Van Dyke which says - "The woods would be very silent if no birds sang there except those that sang best.” That quote stayed with me ever since I read it. I wish I knew what I know now; it would have saved me a lot of heartaches. No one told me it was ok to mess up. No one told me it was ok to feel the awkwardness that naturally happens as a beginner. No one told me it was ok to experiment or that some people will hurt us with their words while they protect their egos.
We are humans, we have fears. But what if no one ever dared to be imperfect, to venture outside boxes of standardized words, movement, rhythms, and perceptions of beauty? What if no one ever dared to strain the fears that only want to eat away our brains and sense of confidence? If no one got rid of the worries that never let us savor the moment and keep us living in a past or future that does not exist?
The answer: Not a beautiful thing would exist in this world if it were not for those who colored outside the lines and discovered a beauty which other eyes could not see. Not a bond of friendship not a heart in love – out of the fear of not being good enough nor deserving of the person we desired.
I awakened and felt liberated once I understood that if God calls us to create, it will be perfection in his eyes. These stories made me stronger every day. I don’t resent these people; on the contrary, I try to come from a place of understanding and forgiveness. It was in these difficult times that I learned I could let go of thoughts of perfection, or else I would never enjoy anything.
I realized that strength comes from our inner world by building: courage, persistence, and self-love. I am not afraid anymore – to make mistakes and to begin all over again if I have to.
Beauty can be found in the unseen, in the absence of sound which creates harmony. I am the beholder and in my eyes I am more than perfect because I claimed to be imperfect. I tried a million hobbies in search of a passion and I found it through persistence and experimentation. If I never tried a million things I would never be the person I am today. So I am glad that I dared to be a beginner, to try not to be a winner, to have faith in myself. Don't ever let anyone tell you that you are not good enough. After all, life is about self discovery and self creation.
So please. Dance, sing, write, compose, and draw with lines of imperfection, for it makes you who you are. And do it wholeheartedly. Don’t let your fears ruin your life or your dreams. Never let all that you have to say -however you want to express it- be left unsaid.
Now I realize that the molding clay I neglected due to my fear of imperfection would have been the happiest fulfilling its mission –what it came to my hands to be and to do—in the state of bliss that arises from being part of creation, even in the abstract hands of a child.