Seems to be human nature to want to leave your mark somewhere. My sisters and I rediscovered this school book our Uncle Johnny put his imprint on, and recalled our childhood fascination with the handmade sword and personal notations. He would probably be happy, but also a bit surprised, to discover his efforts still touch our hearts nearly 100 years later. Where did his inspiration come from? Could it have been as simple as boredom, or was it a more lofty goal stemming from a vivid imagination? A peek into his inner world?
I don’t imagine my crochet or embroidery efforts are going to stand the test of time, but still, it’s a way for me to leave traces of my very ordinary life’s journey. The challenge is to be present enough in my life to recognize what journey I am on. To actually live my life as a participant not a witness. Why is this so hard? Sitting here now with my fingers on the keys of my computer, my brain still struggles with something relevant to say about the present moment. Why is it important, to everyone, it seems, that the moments that make up the hours, days, months and years amount to something? Could that something be as simple as a string of kind acts toward self and others? Do the things we do have to make headlines in Google News?
Often the “mark” we leave is not a big bold statement, but something more subtle–something that people may not even notice right away; an act of kindness, a bungled compliment, the rough draft of a poem, a yard half landscaped, a clumsy new behavior, an aborted stitch on a worn cloth. These small and seemingly random messages originate from a human being attempting connection and understanding, most likely from someone within their circle, a person close to them, though these attempts are often missed. It’s no one’s fault. The worlds we inhabit are mostly (completely?) in our own heads, and if your inner noggin is anything like mine, it’s monkeys all the way down. Do I really want others to be looking in there? Nope! I don’t think I’m alone when I share a mostly filtered version of my inner world. but I still become frustrated when others don’t see (and accept) the crazy unfiltered version that is my reality. We are both missing out.
This is the point when me and my monkeys must bravely skip into the land of Vulnerability–that scary frontier where the inner and outer worlds merge. So, no matter how we choose to express our private impulses–painting, writing, playing with fiber, molding clay, or gardening–we at some point must push into uncertain territory where we ignore the warning signs–Stupid Idea Ahead, Laughter & Scorn Next Left, or Danger: Exposed Mind. We laugh, give a one-fingered salute and hit the gas!
I love Jerry Saltz’s explanation from “How to be an artist”. “Vulnerability: What’s that? It’s following your work into its darkest corners and strangest manifestations, revealing things about yourself that you don’t want to reveal until your work requires you to do this, and never failing in only mediocre or generic ways. We all contradict ourselves. We contain multitudes. You must be willing to fail flamboyantly, do things that seem silly and that might get you judged as a bad person.” Read all 33 rules here
Private assertions, like my uncle’s sword, are evidence that we all want to matter, to be remembered. And while these gestures may be for our eyes only, they are no less brave than public declarations. Still, we often need a nod from the outer world to strengthen our resolve to make a mark. But, here’s the rub: Sometimes the “outer” world needs to be you. You can’t count on others to always provide what you need most. As Viktor Frankl notes: “…[man] will have to accept his suffering as his task; his single and unique task.” (From “Man’s Search for Meaning”)
So, Be Bold, Buttercup! Even if you must do it alone. Create, create, create!
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