It was shortly after I made the decision to change my name to Avery that my partner had gotten us a surprise art class for our wedding anniversary. I remember being so excited but also nervous to go because art was something that comes with a little baggage for me.
I’m sure you have something like it. You know, one of the things that you’re really good at that then people start asking for your help with. And maybe, like me, you start to see a career around that skill and then it stops being fun.
When you’re trying to be “good enough” at whatever it is that it meets the standard you think you “should” be able to do…well… it loses it’s sparkle.
Growing up I was often praised for my artistic ability. I created a short animation to a song when I was in elementary school – drawing all of my characters and their movements. Took forever, but it was fun.
In junior high I often had my art featured in the school. In high-school I won a competition to be featured in a gallery at the art college in town. Walking into that art gallery and seeing everyone else’s art – how moving and deep it was. How you could feel the experience they were trying to convey.
For me? I did a carved lino-block print where I had the music staff up there, twisting around with notes on it…but when I went to use it as a stamp and print with it I realized that the music staff was actually backwards. Because I had drawn it correctly on the lino-block, it was flipped when I put paint on it and pressed it into another piece of paper.
So I pivoted and called it “Behind the Music”. Apparently the art college loved it because I ended up winning a scholarship from it. Yup. I won a scholarship from a mistake I covered up with a cheeky title.
And that’s when the pressure really hit. I got hit with a whopping feeling of impostor syndrome. There’s no way I could possibly expect a whole bunch of mistakes that worked out and someone actually liked it. That just didn’t sound feasible.
The truth is, at the time I wasn’t allowing myself to dig deep enough – to go to that emotional place where the other artists went to really discover and share something raw.
I was living with my walls up so high, having faced many different kinds of rejection as a highly sensitive person, and I didn’t know how to take them down.
So here we were, in the car heading towards this art journaling class that was all about digging into that emotional place, and creating and seeing what happened.
Letting go and letting the emotions flow.
My partner paints and draws regularly, so I was also worried about feeling down on myself comparing whatever it was that I created to his piece of art.
We entered the studio, unpacked all of our supplies, and waited for the class to begin.
Enter stage right, a beautiful human who spoke with such passion, grace and gentleness that it immediately drew me in. The first thing she said was “Open up your sketchbook to a blank sheet of paper and write an A+ on the top corner. See? You’ve already received a perfect mark. The pressure’s off!”
My inner perfectionist was a bit doubtful, but we went with it.
She then led us through a journaling exercise where we free wrote until we found what needed to be unlocked. Not new to journaling, my hand started flying across the page letting the words out – the fear, the doubt, the worry about fucking it up – and realized…what if I just go with it?
What if I just trust that whatever is meant to happen will happen. That this will either be a piece of art that I’m happy with and want to display somewhere. Or it’s a learning experience that I don’t have to look at again.
Either way, in that moment I committed to the process and just surrendered to whatever was coming.
After we journaled, the teacher said “All right! Time for a break. Let’s get up and dance!” and put some music on her phone, turning the volume all the way up and made her way around the room.
Normally, I would have stayed sitting down, avoiding eye contact and avoid dancing in public at all costs. I mean, what would other people think? Am I good dancer? Am I going to fall? Will I be doing it right? Has my partner ever even seen me dance other than our first dance/shuffle at our wedding?
But I said “fuck it” got up out of my chair and danced around my corner of the room like a frog in a blender. Arms up and flailing, jumping up and down, twirling, smiling, and truly free.
It was in that moment that I realized that the emotional safety that I was looking for – the safe space I needed to fully be myself and not worry about what other people are thinking – that safe space was something only I could create.
A space full of love, acceptance, compassion, understanding, holding space for my pain, struggles, triumphs and epic failures. That was my responsibility.
It was like a huge weight that I didn’t even know was there lifted off my shoulders. For the rest of that night I fully embraced the possibility of what was to come, without worrying at all about the outcome.
And for the first time in my life, I created a piece of art from that deep, raw, vulnerable emotional space. I didn’t think about what I was doing, or what my next three steps were going to be.
I didn’t have an idea in mind for what the outcome was going to be.
I had no plans.
I just let the emotions through.
I allowed myself to be fully alive and authentically me.
Do I always live from this space now? No. But it’s something that I continue to work towards every single day because that’s the version of me that is Avery.
That’s the fully compassionate, unapologetic, understanding, strong, challenging, best version of me that will allow myself to grow, to objectively acknowledge my strengths and shortcomings, and to hold space for others to do the same.
All I had to do was trust in myself. I had to walk to the edge, jump and trust that I would catch myself as I fell.
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