“I am seeking. I am striving. I am in it with all my heart.” Vincent van Gogh
In the seventh grade all I wanted to do was make the junior high basketball team. When in social studies we learned about freedom of the press, I envisioned my life as a movie and created a scene where the teacher’s voice faded as I day dreamed of stealing the ball in a full court “press,” which my team, of course, had the freedom to enact.
Later that year in language arts, we were asked what adjective best described us. I announced mine to be “determined”, and again imagined the proclaimation as one of the more important scenes of the movie I was scripting. In this hallmark-approved drama, all of the scenes would, of course, culminate in me making the team, my face beaming in a sweaty smile as the triumphant music cued the credits.
Reality was less predictable and less kind. I didn’t make the team. I scoffed at the memory of my answer of “determined” in language arts and my foolish ability to relate anything academic back to basketball.
So in seventh grade I learned to not be so vocal about my desires and goals in the event that they didn’t take shape the way I’d planned. In high school when my basketball career started to form as I’d always imagined, I was far more low key about it– I squealed with delight to my closest friends when I made the varsity team as a sophomore, but to the rest of the world I was nonchalant and reserved lest they uncover what a big deal it was to me.
I took my very first art class in college. My high school days were dominated by basketball practice and games of horse in my front yard using the make-shift (and inaccurate) three point line my siblings and I concocted on the cement driveway. As a teenager I was guilty of the line that if uttered now is the surest way to get my eyes to roll– I can’t even draw a stick figure.
It wasn’t true but I hadn’t yet had the opportunity to witness it being false. I hadn’t yet particularly cared for drawing or design or color– or at least felt no compulsion to allow them to materialize on blank paper via my own hand.
Now my hands feel immensely powerful. Child-sized and always a little too small for basketball, they are powerful not because of what they create but the fact that they do create at all, a fact that repeatedly surprises and astonishes me. In a world of so much stuff— the extreme glory of nature and the gaudy fragments of commercialism– there is still room for me to move my hand against blank surfaces adding drops of design to overflowing oceans.
As an adult, I’ve shied away from the adjective “determined” afraid that it implies a linear focus adult-me most certainly lacks. I do not seek a concrete goal like making the junior high basketball team, but instead an openness to being present and active should any muse take an interest in me. In this first week of advent, I am reminded to be watchful. Awake. Preparing for what is to come not by creating a perfect and finite vision of the future (hallmark special) but by chipping away at the pre-conceived notions of what “should be” to make room for “can be”.
Last week I attended a particularly refreshing yoga class at a new studio in Covington. The instructor started the practice with a brief reflection. “Do your best” she repeated. Your best might look different from one day to the next, but it leaves little room for self-deprecation.
I brought that simple mantra to my easel after the class. A little overwhelmed by my desire to revamp my business in the new year, find my truly authentic voice on the canvas, and complete the holiday commissions I have piling up, “do your best” was the quieter, gentler voice, asking me to put my attention at the task at hand rather than letting a thousand future “shoulds” distract me from the one present “can”.
I’m trying some new things in my studio, and I’m not sure where exactly they are headed or where I want to end up. Although I’m not as focused on an end goal as my thirteen-year old self, I do share a little of her determination. But this time that determination is not to achieve something but to keep at something amid both success and failure. I am seeking. I am striving. I am in this art thing with my whole heart, eagerly awaiting and preparing for the next inevitable adventure.