When I was a child, my favorite class was art. We had a brave art teacher, so we got to do projects that would make most grade school art teachers shudder. We made clay masks of our own faces. We learned how to make a mold, let it dry, and then shape the clay over it. We got to make weavings with all sorts of yarn. She taught us how to make patterns in our weaving, so the final product was never boring. We even got to do batik, where we used hot oil to draw a picture on some fabric, dyed the fabric all sorts of fun colors, and then ironed the oil off. It left a design the color of the fabric (usually white) with the dyed color all around.
In spite of the fact that I was gifted academically, I still loved art. It might have been the unique projects, but I think art was the only class that let me be something other than a smart kid. It acknowledged other parts of me and let those have a voice. In that class, I decided I wanted to be an artist.
I don’t remember deciding this; I do remember the day I mentioned it to another kid in my class. Somehow, everyone found out and they were skeptical or, at least, they learned they could tease me by being skeptical about my artistic abilities. They would draw it out of me that, yes, I still wanted to be an artist, and then tell me that it would never happen.
I held on staunchly. I told them that I could so be an artist and that I would. One day we went through one of these exchanges and one boy’s response to my desires was, “But Sarah, you have to know how to draw to be an artist.” I held out even then, telling them that there were so many different kinds of art that my drawing abilities didn’t matter. I defended myself and my desires, but I gave up inside.
The problem was, I couldn’t draw. Years later, I found out that I could probably blame slow-developing motor skills. Apparently some girls, particularly academically successful ones, struggle with this. The skills catch up eventually, like mine did, so it’s not a big problem. But I didn’t know this then and I was crushed. It was hard for me to color inside the lines and write in cursive, let alone draw something recognizable.
It was sometime after that, though I don’t know how long, when I decided I wanted to be a writer. In many ways, it was natural. I had loved stories since I was very small. Disappearing into a book was how I turned the world off, how I made it go away until I had stored up enough energy to deal with it. Stories were how I learned, how I came to understand how people worked and what I could expect of them and what great love looked like. For me to want to contribute to the great pool of stories out there probably didn’t surprise anyone.
In another way, though, choosing to write was choosing the only art I had left. If I couldn’t be some sort of visual artist, then I would be a word-artist. I would tell stories that made people cry, or laugh, or get angry. I would show beauty and pain, and I would communicate the world as I saw it.
For so many years, I have cherished the desire to be a writer. I have held it, fed it, waited on it. I have kept it close, mused on it and wondered what it meant. I have loved it, feared it, and wondered if it was truly from God. The one thing I haven’t done is write consistently.
I’ve journaled for myself, blogged, written some silly poetry, written an occasional column or article when different people wanted it, even written a first draft of several short stories, but I haven’t kept at it, haven’t revised and re-visioned, haven’t taken it seriously.
I’ve always feared thinking of my deepest desires as callings, or even as something I can choose to pursue. It’s always been easy for me to believe that “the heart is deceitful above all things”; I fear waking up in heaven one day to discover that this thing I’ve pursued with my whole heart was a lie or was actually the work of evil in my life. I’ve fallen into the trap of thinking that the things I want must be bad or must not be the things God wants.
Because of this fear, I haven’t pursued my writing. I haven’t chosen NOT to go after it, either. Instead, I’ve tried a little, wondered if I was doing something wrong, and let my efforts trail off because I couldn’t resolve the conflict within me.
I’ve also feared failure. I’m not afraid of initial failure, but of pouring my heart, soul, and strength into something that I desire, only to find out much later that I am not good enough to succeed. I fear finding out that I’m not good enough to do the things I’ve always longed to do. I failed once at being an artist; I’ve no desire to experience that again.
Because of this fear, I have clenched my fist so tightly around my desire to write that I have not been able to work at it. I have not tried to write because I can’t fail if I don’t try. I will never have to know that I’m not good enough because I won’t ever get to the point where I might hear those words. I’ve strangled my writing because I wasn’t sure I could bear having someone else strangle it.
Recently, a particular set of circumstances caused me to pull my writing and the journey surrounding it out into the light. I want to write more about those circumstances later, but for now it’s sufficient to say that I’ve loosened my grasp. I can look at my writing and myself as a writer, think and feel about it, pray about it, talk about it, even write about it. And for the first time in many years, I’m taking it seriously. I’m pursuing it seriously.
I would like to say that I feel only joy and that I’m not afraid anymore. The truth is, I’m still afraid. I have exalted moments of joy and moments where I tremble in fear from my core. I don’t know where this process leads, only that now I’m committed to it.