I attended a workshop at the Highlights Foundation this past weekend. I’d originally signed up for it on what felt like a whim since I had never seriously considered writing children’s books, but something felt right about it. Part of my mind had already decided that this must be the Divine’s way of opening up a new path for me. “Maybe I’m meant to be a children’s book writer”, I thought. I liked the sound of that.
Then people who I’d told about the workshop suggested I think about illustrating as well and I was not as open to this idea, even arguing, “Illustrators have a different style than I do, I cannot see myself doing that…” I had a lot of reasons why this wouldn’t work for me but the week before the workshop, one of the faculty was looking at my website and emailed me asking if I’d like to speak with the Creative Director of Highlights while I was there. WOW, I thought, she must see something that she likes in my art. Maybe I am meant to be an illustrator too! OK.
I arrived at the workshop with two new paths beginning to stretch out in front of me. Since the paintings that I do are on wood, I had brought with me a large, heavy, canvas, bag with about 7 of them to show when the time was right. After everyone gathered, I spotted the faculty member who’d contacted me about my painting, talking with some of the other participants. I was sure she’d say something to me like, “Hello Mary, did you bring your artwork? I cannot wait to see it!” or some other equally enthusiastic response. But she did not seek me out. I waited, mingled, tried to not be over-anxious about “my work”, tried to remember that there were lots of people there too, but I started to feel deflated.
I finally introduced myself and she was very nice, informed me about the meeting she’d set up for me the next day, but said nothing about my art. I went to bed on Friday night with a mixture of anticipation, hope, and discouragement, all vying for my attention. It was a huge challenge tying to keep my mind from going to the scenario of seeing my work scrutinized with a pleasant, polite, and slightly uninterested, response the next day.
I knew what I had done. I’d planned a future and it didn’t appear to be working out the way that I’d imagined it, and now my over-tired, over-anxious, mind was scrambling for some sort of firm footing, even if that firm footing was not happy ground. The thought, “This was too good to be true”, was something I’d experienced before, and I felt like I was heading there again. Truly, a part of me wanted to run away; take my toys and go home, or take some drug and fall asleep so I could get relief….but I knew better…and in times like this, I just barely know better. All of the depressing and discouraging paths that seemed to be beckoning to me looked like little life rafts saying, “Take me. This way is easier. It might not be too exciting, but at least you’ll be safe.” But I didn’t want “safety” if it meant going backward and I knew this deep down. I just didn’t know where to go.
I also “knew” that the only problem was what my mind was telling me. I “knew” that I had the ability to change my gloomy, pessimistic thoughts, but I didn’t, in that moment, feel the truth of this. In that moment, I had to rely on what I know are spiritual truths: There is no problem unless I think there is one, everything is unfolding perfectly, and help is always available.
I decided to re-read the response from an email that I’d sent a friend earlier in the day. This woman is not only supportive emotionally, but she also loves my work. She articulated what it was about my painting and writing that made a difference to her, and her words “reminded” me of why I do what I do…And I began to say, to myself, alone in my little writing cabin, “This is happening for me….stay open…this is happening for me….trust…stay open…this is happening for me…” and I fell asleep.
Waking up on Saturday morning, I felt like a new person. I still didn’t know how the day would unfold, if the Creative Director would have any positive to say about my artwork or not, but I had refocused. Meeting with the other writers and illustrators at breakfast that morning was a very different experience from the night before. I began to feel like I was on an adventure and when it came time to have my meeting with the Creative Director at 3 p.m. I was ready.
I pulled out my paintings and waited. The first word out of her mouth was, “Stunning!’
A flood of goosebumps shot through me. The next 15 minutes flew by. She offered some suggestions, not about how to change or improve my art, but about stepping into being an artist in a larger way. She pulled up the website of a very well-known artist who is pretty “out there” and said something like, “Why not consider a direction like this? You’re good enough.”
I was laughing inside when I left that meeting. A part of me was saying, “Well, you didn’t expect THAT did you, Mary?” No, I certainly did not. And now a new path has, indeed, opened up but I am not going to make it into a “career path” by over-thinking, over-planning, and trying to tweak it into a vision that makes sense to me. I am going to continue to trust that I will be shown, step by step, moment by moment, what to do. I am being called to trust in the larger part of me in a new way. I am ready.
“Security is mostly a superstition…Avoiding danger is no safer in the long run than outright exposure. Life is either a daring adventure, or nothing”. Helen Keller