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Facing the White Chasm

There is a moment before my paintbrush meets the paper. In that moment, my hand is still while the voices have it out with each other. “Walk away,” the first voice urges loudly while the other voice speaks quietly, whispering under the din of fear, “Maybe today something beautiful will come out of these hands.”

As I begin the first strokes, it’s as if my senses are underwater and the world around me becomes muffled and distant: I’m tuned only to my heartbeat, this paper, and the tools in my hand. I layer color and line and I’m in the Beautiful In Between– past the initial burst of doubt and fear, but not yet to the moment when my hand stops for the last time and the incarnation is revealed to match my vision, or not.

I’m tempted to stop now, and the hesitation invites the voices back. “Tomorrow,” the first voice soothes. “You could leave it right here, in this state of possibility and come back tomorrow.” But the latter voice tells me that tomorrow I will say the same thing, “I’ll leave it as it is, for just one more day.” If making the first mark on the blank page seemed like the hardest part, I know in this moment that continuing is by far the more daunting choice.

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The moment in a story when everything goes wrong is sometimes called the Dark Night of the Soul. I see a similar moment approaching in my work and I know that’s why I’ve paused brush and breath. Soon the original sketch will be hidden completely and my vision all but lost. It is tempting to stay in the before, where possibility reigns.

To go forward means for a little while it’s going to be chaos and I wonder if there’s a way to skip this part. Can I sidestep the Dark Night of the Soul? In writing, this is when the words have been shifted and plucked until they begin to slide out of focus, losing their shape and meaning. In theatre, it’s when the individual scenes have been rehearsed and now it’s time to put them together and add in lights, sound and costumes. For the next three days it’s all going to look worse than it did before the work began. For every artist, all that is visible is a cacophony of unpolished layers. This is the moment when the artist asks, “Will it work?”

The truth is, sometimes it doesn’t. Not every piece emerges from the darkness.

Sometimes, though, it does work. My hand goes back to the brush and from layers of paint, the original vision emerges. It’s altered, of course, because process changes things. Neither is it perfect, because I’m not perfect. But there is beauty in the trying. And what has surfaced is better and truer than the original spark of an idea.

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Either way, what do I do after?

I begin all over again. Hope has been born in the darkness, when the vision was momentarily lost but I continued anyway. Gathering the courage of a superhero and the foolishness of a lover, I face the white chasm, again.

 

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