I was recently listening to Tami Simon interview Julia Cameron, when I was reminded that Julia has a name for her inner censor. She calls him Nigel.
Once I was in a class Bert Seabourn was teaching, one of my favorite portrait artists, and he shared about this character he paints. It is a woman with a stern, aloof face and he calls her The Art Critic. He said he had painted her many times, like a recurring character in his own story.
I have been assessing the anxiety in my life as of late, which really is nothing new. Anxiety and I go way back to my high school days when I was medically assigned massage therapy due to the knots in my shoulders. The knots in my stomach go back to even earlier years. It seems there has always been something to be terrified of in one way or another.
Which reminds me, I was reading through Sabrina Ward Harrison's second book, Brave on the Rocks where she was journaling about ulcers. Multiple pages where the word ulcer shows up. Seems after her first book Spilling Open did so well, not to mention thoroughly and vulnerably exposed her, she felt an onslaught of sudden external pressure to live up to some frozen in time part of her that others were inspired by.
I found myself recently going through a mental log of when I've had anxiety and what I attributed it to. As the list unfolded I realized it wasn't situational, though I've often told myself it was. If I just get through this rough patch then the anxiety will be gone, I thought. The anxiety has morphed and grown and lurked in the background no matter my choices, recently shoving itself to the forefront due to a medication I was taking for other reasons. A tiny little pill had the "nice" side-effect of exacerbating my anxiousness and thus I have been intentionally studying it.
What I thought would happen is that by choosing and making my own way through this world, the anxiety would fall away. I would know I was doing what I wanted to do, and with that would come a certainty that would reduce fear to nothing but a sniveling minor character. Going My Own Way = No Fear.
What has happened as a result of this is that I have become timid to talk about the fear outwardly because I know to many people Doing Something Wrong = Living a Life in Fear. I felt that to admit there was fear still, after all this time, would be a sort of proof used against me, that going my own way was in fact not the right choice after all. I didn't know how to make sense of the fact that I believed in me 100% at the same time that the waves of fear were constantly washing up on my shore, always threatening just at the edge of the newest sandcastle I had built.
Back to Julia's interview. Tami Simon unpacked Julia's words a little, saying:
To which Julia replies:
Relief washed over me. Here was a way I was very familiar with. Applying fiction to reality. Layering fictional characteristics over the things in my very "real world." And here was Julia saying precisely what I knew to be true in my heart of hearts. I have not grown weaker because I have gone my own way. Instead my inner art critic has grown stronger as I've grown stronger.
What Julia has done here is huge. She is giving me the opportunity to say there are voices inside my head that are not me. So when I admit they are there, I'm not admitting a personal weakness. I'm not battling myself or belittling myself. I'm acknowledging another character apart from me. I'm saying Nigel or Voldemort. Watch out. It's on.
I need it to be personified as a dark monster that I go to battle with because it feels that intense when I first wake up and can't step a foot out of bed in the morning. I don't need it to be downplayed or downsized because that downplays and downsizes my own strength. It is a computer program that keeps adapting. And no matter how much those in my life, who love me, cheer me on and say "I know you've got this," it is a battle I fight alone because the monster is completely invisible to them. Like a Hollogast from Peculiar Children. It is only mine to see and confront.
In correspondence I was having with an Apprentice of The Magic School, I realized this is why the path I've chosen is so daunting. I've chosen to go my way, to be an artist that has to constantly create my own work, my own curriculum, my own art, my own income, my own meaning out of life. I have fought for this and finally the power is all mine. This is, of course, the way I want it, and I am thrilled it is so, but the monster has only gotten more intense as I've grown just strong enough to live this way.
I am reminded why I got my Where the Wild Things Are tattoos. Because monsters and the scary unknown are the life I have chosen. And it is I who makes the wild rumpus start and I who shouts "Now STOP" when the monsters have gotten out of hand. It is I who have chosen to sail off in and out of weeks into the Unknown ImagineNation, a world no one can create, but me, and it is I who have chosen to return home to the "real world" for a warm dinner.
The fear is real. The fear is real. The fear is real.
And I signed up for it.
And I can outsmart it.
And this is no one time thing.
I grow. It grows.