Existential/artistic crisis.

I had a coffee meeting with a dear professor and friend last Wednesday early morning. It had been a while since we had talked last, as I haven’t kept up very well with those professors that meant so much to me. Bill and I have always had a interesting connection. I think we’re almost too similar in many ways, which means I didn’t really connect with him on a personal level until my final year of college. Regardless, we met at the Coffee Cottage, he arriving first and sitting by the window, his CD player and wet green rain jacket next to him.
The pleasantries first, then talking about life and books. I mentioned that I’ve had trouble writing since leaving school. And then he said, “You don’t have to write. Maybe you don’t like it that much. No one’s forcing you.”
Those words rocked me to my very core. It was like they entered in through my ears, and rattled around inside my rib cage, pushing vital organs out of the way while they created havoc. It was said nicely, but it felt like a blow to the stomach, all the air knocked out of my lungs. Simple words floored me.
As much as I can pinpoint, it was mostly surprise. I think I was expecting encouragement. I’ve come to expect that from my teachers, that cultivating of a special something they see in me. And now, one of my most valued opinions just said that I didn’t need to write.
Now, I took it 100% the wrong way. He never said or even implied that I shouldn’t write. He was just trying to be helpful in erasing any guilt or pain I had over not writing. But that, plus a rather discouraging look at my own poetry, made for a shattered artistic confidence. I realized, as he was critiquing some of my recent work, that I have fallen away from the technique, the things that make poems great instead of merely fine or decent.
So, what was I trying to do with my art? Why was I doing it? What was I doing it for? And if I’m not a writer, what do I possibly have? Who can I possibly be? This is all I’ve ever done, all I’ve ever been slightly above par at, and maybe I’ve been deluded all this time.
And here is my existential purpose: if I’m not writing, what am I doing on this earth? And what was I expecting to do with my art anyway? I don’t have the fire or the self-discipline to try to be a starving artist, so I’m destined for a life of mediocrity, both as a human and an artist. That’s okay for some; is it okay with me? Haven’t I already been living it?
It was my first artistic crisis, where I questioned why I did what I do, if I love what I do, if I even should do what I fight to do. And it’s not reconciled yet. I’m still in the midst of it, as I don’t really have any answers. I’m just past the “throw myself off a bridge because I have no purpose in life” stage – thank God for one poor co-worker who “heard” my panic over MSN Messenger and one poor roommate who patiently listened as I threw all of my insecurity all over the apartment.
I still don’t know what I’m doing, or why I am doing it. I’m not sure how to make this passion, this hobby, into something that lives and breathes and makes a difference in this world. I do know that art is important. It is beautiful. It makes the difference between light and dark both more distinct and more fuzzy. It is worth something. Now I just need to figure out if what I’m doing is worthy of being called art. And if it is, what does that mean? And if it’s not, what does that mean?
If anything, remember that I’m not near any bridges, and if I were, I would not swan dive off of them. The tempest is only within my soul; the rest of me functions as usual. And so, the writing may be more sparse for now. But I am so thankful for those who read. And I’m so thankful for those who comment and give me things to think about. And for those who encourage me, I thank you. And for those who cause crises (like Bill, who is still one of my favorite people), thanks too – without the struggle, there would be nothing.
That’s all for tonight. Until tomorrow, or the next day…I will return. I promise. I’m not too far away.

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One thought on “Existential/artistic crisis.

  1. Oh, Sara. I don't know if this is helpful, but I know exactly what you mean. I sometimes wonder if the real artists of the world — the Virginia Woolfs and Emily Dickinsons — ever understood the deep pain of loving art, needing art, finding one's meaning in art, and being unable to create art. Did they ever doubt that they could contribute beauty to the medium that inspired them, made their hearts race, and gave them hope? In "The Weight of Glory," C.S. Lewis talks about our desire to enter into beauty and become part of it, and I think, as lovers of literature, this manifests, at least partly, as a longing to create the art we find so beautiful, thereby finding some of that beauty inside ourselves. Being swallowed up by the world of story has always been one of the greatest longings — one of the greatest needs — of my soul. The fact that I have tried and tried to create story of my own this year, and completely failed (while others have succeeded) is both painful and unnerving. All that to say, as I too try to figure out this whole identity thing, here are my two words of comfort: 1. I think being a writer ultimately comes down to needing to write. Not enjoying it per se, not being successful at it, but needing it. Do you need to express yourself in words? Does the world make more sense once you filter it through adjectives and nouns? Can you create meaning from the chaos (even if only for yourself) when you translate reality into story? Then that is the fingerprint of God in you. The God who spoke into darkness and created light. The God who is word become flesh. The God who is creator and artist and writer. If that is who God created you to be, then be that. Bless others with it, but more than that, use it to connect you to the ultimate source of beauty, because that, I think, is the reason you were gifted with this particular need. 2. I think the constant questioning of identity, as painfully uncomfortable as it is, is also its own kind of grace. Grace from a God who does not want us to be enough on our own. A God who creates strength out of weakness, meaning out of foolishness, and beauty out of ashes. As long as you continue to turn those ashes over to him — to bring him your 5 loaves and 2 fish — I think he will bless your endeavors far beyond your greatest dreams, even if it takes time, like Moses in the wilderness. I believe in you Sara. Believe in your calling. Believe in your gifting. Believe that God has called you out to know him and love him in unique and powerful ways. You will be used to bring light — in fact, you already have. But I know the questions are hard. Hang in there, friend.

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