I had an epiphany this morning, standing at the sink. It was foggy and wet outside, and my small life suddenly made sense again.
I’d been reading Katherine Dunn’s wonderful blog, Apifera Farm: where art, animal and woman merge), and thinking, “My own life looks so dull. What could I possibly do that would interest other people?” In an age where a competitive approach is drummed into all of us at every turn, I suspect it’s an all-too-common lament. Everyone who is anyone lives l-a-r-g-e, so to speak. A few people living large…being read about in the tabloids by the rest of us. Something may be out of balance there.
But I digress. With glaring and sudden insight, some part of me stepped back and asked the other part still standing at the sink, “Why should you care about what other people think, why should you strain to please on any level?” I knew the answer to that one already, from all my years of reading. The answer was: I still believed that what other people think is vitally important because my very survival depends upon them liking me. It’s the tribal fine print, the first chakra function, a hard-wired fear in humans (so I read) that insured our species’ survival against all odds on this unfriendly planet. Or so the story goes. But isn’t it time to drop that myth…if it ever was true at all? I don’t know if it’s time for everyone else to drop it, but it does seem that it’s time for me to drop that approach to life. It’s exhausting.
Clunk. Ok, it’s dropped. Really. Or at least to the best of my ability. I hope to get better at it as I go along. In the wee hours of a recent morning, a small voice in my head whispered that my survival should only depend upon that which gave me my own unique life. Call it God, if you must. I’m going to do my best to depend upon that from now on. Call it an early New Year’s resolution…the resolution to end all resolutions.
Which brings me back to the title of this post: The Big Little Project. It’s part of my epiphany: putting the emphasis upon the small things I love most: playing with color and line, making images, reading books, wondering about what makes people (including myself) tick. See, some people live big, noticeable lives…and some of us are living seemingly quiet lives, where most of the ‘action’ is going on beneath the surface. There’s a lot going on down there, a lot of growing and changing happening…you just can’t see much of it on the surface. You know, like seeds sprouting, putting down roots before they poke up into the light? Maybe that’s where the expression “grass-roots movement” comes from, now that I think of it.
I’ve had this background ‘should’ going on (maybe forever) which tells me that I need to focus on big subjects, universal and timeless images, things that will rock everyone’s world. Isn’t that silly? I mean, how many people even read this blog…fifty, a hundred? How many people even recognize a Susan Sorrell Hill painting? Not very many, in the grand scheme of things. And if I come from that need to “live large,” than a lack of notice is a serious deficiency, a failure of a life. But if none of that matters, than living small is actually a great freedom. Let me repeat: A Great Freedom.
I have decided to do a little experiment here, and I’m calling it “The Big Little Project.” It’s little, in recognition that in the larger scheme of things, nothing that I do really matters all that much. It’s little as a way to not make myself too nervous about commitment. It’s big for all of the aforementioned reasons: a sea change, a shift in my approach to life and living, a settling into who I already am and not straining to be something, somebody else. I intend to make image-making, reading, writing and wondering the primary focus of my life and this blog, for the foreseeable future.
Maybe it all started with the acne. Two years of adult acne (hard to take at 60+) that just would not go away. It started during a year-long dance with a potential publisher who loved my book from the start, but who kept the project dangling for a very long time. The acne started about the time I was realizing that I needed to pull the plug on that dance with the megalomanic from Hell. It was an agonizing decision, and my face showed it. I’ve been straining ever since to make something happen, somehow, somewhere. It’s worth considering that this small event was just the tip of the iceberg in my ‘straining’ department.
There have been a lot of internal changes around here since then, all gradual, and most of them in response to continuing to beat my head against some external ‘wall’ or another. Like watercolor (and those of you who work with that medium will understand), my life just would not come into some manageable, linear and prosperous form so that I could then devote more of my time to the things I love: playing with color and line, making images, reading books, and wondering about what makes people (including myself) tick. I found that I’d been holding my breath, and that Life was going by at an alarming rate. Hear that sound? That’s me putting the brakes on, finally. Clearly, it’s time to put the things I love first, and let the chips fall where they may. Why should I be surprised that my acne is clearing up at long last? (Maybe the cellulite will go too?)
Life is likely to be a lot more fun around here from this point on: less straining and the corresponding suffering…more moments of joy. Like Dorothy and her ruby slippers, I suspect I’ve had this potential all along, and maybe it’s shown through the cracks just a little? Stay tuned. Your comments and suggestions are always welcomed. I love hearing that I’m not the only one turning away from the lemming crowd about to go over the cultural edge.
Thank you for that final nudge, Katherine. And for having the courage to simply be yourself, since at least 2005. I’m a huge fan. And thank you to all of you out there who are following your own tender hearts too. I know it’s a high-level challenge, and there should be big points just for attempting it.
“Ring the bells that still can ring. Forget your perfect offering. There’s a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in.” from Leonard Cohen’s song, “Anthem”