LEARNING TO SEE #8: Finding Our Way in the Dark

Still my go-to happy place. Where’s yours? (Okay, confession time: It’s not nearly as neat and clean now!)

 

All we need is a good flashlight and the courage to trust ourselves.

(5 minute read)

Just so you know, I really don’t have everything in life all figured out.

Oh, I’m good at finding a way out of the woods, as long as the woods aren’t too dark. ) And the wolves aren’t after us.* (Actually, wolves don’t really hunt people.)

Years ago, I came across a quote by Anne Lamott, about being lost in the dark. She said she prayed, asking God to simply shine a light at her feet, so she could take ‘just one little step…”

She wasn’t asking for His advice. She wasn’t asking for directions. She wasn’t asking for a plan.

All she asked for was the ability to take one small step forward in the dark.

Of course, now I can’t find that quote, but here is a similar one:

“E.L. Doctorow said once said that ‘Writing a novel is like driving a car at night. You can see only as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.’ You don’t have to see where you’re going, you don’t have to see your destination or everything you will pass along the way. You just have to see two or three feet ahead of you. This is right up there with the best advice on writing, or life, I have ever heard.”

–Anne Lamott

I won’t get into all the dark stuff surrounding all of us right now. I’m sure by the time this article is published, there will be even more, calling for our attention, and our action.

I do want to talk about the light.

We tend to think of ‘light’ as a quality that allows 2D artists to truly capture an image, especially landscapes, still lifes, and portraits. Light gives depth, color, texture to a painting.

But light is crucial is so many forms of creative work. Plays, cinema, musical performances, dance. In healing, x-rays and CT scans, a totally different form of ‘light’, are ways to reveal sources of pain in our bodies. I could go on with my usual strings of metaphors, but we can accept that light is most definitely a good thing. (For creatives who live with blindness or sight issues, they simple “see” the light in other ways, filling in with their imagination and inner vision. Deafness didn’t stop Beethoven from composing his powerful music.)

Sometimes all we need is that little flashlight at our feet.

Sometimes, of course, we need something bigger. A strategy called “The Lighthouse Method” encourages us to follow a distant signal, far ahead, with no knowledge of what we will find along the way. Sometimes, we can be more like E.L. Doctorow’s headlights metaphor, where we can drive 65mph and simply follow the road in front of us.

As creative people, we may often be alone in our thoughts, our vision, our work. We find many ways to make our work, often experimenting with different media, different palettes, different subject matter, different styles and techniques. We’re used to walking a path that can sometimes seem lonely.

And sometimes, it feels like nothing we do is very satisfying. This can be caused by big life changes (and lots of small ones), illness, death. Broken relationships, loss of income, galleries closing. We’ve added a lot to this list in 2020 already, and there’s probably more to come.

But even as I write this, I can almost feel that flashlight in my hand.

I know if I can get to my studio, I’ll feel better.

Maybe I’ll make some new artifacts. Maybe (oh, yes, please!) another order to fill, or an idea for a new series. Maybe it will be a clay day, or a fiber day, or maybe I’ll just end up on the floor picking up that bowl of seed beads I dropped. Maybe I’ll page through my inspiration file, noting a new ways of connecting this with that, or a new color combo. Maybe I’ll just clear my work surfaces. Maybe just one surface. Okay, maybe I’ll just clean a corner of my desk.

All I know is this:

I will come out of my studio much, much happier than when I went in.

I’m not saying my art is more important than anything else going on in our world today.

I’m saying I’m in a better place to do that work, if I do a bit of MY work first.

So if today is a hard day, take exquisite care of yourself.

It’s okay to be overwhelmed. It’s okay to be confused about who or what to believe. (Although I’d start with reputable news sources, not rumors.)

It’s okay to feel small in the world today. It’s okay to feel lost. It’s part of being human.

But remember we have been given a gift, a precious gift. The gift of yearning ‘to make’, ‘to create’, to bring something into the world that is the product of our unique upbringing, our unique path in life, our skillset, our winding path, our powerful artistic vision.

Know that there are many ways to help others with our creative work. Whether we inspire others with our work or words, or whether we donate a portion of our sales to a good cause, or whether we volunteer for those causes directly, whether we stay in or march, or help those who do, or simply wear a mask, etc. it’s all a way of healing the world.

If we’ve been in the dark ourselves, that teaches us to have compassion for those who are in it now, or who live in it all the time.

Find a way to use your creativity in service of the causes you believe in. Be a force for good in the world. Share your own way of doing this in the comments. I get great ideas from readers, and I’m sure other readers will, too.

Whether it’s headlights, a lighthouse, or a little flashlight, aimed at our feet, we have been here before. And we will be here again, in this dark place.

It is always darkest just before dawn, because that is why the dark is so important. In the dark is when we realize what we really care about. In the dark is where we sleep, and dream. It can be a place of fear and immobility.

But dawn will come again.

And we cannot recognize the light if we never know the dark. The dark teaches us to trust the angels of our better nature

It’s easier for us to really see that little beam of light, in the dark.