Growing up, I probably never went a day without art in my life in one form or another. My father is a local musician, and so much of my childhood was spent listening to him practice his violin and guitar during the day, and hanging out at his shows in the evenings. Our family lived in a small artist-filled neighborhood near downtown San Antonio, a neighborhood inhabited largely by local artists, activists, and other like-minded, middle-income households. I am incredibly grateful that, from the time I was born, art and creativity were a given, so much so that I didn’t even realize that somehow my experience might not be the norm until I moved away for college.
For most of my life leading up into high school, I attended private schools that, at the time, still invested in their arts programs. So, from the time I was in Kindergarten up until around Sophomore year of high school, I was always taking an art class, whether it was photography at the local craft center or sewing and painting during my middle school years. It came as naturally to me as breathing, that it never occurred to me to notice it’s absence.
As I’m sure is common with most of our high school experience, as I prepared my resume for college applications, I began cutting out anything in my life that didn’t contribute to my goal of attending an elite university far away from home. The art classes I was taking took a dramatic shift, focusing on supporting students’ college application portfolios, leaving behind art lessons that prioritized creative expression over meeting a selection committee’s subjective rubric for good art.
So, quietly and without even realizing, I stopped making art entirely.
My focus turned to efficient productivity and laying the groundwork for a financially stable career; a decision which meant prioritizing courses that would “sell well” on a resume: economics, politics, computer science, and languages (definitely not art). With each passing decision, I was training myself to value facts and data over emotion and creativity. On the few occasions when I attempted to reconnect with my creative impulses, I found myself so anxiously concerned over a need for productivity that I had lost the ability to find stillness and calm in creativity. For years, friends and family would gift me journals and art supplies, knowing my love for the creative, but not knowing that I could no longer so much as begin an art project without falling down a self-doubt rabbit hole, paralyzed by the fear that I would ruin the beautiful notebooks or colored pencils with my purposeless interest in expression outside of academia. So the journals remained empty, untouched — they terrified me, taunting me with their presence alone. Reminding me that I never could nor would produce something beautiful enough for their pages, let alone to be shared with others.
For years I had therapists encourage me to write more, to use the pages to express my emotional journey through chronic anxiety, depression, and post-traumatic stress. Again and again, I told them that I just couldn’t. Even just writing my feelings down felt too vulnerable, too unsafe; every time I started to write how I was feeling I would immediately, anxiously destroy the notebook or the couple used pages fearing that somehow someone might come across my words and turn them against me.
Although, on my more stressful, anxiety-filled days, I still feel the need for self-protection and to keep my opinion and creative expression to myself, in these last several weeks I have realized that my hesitance to share my opinion is out of fear. Fear that my work will be judged harshly, fear that it isn’t “feminist” enough, isn’t a true reflection of who I am, or, most of all, that, in my attempt to bring attention to inequities or contribute to a discussion, I will cause more hurt than benefit.
However, as an activist, feminist, woman, human, I am flawed. Even with my best intentions, there have been many occasions where I have simply lost sight of the greater mission. When distracted by fear of criticism and self-preservation, it is incredibly easy to fall into the trap of being more concerned about personal reputation rather than accepting the long, arduous process of failing forward. By this, I mean understanding that life is often characterized by a long stream of mistakes which, hopefully, add up to progress and (even better) successes.
When I think of the individuals who inspire me the most — my parents, mentors, local politicians, Rihanna — I am most caught by their moments of fearlessness, wishing that I could be that way, too. With the ongoing developments with COVID-19, we are all being cast into the vast unknown; a crisis of our own creation. More than ever, we have no time for fear.
Easier said than done, I know. But, as I constantly as reminding myself, all change has to start somewhere. This year I committed to being more playful in my life; to work everyday to care a little bit less about life’s messes and to create more things in the world that make me smile. With every year that passes, I am ever grateful for the many mistakes I’ve made and all the wonderful places they’ve led me to. At some point I just realized: I can either keep obsessing over the past, letting the negativity and anxiety seep into my everyday life, or I can make the conscious decision to respect and learn from my errors, and then move on into the brighter, wiser future.