As an artist, alone with my thoughts and visions of movement, I often experience moments of self-doubt, criticism and vandalism to the soul. I will stop and look at myself in the studio mirror and question my skills and my ideas to the point where I am stymied in my own self-deprecation. The voices come quickly and I am then left frozen, a statue in my own time warp of emotions and confusion. I know I am not alone in this game I find myself in, for as I talk with my friends and colleagues who are also artists, I hear these same stories, these stories of uncertainty and self-loathing. The question then becomes how do we as artists and human beings push these voices aside and continue forward with our creative endeavors successfully and consistently, every day?
I think I may have found some answers to this question at an alumni conference for Harvard’s Arts in Education Program. The weekend was filled with stimulating discussions, stories and of course, lots and lots of questions. While immersed in this Program, I did not understand why we asked so many questions. I was young, naïve and oftentimes frustrated. I was looking for answers. Why couldn’t this Program offer them to me? It has taken me 10 years, multiple careers and my recent return home to the arts to understand and embrace my Program’s focus on inquisitive learning. Simply put, this form of reflection is key as we as art professionals, proponents and teachers embark in our work, which is anything but well-defined, understood or supported. If we do not ask the questions and find some answers, someone else will, someone who has no understanding of the arts, and will offer the wrong answers that could destroy our field.
Thus, after two days of questioning, my mind was swarming with thoughts and during a much needed reflection time I attempted to pull all these thoughts together. What did all these thoughts mean? What did they have in common? How could I bring this momentum and invigoration I felt from these few days back to my life in SF?
While in the reflection room, surrounded by great minds, hearts, and many beige walls, I found the answers I have been seeking. For an hour, I wrote, I sighed and I breathed as I pulled my artistic manifesto, my confirmation and affirmation together. All these years, these are the words I had been searching for and they were in me the entire time. These very personal statements are what I now look to as I begin to slide into a session of self-loathing.
When I looked back upon my words, I realized that all these years what I had been searching for, external validation, was never going to be unless I could validate my own gifts and skills first. All of us want to be loved and supported by others. However, as an artist, external validation plays an entire other role, as our art that we put on stages, on walls and many other places is the most pure and raw expression of ourselves, all exposed for the world to see. Thus, when we receive negative feedback on our work, it is hard to separate the objective from the personal. Even so, I have learned that the ability to provide myself with internal validation is truly what I need to continue making my art. Of course I enjoy supportive comments and feedback from others. I truly do. However, for every positive comment, there will be a negative one that I cannot control, and to be able to handle these comments, I have to keep cheering myself on and become the power of 100 or 1,000 adoring audience members. If I do not, I will be stuck in a cycle of schizophrenic voices, berating and praising me, driving me to a state of insanity.
With this said, I would like to share my affirmation, my declaration and subjugation of my uncertainties. It is very personal. It is very exposed. It is very real. I encourage all of you, artists or not, to write your own affirmation, to read it every day and to believe in it AND yourself. Believing in ourselves, like a zealot, is the hardest part of life’s journey, but it is also the most important, for if we do not, no one will ever believe in us, including ourselves.
I no longer want to apologize for being sensitive, for being whimsical, for relishing in my time alone, writing and dancing. I no longer want to apologize for being a dancer and a choreographer, who shouts inside as my feet move quickly about me in rhythmical patterns; for being enamored with an art form that makes no money and oftentimes makes little sense to mainstream society. I no longer want the opinions of others to drive my life. I no longer want to apologize…for being ME.
I do want to continue to fight for what I know is right in my soul and body. I do want to continue to feel joy throughout my body, every single day, until I can no longer move. I want to cry at sad movies, to yell at mean people and to continue to teach in a way that is uniquely me so that our future generations can learn to be creative and to love themselves for them. I want to continue to grow, to constantly question and to always dream of a world where a career in the arts is rich in more ways than just for the soul. I want to continue to fight for my life, one that I let go of once. I want to continue to fight…for me.
I want to continue to find my sustenance in things that matter to me. I want to believe in myself, eradicate self-doubt and not worry that I will not make it because in so many ways, I already have. I want to hug myself every day and say, “I can,” “I will” and “I must,” no matter how hard it is. I want to dismiss people in my life who belittle my existence as an artist and reflective spirit.
I want to continue forward in my work as a dance maker, to never settle for less and to always be astonished by our infinitesimal minuteness in the greatness of this world. I want to let the rhythm of the waves rock my inner soul every time I watch them. I want to embrace every sunset like it is the last one I will ever see and to live every day of my life with this notion as my mantra.
I want to spend time on activities that matter to me, whether others understand or not. I want to give thanks, every day, for those in my life who support, love and understand and embrace me for me. I want to continue to connect with people who share my values, my passions and my frustrations with the status quo.
In sum, I no longer want to stand or dance on the sidelines. I am my own cheering section and I can no longer wait for others to be.
I want to embrace my strengths and no longer listen to those who say I need to work on my weaknesses. Life is too short to work on things I am not good at.
I will remain confident, caring, humble, curious, joyful, passionate, inquisitive and reflective. I can, I will and I must…believe. And that is exactly what I am going to do-today, tomorrow and every day forward.