inside/insight

I just posted on my stories on Instagram that I just can’t bear to post work I have invested my heart and soul in anymore, because it only reaches 10% of my audience at best—and seeing those numbers is so disappointing to an independent artist who has relied on Instagram from the beginning to get my work out there. 

 

I know so many others can tolerate the changes, and I am truly happy for them, and to be honest, somewhat envious! But I have had to learn to listen to my intuition lately, and most of all to stop forcing myself to continue to do something that causes me pain—all along invalidating myself and saying that it shouldn’t cause me pain. I’m almost gaslighting myself, and that’s a difficult trap to crawl out of. 

 

I received so many messages immediately with followers kindly telling me that I should continue to post, and I appreciate each one. My response is: I will continue to share my work. Don’t worry—as far as I can tell, I don’t see myself becoming a bitter recluse whose collection of art is found only after death (it’s romantic and all but nay). I love the process of sharing and interacting through living, breathing, contemporary art. It’s been such a gift in my life. 

 

I will also say that if I were not going through so many personal transitions right now, I would likely be much less affected by the lack of engagement—because I know I have felt that way before. These personal transitions are not bad, and in fact they are all for the best. But I am notoriously terrible at tolerating change and often resist it until I have no strength left. For some months now I have been working to accept change, to embrace transition, and to remind myself that this is a natural part of life. I am doing better than I ever have, but it is still difficult. 

 

One huge change is that I completed graduate school and earned my PhD. This was a goal I have had since I was a child. I always thought the moment would be… something that it did not end up being. My family and my friends were proud of me, and it all felt good—but something was missing. I realized for the first time that accomplishing a long-term goal does not inherently give your life some new, ultimate meaning. And really, sometimes, nothing about your orientation to the world or your own life changes at all. I’ve always told myself something I read in Viktor Frankl’s incredibly important book, “Man’s Search for Meaning.” I butcher it after all of these years, but it’s something like “Meaning is not defined by culmination of one’s life but rather from moment to moment.”  The jest being—there is no such thing as “ultimate meaning.” Even though I think of this every day, I still fell into this trap of thinking that my life’s meaning was defined by my overall achievements, aspirations, and experiences. Some sort of a cultivation of shit that was supposed to give my life meaning. But it is more salient than ever that this is not the case. 

 

The “let-down” of not feeling like I had found my purpose after completing my difficult degree and landing a lovely job was hard to take, and I am still processing it. I continue to wonder if I am in the right place, or if somewhere along the way I let others influence me to the point that I forgot—or never even discovered—what I truly wanted. So, in sum, here I am—working my ass off five days a week towards something I really am passionate about, but all the while not knowing if I am really putting my energy where my heart and mind wish for me to. I’m tired often and find it very hard to make time for art and other enriching experiences. Even when I am not working, I have so much anxiety about my performance at work that I can’t be present in my experiences.

 

This must be somewhat sad and shocking to hear after seeing my recent trip to Europe. I will say that there were many wonderful moments, and that I did, for the first time in a long time, experience something close to freedom and peace. I took more photos in ten days than I have in two months, so that speaks volumes itself. 

 

But here I am again, still wondering what the hell I am doing with my life. To the outside person, this seems absurd. I’ve heard it all too many times, “but you have your PhD, your art is out there in the world, you have a happy loving relationship…”—and all of those things ARE true. But somehow, I still find myself lost, wanting badly to commit myself to something but lacking the passion to commit to the thing I chose so long ago. 

 

This could all be a phase, and it probably is. I think it’s life just really asking me to take a step back and re-evaluate, re-center, and remember who I am. I will probably be singing a very different tune in a few weeks or months. But for now, I am relatively consumed by this whole soul-searching thing, and it makes it difficult to share my work. 

 

Why? Because I’m on shaky ground. My sense of self is not as concrete and strong as it has been in the past. Life is shaking it all up—cracking my foundation and asking me to look deeper. It doesn’t matter what answers I find, it’s just that I must find them. This is who I am as a person—I have always been this way. I must always be questioning everything—my motives, my choices, the things that drive me to make the decisions that I do. I must understand myself deeply and I accept nothing less. However, it’s becoming more and more clear that total understanding of the self is an impossibility. I no longer expect to understand myself even at the end of life. Self-actualization is an idealistic construct, one that we will always strive for and never reach, and that is okay. It’s what motivates us to keep growing and becoming who we are. 

 

So, I’m working on being patient with myself. I’m working on forgiving myself and allowing myself some grace while I am learning and naturally messing up. And I am learning to extend that same grace to others (NOT for people who aren’t trying and are just bad, FYI). But it’s a lot of psychic energy, and this leaves me in a position where I have very little tolerance for the challenges to my own self-esteem that sharing my work on Instagram entails. It’s kind of like I have to do this work before I can proceed with anything else. 

 

A lot of big personal shifts have happened as well, but I will not go into those things. I will say that they have also taken some of the life out of me, and certain losses have left me in a place where I’ve had to carefully reconfigure my routines and connections, and mostly I’ve had to find a way to (begin to) recover from years of being told that my feelings are not real, not valid, not deserved, not allowed. Now I say: Fuck that. Every feeling I have ever felt, no matter how irrational, is valid. I also tried not to be angry when I realized this has been a theme across my life, but then I decided again… fuck that. My anger is valid as well, and I will stay angry as long as I need to. I will stay sad as long as I need to. I will be patient and kind to myself as I continue to recognize the ways in which people, throughout my life, have made me feel so fucking small I hardly felt like I existed. I exist, I am not small, and I will never be made to feel small again. 

 

So here I sit, wondering who I am and how to proceed with so many external and internal changes. I wrote the other day, “I do not know how to proceed, but nonetheless I will.” I mean that I will never stop living, I will never stop being curious, I will never stop being open to whatever the world throws my way. Even when I am lost, I will go on, and hopefully I will be following my deepest intuitions. I am not sad—I am just reevaluating a lot of my life, and in the face of everything, striving to commit myself to a life that is congruent with my values. But sorting out those values is one of the hardest parts. 

 

My only advice is to listen to your instincts. If you’ve chosen a life path that is not for you, go forge another one to whatever extent you can. If you’ve been drawn to people who make you feel like nothing, even if you love them, let them go. Remember that you matter. Remember that things will get better, then worse, then better—for all of time. Remember you will always have to stay diligent and work hard at life because life will hand you nothing of value without your striving for it. And mostly—remember it is okay to be weak sometimes, it is okay to surrender sometimes. How else do we cultivate the energy to go full force after what it is that we want? Sometimes we must collapse and start over, and sometimes we will have to do this many times, and this is always, always okay.