“Bless me, Father, for I have sinned. I cheated on a college exam in 1971. I didn’t trust my response, and my best friend’s paper was right there. I mean, it was right there…so I took a peek. When I saw her solution, assuming that she was more intelligent than I was and knew more than I did, I changed my answer. Consequently, we both had the wrong answer and my original conclusion had been correct all along. I am sorry for this and all of my sins”
“Well, replied my imaginary vicar in his most understanding and priestly voice, “If it still haunts you after all this time, I doubt you repeated the offense. Hopefully, by now you’ve learned to trust yourself and have faith in what you know. Now, say, three Hail Marys, one Our Father, and throw in a couple Glory Be’s just to be on the safe side. In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, Amen. By the way, aren’t you a Unitarian?”
“Well…Thank you for the blessing. Thanks for listening…and well…yes, I am a proud UU, but wait…what about the anonymity of the confessional? How do you know who I am?”
“Think about it, my dear, I’m your personal imaginary priest, existing only in your mind, so, of course, I know who you are. By the way…you could have been a little more progressive and made me a woman, a UU minister, or Lay Pastoral caregiver, or better yet…a wise grandmotherly type. You know…a sage or a crone… but then…I imagine you wanted to keep that bit about the confessional.”
“Yes…Father, even as a UU, I appreciate the comfort of the confessional. You know what they say…confession is good for the soul. But if it’s all the same to you, I’ll skip the Hail Marys and throw in a few Mary Olivers instead. I’ll see what I can do about the rest. Those Glory Be’s might be a stretch for a Unitarian.”
‘Maybe the desire to make something beautiful is the piece of God that is inside each of us.’Mary Oliver
“Wait, before you go and send me off into the ether of your imagination, let me remind you that even if you don’t realize or recognize it, you really are a unique and wonderful being. There’s no need to make yourself in the image of anyone else. Learn from others, but don’t try to be them. After all, you can’t make cantaloupe taste like strawberries, and why would you want to, they’re both so great as they are. On the other hand, you can make grapes taste like cotton candy, so maybe that’s not a great analogy. My point is, even with all your perceived faults and failings…you are here at this time and in this space, and the world needs you to be you.
Now, go and sin no more…but…if you must…which let’s face it is pretty inevitable…think of something more imaginative and fun than this not having faith in yourself thing. Keep life interesting. I’m sure you’ll think of something…you always do.”
But it's all right now I learned my lesson well You see, you can't please everyone So you got to please yourself ...Rick Nelson, Garden Party
My lifelong insecurity and lack of self-confidence have shaped how I live, how I think, and the choices I’ve made. Maybe now, as a senior citizen, it’s time that I reframe and change some of my thinking. The only time it’s too late to change course is when you’re going over the falls…and… then…it actually is too late. On the other hand…aren’t there deathbed confessions and foxhole conversions? And in the movies, at least, you can pop up like a cork in the water at the bottom of the falls and journey on…wet and choking on water…but… still moving nevertheless.
In the past few months, I have joined two different groups…a writing workshop sponsored by our local Senior Center and a group of photographer friends that I know from my summers on Star Island off the coast of New Hampshire. It is my membership in these two cohorts that have prompted my recent self-reflection. Both groups deal with different but related art forms, yet our gatherings are surprisingly similar. Each group provides room for each member to share what we’ve written or what we’ve captured with our lenses since the previous meeting, then we receive gentle, supportive feedback from our peers and instructor. It’s a process that is both terrifying and exhilarating. By sharing what we’ve created…what we’ve thought or seen… we are taking a risk. When we pull back the curtain, we are revealing a part of ourselves…often a very personal, tender part of our deepest, truest selves, we are trusting that the gifts we offer will be received by friendly hands who will hold, protect, and cradle them…carefully, lovingly and protectively. The kindness and support that we offer one another are at times almost palpable. We empathize with each presenter because we have stood in their shoes.
Yes, terrifying and exhilarating indeed. For me, however, that’s the easy part.
“Geesh,”…my imaginary priest, has emerged again…”If that’s the case why do you do it?”
“Sometimes, I ask myself that very question.”
Being in the company of such talented writers and photographers helps me to grow and learn. I used to be jealous of the great shot that others captured but I missed, or a paragraph full of figurative language and evocative vocabulary that I wish I had conceived. Fortunately, I have since evolved to find joy and delight in seeing the world through other eyes. I can truly appreciate what they see or what they write without envy or covetousness.
The difficulty for me comes when I compare how I write or what I see, frame, click, and edit to what others imagine and create. In my mind, I never seem to measure up, so I often find myself emulating and experimenting with their style or process.
“The worst enemy to creativity is self-doubt.”– Sylvia Plath
This morning, I reserved tickets at the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam. During his lifetime, this well-known Dutch painter completed at least 900 canvases. Someone did the math and concluded that during the time he was actively working, he would have produced a new painting every 36 hours. Yet, during his lifetime, his style of painting was not appreciated. He sold just a single painting. Today his works range in price from millions to tens of millions to hundreds of millions of dollars. Vincent’s untimely death is still debated. Whether it was suicide or accidental remains a mystery. He undoubtedly had a troubled life…but continued to paint nevertheless…899 unsold canvases. He observed his contemporaries and experimented with their approaches and techniques, but his beautiful, unique style could not be denied. His vision remains.
Three Hundred meters west of the Van Gogh museum, the imposing Rijksmuseum is hosting the largest exhibit ever assembled of the works of another Dutch painter, Johannes Vermeer. Vermeer enjoyed modest success, primarily within the confines of the small city of Delft while he lived in the 1600s. Although never completely forgotten, he was overshadowed by the bigger rock stars of the day. It wasn’t until the mid-1800s…centuries later… that his genius was really recognized and appreciated. Today only thirty-six known oil paintings remain, and yet, for an opportunity to see them, tickets must be purchased months in advance and are already selling out.
Perhaps as I stand before the canvases created by these two different Dutchmen from two different times and with two very distinctive styles and visions, I’ll remember the example they provide me across the centuries. Just be who you are. Find joy in what you do and simply please yourself.
“Creativity is inventing, experimenting, growing, taking risks, breaking rules, making mistakes, and having fun.”Mary Lou Cook
“Oh! Thank God!,” exclaims my nearly forgotten cleric. “You’re finally getting it, and I can shed this scratchy robe and ditch this incredibly small booth you imagined me into. You couldn’t have conjured a comfortably clad monk on a sunny mountaintop? Oh, right…your fear of heights. Sorry. Well…It’s going to take you a while to completely adapt to this new attitude and you’ll need practice, but you’re on the right track. Does it really matter if people are inspired by what you write or look with awe at your images? Without a doubt, that would be nice, but…come on, just be you. That’s more than enough. Just being who you are is the only thing the universe actually demands.
“As for me,” he concludes. “I say…Amen, Blessed Be, Peace out, and Rock on!”