I was at Sabrina Ward Harrison’s wonderful reading the other night, a celebration of her new book, Messy Thrilling Life. The setting was intimate, everyone sitting around a campfire in Alameda at the home of my friend and writing teacher Laurie Wagner (who wrote a beautiful forward to the book).
Something Sabrina said that night stuck with me. She said that when it comes to art, she can trust the messes, the mistakes, the wine spilling over the page. That’s how she knows things are getting interesting. She trusts that it will all come together in the end, that the process looks messy but like a camera lens focusing, it all eventually comes into view. (Her incredible artwork is a testament to this faith.)
But we don’t have the same kind of faith within our lives. The messes, the worries, the death. They make us afraid and confused and we want to quit or rewind or start fresh. (How many times have we left a relationship, or been tempted to when things started to get messy?)
We have no faith in the in-between. We have no sense that right around the corner is some extraordinary beauty just waiting to be revealed. Sometimes we don?t move through our mess for long enough to see how it all fits together.
I know that when I paint, I am fairly controlled at the beginning. Each line is precise, mapping things out, creating a structure for the piece. But there is always a moment when there is tons of paint on the canvas, the colors are mixing this way and that, lines are blurred and tangled and it just doesn’t look like it’s working. This is the point where my brow furrows, I tell myself I SUCK and consider quitting and doing the laundry instead.
But, if I stick with it, if I am willing to keep at it, something really amazing happens. It is at this very point of things falling apart when I feel like I have nothing to lose, and the preciousness and control flies out the door. In other words, I don’t give a fuck anymore.
And that’s when I go for it, and my strokes become more wild and free. I work quickly and from pure instinct, squeezing tubes of yellow ochre and cadmium red and cerulean blue without thinking, moving along with a fierce rhythm.
And then I am really painting and everything else seems like a quaint little warmup for the wild beauty of this phase.
So how do we do this? Have this kind of faith? Trust what is happening now when it’s rotten and painful and not at all what we planned?
How do we trust what we didn’t plan?
Somebody said, “Life is what happens when we are making other plans.”
I guess we miss out a lot in life. That’s the cost. We miss out on the gorgeous, textured beauty of a life filled with coffee stains and tears. We miss the possibility of gorgeous, deep, rich color on the other side.