The List

When I find myself at the beginning of a new venture, before I've actually started work on an upcoming show, drafted new material or begun working on a new illustration, there begins a still tug on my insides to make space, as if something in my chest is trying to find a way out through my stomach. I often think of that part of me as a child, not that I have kids. More in terms of my own inner kid, who was promised a day trip a week ago and still hasn't been taken out to play.

Tantrums to follow. 

Unsurprisingly, when I feel that tug on my insides to start work on a new venture I can get a little nervy.

I start to think that the work will never get done, that I'll never progress further than where I am now (illogical) and that somehow I might never use my brain or my hands to make anything new ever again. No more art, no more play dates.

But there is a reason I'm afraid of new ideas for projects, and it's got a lot to do with an internal list I have of all the ideas I've had at some point or other in my career, but for whatever reason have been put on the back burner, left discarded with the washing I also haven't gotten around to, or worse - put away in some cupboard because the thought of completing them was too good, too lofty or too self-indulgent for me to reckon with. Julia Cameron calls these unresolved concepts creative miscarriages, and in her book 'The Artist's Way' she urges that they be mourned. I've done a lot of this mourning to date, but there's been a lot of them in between the other more public successes I've had in my career, and the build up over the years means that if I started my wailing duties today I'd be here for a while. All this grappling with unfinished business has led to a lot of self-thwarting, guilt, and an increasing feeling of neglect. If anyone remembers a time they got left behind or whose parents forgot to pick them up from school on occasion you'll know what I'm getting at.

I woke up feeling that way this morning. My head swimming with too many ideas, too many spinning plates, not enough time to surmount the huge tasks I was setting for myself (publish your book, record album, travel the world, run a market stall, solo exhibition, pay student loan, postgraduate study, gather a deposit for a house & finish a paper cut animation that has up til this point sucked down hundreds of hours of mine and others' labour).

My list, along with all the day-to-day upkeep one is required to do if one would like to remain a clean and balanced individual (washing, cooking, cleaning, exercising, spending time with loved ones, making cups of tea etc) I start to feel like I'm on a treadmill moving slowly backward as the contents of my 'list' slip off the side. No-one asked me to martyr myself for my art. No one else told me that my life would be complete if I ever managed to get to the end of said list, but its lead me to start my day not with a feeling of anticipation of what the day holds and the opportunities at hand, but instead trailing behind an insurmountable list of goals that I might never reach. In other words, waking up and feeling like I'm already failing even before I've even reached for the alarm. Over a long time that kind of thinking can really get to a person, and as someone with a history of anxiety and depression I recognise that this is not perhaps the most intelligent way I could be directing my neurological pathways.

It's for this reason that lately I have been trying more and more to reason with the list, taking the objectives apart and asking myself if I actually care about completing its contents, or if I'm just so used to this act of self-handicapping and depreciation that I'm scared of what will happen if I just let it go in favour of freedom. Nonsensical or not, as someone who's formed close ties with fear induced workaholism, I can tell you that trying to break your own habits of self-negating and fear-mongering can be pretty bloody frightening. Kind of like jumping off a high building without a proper safety net.

 The funny thing is, I actually thought I'd done it. In the late part of last year, I had done what I needed to in order to distance myself from full time work as a creative entrepreneur, and that year I took a part time job as an education support to have a break from the constant demands of freelancing. I'd been taking breaks, looking after myself in the form of regular netflix sagas, nintendo matches and bike rides around my local lake, but all that hasn't made this incessant internal prodding go away. I've decided to take the list apart and ask myself how many points are still a necessity and alongside that, what other experiences I'd be sacrificing by continuing to bang my head against a wall in repeated fashion over the time and work I feel has been lost. I've been asking myself if it will ever make up for the lost time and esteem that has come about through not only leaving the list unfinished, but more than that allowing myself to lose out on opportunities and experiences in the present because I'm still worried about something in the past.

Self-awareness has its benefits, and despite my hangups and ceaseless desire to disassemble and analyze my own brain activity, asking myself those questions when the list beckons - What can I do about this now? What will happen if I don't act on this? and What effect does dwelling on this have on my thinking? has been and continues to be the thing which staves away the guilt and helps me see my present reality in perspective of what has been and what is right here waiting for me. Don't get me wrong, it's still tempting to dream of what it might be like to have all the boxes ticked, that list done and dusted, but wishing for that to happen without a plan of action is akin to staring up at a tall building waiting for the day you'll be able to fly to the top in a single bound, instead of opening the doors and taking the stairs, and given how long those stairs might be I have to ask myself honestly, whether I'd rather spend my time in a concrete stairwell or whether I'd rather walk down the street and listen to the band playing music on the corner.