* This is the transcript of a talk I gave at the Tett Centre’s First Thursday event, on September 5, 2019.
I’ve heard that to write with universality, you should write personally. So I’m going to tell you a story that I’m wrestling with right now, in the hope that it brings you encouragement.
There’s a record of Johnny Cash poetry set to music that I’ve been listening to a lot lately. One of the songs has moved me to tears repeatedly. It’s called To June This Morning. Let me share a few of the lines.
I rose ahead of you.
And made the morning coffee.
Then your feet on the stair.
You said good morning to me.
Then I sat beside you there.
My head in happy bloused
For love is in this house.
That picture of simple domestic beauty is the one I live daily with the person I love most. I linger in bed “for just a few more minutes”, or have first crack at the hot water, while Rob makes my coffee every morning. When I eventually wander down the stairs, we eat breakfast together. It is such a simple thing, and one that many of you probably experience, but it fills me with endless gratitude for this incredibly beautiful relationship, and life, I get to call mine. That we call ours.
It hasn’t always been that way for me, which is why I know what I have today is so special. I spent well over a decade living a marriage story that I’m weary of telling now. At more than two years from that story’s conclusion, I’m still surprised that I was willing to spend so many years in a relationship that disfigured me so deeply. I say that with eyes wide open to a love, and a life, so big, so foolish, so realistic, so transformative, so stable, so spacious, so close.
I had no idea the embarrassment of riches that awaited me on the other side of pain.
And so I thank God for the pain of loss and the pain of risk.
But because I thrash with myself a lot. I also ask God, “Why couldn’t I risk sooner?”
As I peel back the layers on this question, the truth rises inside me. The still small voice, the one that lives in my chest, reminds me of what I knew even then. It was a core lack of belief in myself – in my capability, my lovability, in my worthiness – that kept me from risking what my heart knew it needed. You can’t risk when every ounce of your value is tied to something outside yourself.
As I was journaling these thoughts recently, all brought to light by the Johnny Cash song, the still small voice prompted me with a lead balloon question:
“Are you doing the same with your art today?”
And so I thrash some more.
Am I avoiding the pain of risk where my photography is concerned?
The pain of hard work that stretches me, without promise of success on the other side?
The risk of pricing my art for sustainability and business longevity?
The risk of play and experimentation?
The risk of putting my heart into the world and only to receive silence back?
The answer to the still small voice’s question is, “Yes.” Despite proof that the pain of risk is rewarded, I am stuck in fear.
So how do I move beyond the fear of risk?
I’m not wholly certain, but if the past serves as an indicator the work will be done in quiet with the still small voice as my guide.
And so my task in these reflective days of fall is to move into more silence, with a heart open to the heavens and its own beat. As flaky as it sounds, in the quiet I build a relationship with myself which is the beginning of my relationship with others and with the art I make. A disfigured relationship with myself lead me to a disfigured marriage. A great deal of quiet lead me back to myself and to a man loves me with morning coffee.
I’m tentatively, foolishly eager to see where this next season of quiet will take me and my art as we walk alongside the still small voice in my chest.
*photo of me taken by my love, just post morning coffee, but still with tired eyes.