Three stories on love, fear, and coming out of the artistic closet

No, it’s not too late

(and no you’re not an impostor)

Coming out of the artistic closet was a strenuous, exasperating enterprise for me. It’s difficult to pinpoint a single reason for such a struggle, especially because I owned it on paper: I went on to study Theater in college, despite my family’s objections and my father’s blatant opposition. Even if I became a famous actress, never would he ever support me, he yelled at 17-year-old me, enraged at her choice. I feel like it was problematic to grow up in a community that didn’t consider the arts a viable career field. On the one hand, I knew deep within that I had no interest in anything other than the arts. On the other, I was ambivalent towards pursuing it. Did it even matter? Who was I to want something that badly? Why couldn’t I just adapt?

I have no power to change the past, so I have no regrets. But if there is one thing that I would have done differently is that I would have followed through with my ideas. Before moving to Amsterdam, I never kept at it long enough to see where a project could lead me and often did not even dear to start. Many times I didn’t know how to, and that kept me still. I had the vision but not the internal resources to make it happen. I lacked support too.

People’s good intentions can be ruthless. Yes, that sounds great, but how are you going to live from that? Hearing variations of this theme throughout my life instilled me with a profound fear of my creativity and a fundamental distrust of my ideas. Nothing I wanted to do was realistic, so I didn’t voice my desires to protect them from ridicule. I got used to living in the shade until I broke into a million pieces of self-doubt and denialism. There’s nothing more corrosive than lying to yourself. 

I remember saying, one day, that I wished to live from blogging. Ten years ago, in Portugal, this was unheard of. Yes, that would be great, Ana, but how are you supposed to make a living out of it? – my well-meaning friend inquired. I don’t know, I said nervously. Saying that I knew it was possible; I just didn’t know how sounded insane. So I fidgeted with my hands and didn’t insist. Fast forward three years, blogs boomed, and the early adopters got self-employed. In the meanwhile, my little blog was collecting dust while I worked a stupid job to pay for my Lisbon rent. I wasn’t doing what I did best – writing, creating – because I had let myself sink into conventional “common sense.” Those were not “real jobs”; they would never afford me a living. So, dear reader, do the thing even if you have no clue how it’s going to work out. You don’t have to know it in advance. You don’t need to have all the logical words to explain it to others. You don’t need validation. Hone in on your craft. Surround yourself with people who understand. Feed that desire of yours with small concrete steps. Be silly, ridiculous, unrealistic. Take the leap. Go.

How to support your creative friend

(dedicated to my dearest friend Elizabeth S.)

Today I have a fluffy white jumper on, one of the garments I wore the most during last winter, a season where illness made me feel permanently cold. It was a gift from milady Elizabeth Sensky, a face many of you will recognize from my stories.  

Last winter, Elizabeth warmed me up, literally and figuratively. She stocked up my wardrobe, checked what I would and could not eat before cooking for me; she showed up even if she knew that I was not alone. She also regularly texted, “Do you need anything?” and “Is there something I can do for you right now?” Yesterday I told you about discouraging environments: today, I’m sharing what support can look like. I could tell you about countless acts of generosity from my friend, but two of those have special significance for this topic. The first was when she gave me a copywriting job, the next was when she donated as a patron of my work. 

‘Give a man a fish, and he will eat for a day. Teach a man how to fish, and you feed him for a lifetime.’ – the adage is as ancient as it is profound. Words of incentive can be powerful, but for a creative who’s lost, actions make the difference. With that job, I not only earned money but work experience relevant to what I do. I also gained confidence. She edited my texts and gave me valuable feedback as a native English speaker. Her actions said: I trust that you can do this, I will support your growth, and reward you accordingly. Next, she endorsed my work on Linkedin. 

One day I was sharing Amsterdive news with her over dinner. I was thrilled about receiving a donation from a reader living overseas. I had created a Paypal button on my blog, I explained, a kind of tip jar, and now whoever found my content valuable could leave a contribution behind. The following morning I woke up to a notification of another sponsorship. It stated Donatie ontvangen with no name under it, so I tracked down the sender’s email. There it was, Lady Sensky in the house. “I guess I have a sugar mama now,” I texted her, along with a bunch of tacky emojis. “Oh, no. I thought my email wouldn’t show up.” All she wanted was to give me incentive. 

For an artist or creator of some sort, their work is like their spirit animal, sometimes their life. Being disconnected from it triggers anguish so deep, it can get self-destructive. Anyone who has a role in connecting us to our raison d’être gains a place of honor in our hearts. Today this ray of sunshine is turning 30. I am not only proud of the human being that she is; I am humbled to have her as a friend. Happy birthday, Elizabeth. Thank you for teaching me how to love better. May life grant all your loved ones the blessing of many more years by your side.

A work to call ours

(ask your higher self)

Every day, I sit at this desk with an idea. A little seed of an idea. A word in my mind, a sentence, a situation, or a noticeable sensation in my body. I want to write. And invariably, a small terror gets ahold of me. What if it doesn’t work? I prove myself wrong daily, and still, every single time, I sit down with a restless spirit that plots an escape to safer grounds. I often weigh on skipping my commitments, picturing how I’d feel if I didn’t honor them, and the scenario that comes up is horrid. I lived there long enough to know that that is a place I don’t want to revisit.

Who sits (me) down at the computer every morning? Spiritualists talk about a higher self, and my ignorance doesn’t let me pinpoint the term’s origin. Buddism? I know that western Psychology has a version of it too. Who? Regardless, my experience tells me that, even if I have a reptilian brain that throws tantrums at life’s unavoidables, there is also an opposing force. The one who takes charge and decides I’m not gobbling the third slice of cake because pumping that much sugar into my blood can’t be a smart thing, even if I don’t see the immediate damage. The one who throws my body out into the freezing cold because it knows that the discomfort subsides after five minutes, and the icy air is invigorating. The one who remains collected when the person I’m talking to yells at me. Also, the one who embarked me on that plane when I moved abroad; led the way to school examination rooms or the doctor’s office to hear a feared diagnosis. The one who let that needle enter my veins despite the absolute terror it triggered because it’s the only way out. The same one who picks up the phone to that relative who’s breaking my nerves or comforts a child when the first instinct is to slap them. 

I know too that our higher self, that centered, firm-yet-compassionate I, can be strengthened. That’s what happened last year every time I dragged myself to the hospital to get chemo. I keep doing it every morning when I sit at this very desk to put out these words. In fact, I don’t see much of a difference between both. All I’m doing is continuing the work. Except that this work behind the laptop is spirit-work, infinitely more pleasurable than the first one with the veins and the needles.

I don’t aspire to be just higher self. I also want to inhabit the odd and the ridiculous, surprise myself, and take risks for fun sometimes. But I give jurisprudence to wiser I to intervene should boundaries get trespassed. I trust it to illuminate my path, have my best interest at heart, and give me a sign when enough is enough. I want this inner-parent to remind me of every time I sat on this chair and felt sinking just to create work that I’m proud of. Or, perhaps, more importantly, of the days when I’ve accepted with grace not having produced anything remarkable. Of finding myself worthy of love and respect despite my shortcomings. Of when I’m capable to laugh off the small drama and zoom out at the bigger picture. 

Writing is a tedious, repetitive, slow job. Often self-consuming. As exhausting as any work that we consider worth doing. Our mission is accomplished when we persist despite that realization. Because there’s no other place, no matter how much safer, we’d rather be. After all, I know that this opportunity – of being exactly where I am – is incredible in and of itself.

(these stories were written for Blogmas 2020)

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