Peanut Butter and Jelly. Hall and Oates. Laurel and Hardy. Art and Anxiety. Now, I'm aware that I'm probably dating myself well beyond my actual years with some of those pairings, but I imagine everybody can at least appreciate the first one. The point is that there are certain things that just seem like they were made to go together…things that are somehow more powerful with their mate than they are alone…things that seem incomplete without their typical bedfellow…things that make me want a sandwich. Sorry, I should know better than to start an essay with an allusion to peanut butter, but there's no un-seeding that particular craving, so I'll be back in a minute to continue rambling about my anxieties both sandwich-adjacent and sandwich-independent.
In any case, almost everybody has some reference for an artistic endeavor they've undertaken, be it in the realm of professional or hobbyist, and so I imagine that almost everybody has at least some fossil of a sense memory attached to the anxiety that, little did they know, was already pre-packaged with said creative venture. Surprise! Is it done? Should I keep working on it? Is the color right? Is it too long? Is it too short? Is it ugly? Is it honest? Is it good? Did I unintentionally rip this idea off? Did I intentionally rip this idea off? Is it too derivative? Does it say what I want it to say? Was this worth it? Should I actually show this to anybody? Am I proud of this? Should I throw it out? Is this whole process worth this unending sense of dread? Why did I do this to myself? Where did I put the peanut butter? Sorry…be right back.
Honestly, with all of that on a tireless spin-cycle throughout the entire creative process, it's no wonder so many artists end up miserable shut-ins or alcoholics or high-society ego-hounds or worse…graphic designers. Just kidding, I love me some good graphic design, but I digress…my anxiety has been in overdrive since my book was released earlier this week, and this morning was particularly hard to get through with my sanity (somewhat) intact, so I thought I'd take a moment to open up that release valve a little and write about my particular artistic anxieties (not all of them, mind you…I simply do not have enough space rented on this website platform for that). So get ready for a face full of boiling hot cathartic steam, because these pipes are shaking from the pressure, and something's gotta give. Oh, also…hopefully this might help some of you folks who are going through the same thing. There, did that sound magnanimous enough? Is that base covered now? Great. Onward.
I've never met a camera that didn't make me hopelessly uncomfortable. I know that sounds silly, but it's a thing that's been with me as long as I've been self-aware enough to be self-conscious, which has been quite some time now. I just don't like having my picture taken—I don't like how I look in pictures, I don't like smiling on command, I don't like the process of posing—I hate it all. I've always been uncomfortable with my smile, and in more macro sense, with the way I look, and so even the very thought of any of that being immortalized makes my skin crawl even to this day. It's an issue I'm working on, but it's still an issue, and it's resulted in some of my favorite moments having gone undocumented, which is something that I now very much regret and have committed to try and change moving forward, but man, it still makes my heart beat through my chest in the very worst way when I see a camera come out…and I'm not sure that will ever go away.
It's a bit ironic that photography was a favorite pastime of mine when I was younger, even to the point where I took as many classes as I could on the subject when I was in school, but now that I think about it, it makes sense that I enjoyed it so much…because the space behind the camera is the only space that's not in front of the camera…and that's where I preferred to be. Now, at this point you're probably thinking that a fear of physical self-reflection isn't a terribly far walk from a fear of personal self-reflection, and whoa boy...are you ever correct. They go hand-in-hand like peanu—be right back. Anyway, yes, I have issues with that too. After all, I was very much 'in the closet' for the majority of my life, and part of that survival strategy is training yourself to be as un-self-reflective as possible, as well as using hyphens like they're going out of style, apparently. And that knot's not as unruly as it used to be, but it still isn't completely untied either, so now that you know a bit more about my particular brand of crazy…
The reason that my anxiety has been off the charts this week, apart from the more typical release week concerns that one would expect to sweat, is that from the author's point of view, a book is very much a camera. It's a camera that no matter where you point it…no matter what you frame inside the lens…no how many pictures of other things you take with it…they all come out of the developing room with a bit of you somewhere in every image. And the most terrifying part is that the more honesty you pour into those pages, the better they're sure to be…but also the clearer that inky picture of you is sure to be, and man, does that set my alarm bells ringing. Every criticism, every bit of praise, every indifferent impression, every first-edition error that gets pointed out…they all seem like referendums on you, even when you know they're not…and they all trigger a hailstorm of self-reflection, even when you know they shouldn't.
Everybody I know, and many I don't, now have my portrait in their hands, and against every instinct running through my veins, I've asked them to study it…and I've asked them to tell me exactly what they think about it…and it's utterly terrifying. It's knee-wobblingly scary and it's a door that can't be closed again, and that honestly may be the most frightening aspect of this entire endeavor. There's just no going back. There's no turning it off anymore. There's always a camera there now…and it's always aimed at me no matter where I point it…and even though I may never grow completely comfortable with that idea, and even though I might always feel sick at the sight of some stranger's gaze on the pictures…at least now I'll be able to remember these moments down the road, because I have a feeling they might turn out to be important.