It’s easier to just share the highlight reel, easier to only show the happy, exciting moments. Just like it’s easier to be cynical, easier to give up, easier not to hope for anything. Because it’s hard to deal with disappointment. It’s hard to fail or feel like I didn’t live up to expectations. It’s hard for things to not go as planned. And so I think I have had a tendency during my life toward cynicism. I have spent a lot of time looking at the potential pitfalls and expecting the worst. The thing is, you’d think this would make the unexpected goodness more joyful, but instead it tends to just rob the joy from the whole process. It stunts my ability to authentically care about the things I care about and to get excited about the things for which I am hopeful.
To put this in context, months ago I found out that Jay Ryan of The Bird Machine was going to be one of the artists leading a session at Penland School of Crafts this summer. I have wanted to learn to screenprint for quite some time now and am in love with Jay Ryan’s work (to prove this love, I can attest to having four of his prints hung in my apartment, in addition to his book on my shelf), so this news definitely caught my attention. After looking into costs, however, it was clear that I wouldn’t be able to attend without a scholarship. I spent weeks putting together an application, choosing what to include in my work sample, and getting recommendations. I was really excited about the possibility of learning a new skill and getting to meet other artists. Even if I didn’t get my first choice of session, I was excited about any possibility of attending Penland.
After waiting months to hear back, I got a response in the mail today. As you can probably guess, based on what I’ve said so far, I wasn’t awarded a scholarship and thus won’t be attending Penland this summer. After reading the rejection letter I went outside to sit and think for a while. I found myself oscillating between emotions, trying to convince myself of apathy yet also feeling definite disappointment. My thoughts kept returning to, “See, this is why you shouldn’t hope for things. Getting excited just leads to disappointment. How did you let yourself fall into that trap? Haven’t you learned anything?” I kept trying to tell myself, “It’s better this way anyway. Now you won’t have to face that social anxiety, won’t have to travel, and you won’t have the chance to make a fool of yourself in front of all those other artists.” But then something caused me to stop and looked at what was going on in my head. And as I did this, I noticed a newfound desire within me to fight these thoughts. I want to give myself the freedom to be upset, to feel disappointed. I want to use this as a way of helping to gauge what I am actually passionate about, instead of pretending, trying to convince myself that I wasn’t that interested in it. Now, of course I don’t want to dwell in the disappointment. I don’t want to let it consume me, but I do think a healthy level of it is okay. Especially if I can somehow use that emotion to propel me forward try again, to work harder, to keep chasing (and helping to identify) my passions.
“The brick walls are there for a reason. The brick walls are not there to keep us out. The brick walls are there to give us a chance to show how badly we want something. Because the brick walls are there to stop the people who don’t want it badly enough. They’re there to stop the other people.”
― Randy Pausch, The Last Lecture