"Parents seldom respond, "try it and see what happens" to artistic urges issuing from their offspring. They offer cautionary advice where support might be more to the point. Timid young artists, adding parental fears to their own, often give up their sunny dreams of artistic careers, settling into the twilight world of could-have-beens and regrets. There, caught between the dream of action and the fear of failure, shadow artists are born....Artists themselves but ignorant of their true identity, shadow artists are to be found shadowing declared artists. Unable to recognize that they themselves may possess the creativity they so admire, they often date or marry people who actively pursue the art career they themselves secretly long for."
Hmm....how true! When I read those words in The Artist's Way (by Julia Cameron) I had one of those "ah ha!" moments of clarity. I was a shadow artist. Period. I was so drawn to and enamored of artists of all kinds, feeling such envious awe as I watched them live their creative lives. I wouldn't say I dated artists (although there was one musician/actor), but I certainly found friends and groups of people to live through vicariously....until the fateful day that I stepped out of the shadow (read my posting below about the day I became Lola Rain!).
Blue Bear School of Music in San Francisco.....where it all began. Oh I miss that warehouse right on the San Francisco Bay (see the water in the background?)! Beautiful. Nothing like watching the sun set over the Golden Gate Bridge as you drive home after class.
Meet Sloane (you didn't think I owned a nameless guitar did you?)
So, as I mentioned, I did date a musician once upon a time....we'll call him Aldous...and I don't think it's any surprise that it was during our relationship that I called my father and broke the news to him that my path to becoming a lawyer was no longer passable. My father fought my reasoning and used his own attorney skills in an attempt to sway me back to what he felt was "the perfect path" for me....but, I know that he was mostly talking to himself, a shadow artist in his own right.
I still was not ready to step into any sort of spotlight back then though. I would sit in the corner of the bars where Aldous would play. I would write furious poetry.....or I would close my eyes and dance all night, feeling so drawn to make music of my own.....and of course, I always had my camera with me, capturing the expression of art. It was a small beginning; the seeds that had been planted in the soil of my soul at birth had finally begun to squirm and open up. I wouldn't break through the ground until after that relationship though....Aldous's light was too glaring for me to see my own (you know what I'm talking about if you've ever dated the frontman of a band, haha!).
I was shooting with a film camera back in these days, as you can tell by the delicious graininess of the photos. And I was also REALLY into playing with light, color and movement. Obsessed.
I found myself at a crossroads shortly before I signed up for guitar lessons. A long-term relationship with someone much different than Aldous, who left me deeply conflicted and unsatisfied every day for years, was coming to a close. The bubble burst one day as I looked this man in the eye and told him that the life we shared together did not fit me, and he did not fit me. I, at once, began to purge my life of all the pieces of it that were not inspiring, genuine or supportive of the bohemian life I longed for. And I filled those empty spaces with guitar classes, photography projects, yoga twice a day, painting, dancing.....the list goes on. And I began to spend my Saturdays locked in my apartment WRITING MUSIC!! That was something I never thought I'd be able to say. Sigh....
I became a rambunctious, loud, animated character the second I entered the doors of my guitar class every Thursday night. I couldn't believe it.....but, I suppose I had a lot of light to shine around after a lifetime of living in a shadow. And my guitar teacher ate my energy up. We had breakfast on Sunday mornings with one of my other classmates, and we'd sit and chat about our artistic dreams, providing support, encouragement and inspiration to one another. It was glorious. On top of all that, my teacher took me under his wing and taught me how to record my music....perhaps I'll share some another day (we'll see, I've never perfected any of it to the point of not feeling self-conscious about it).
If you haven't noticed yet, I am a left-handed guitarist! Of course. Hence the "weird" backwards guitar. Smile. Also, please notice that the graffiti on the wall behind me reads "damned if you do, bored if you don't." Amazing.
Photos by Natalie Schlegel
It's interesting though, because I have found that recovering from that shadow life and from the effects of a society that generally does not support artists as they grow up, is neither linear or clear cut. I have bounced back and forth a few times before landing in the more solid artistic place I am today (where I truly identify myself as an artist). Even though I gave up on becoming a lawyer, I did end up working for an investment company for almost 4 years (really no better than becoming a lawyer). It's a little bit like dipping your toes in water when you are cold and shaking---you touch it and pull back in fear, and then try again. But, eventually you grow comfortable with the temperature and you'll be damned if anyone's going to pull you out of that pool then! Remember the days when your parents had to force you to come out of the pool/ocean/lake at the end of a hot summer day of swimming?
Well, I am now married to a writer/musician/former actor/singer/song writer and I admit, I have had my moments of ducking back into the shadows. When we were falling in love we spent our days writing each other songs and playing guitar together. But, I arrived upon a day when I put my guitar down (literally and figuratively "in the corner") and only felt comfortable shinning the spotlight on his music. And I did the same with my writing. He graduated from Dartmouth with a Masters in writing, how could I be so silly as to think I was a "real" writer? It's all part of the bumpy road toward living a genuine life though. And thankfully, as I'm sure is evident from this blog, I am getting back to my artistic roots and flourishing in the light now.
"To live a creative life, we must lose our fear of being wrong."
~Joseph Chilton Pearce