Trust the Rope

Trust the Rope

I feel like I should be choking on clouds of dust coming back to this after so long...Probably the better idea would have been to launch back into the blogosphere without so much as an apologetic emoticon, but somehow I feel the need to acknowledge my abandonment. It's been more than 6 months since I've posted here, and nearly as long since I've written anything apart from casual personal correspondence. At first, of course, I was just busy. [ I think it had something to do with a 300-page book put together in just under 3 weeks :) ] But those weeks turned into months, [as they usually do] my schedule quieted, [as it usually does] and still I didn't post.

"Write a blog post" has been [near the bottom] on my personal task list for several weeks now, but only after some gentle prodding from a friend did I consider WHY it wasn't getting done.

I was afraid.

Earlier this month I spent some time with a friend at a painting studio he rents downtown. While we waited for the glue to set on some frames for an upcoming show, he plunked down a couple tubes of oils and a brush in front of me, winked [he does that often, it's quite a charming habit] and walked away. I stared at the canvas. I stared at the brushes. But I couldn't do it. The idea of painting, at least painting well [which is really the only way any of us want to do anything] called up a state of mind I hadn't been in, well, since I graduated from college. I wasn't at all sure I could get back there.

In climbing/canyoneering it's called the PFF--the Penalty for Failure. The level of care I take setting a line, the number and nature of backups and safeties I employ is directly proportionate to the probable injury I'll sustain should something go dreadfully wrong. If the worst-case scenario is a splinter, I probably won't even bother with a hand line.

But "failure" in any sort of creative endeavor is anything but a splinter. I didn't paint that day because the PFF was terrifying; what if I actually can't paint? what if I never really could? what if all the beautiful things I want to express end up scrambled, broken or lost, trapped and desiccating somewhere between my heart and that canvas? It's exactly the kind of visceral surge of fear I get looking over the edge of a 200ft free rappel.

So why can I turn and, grinning, walk backward over the edge of that rappel? Because I have a rope. And regardless of the PFF, if I've set it properly, I can trust the rope. Here's the fun part: I think these months of creative paralysis have shown me the "rope" for adventures of the heart and mind.

I think it's practice.

Even if it did nothing in the area of honing skills, sharpening responses, and refining taste, practice would still be invaluable for its fundamental side-effect of bolstering confidence. If I fight something nearly every day, I'm much less likely to be devastated if today's foray onto the creative battlefield feels sinkingly like defeat--if the words won't come, the colors all run together, or my fingers trip all over themselves through a simple arpeggio. And, if I commit to practice as not just a principle but a, well...practice, I set myself up with a historical perspective and a long-range plan. That in itself cuts the PFF to a much more manageable level.

I'm not yet convinced that "practice makes perfect," but in this sense at least, I believe "practice makes possible." It creates a protective buffer of time between my intentions and the sometimes stark reality of my achievements. It lends, through conditioning, a sense of familiarity and ease to the mental and physical rigors of the work. It facilitates a more tangible connection between where I started, where I am, and where eventually I want to be. It gives me a rope. And I plan to try trusting the rope.

The Design Continuum

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