Back when I was a kid, I remember experiencing that moment when you felt invincible and like nothing bad could possibly happen to you. Maybe this was a result of youthful naiveté (or general stupidity), or perhaps it simply evolved from years of swimming in a murky green rock quarry growing up.
Where I grew up, there was an old rock quarry in the middle of our small town that had filled with water. It was unimaginably deep and impossibly murky.
At some point, our city forefathers had the brilliant idea that the town could make some money over the Summer by charging people to swim there, however instead of cleaning out all of the crap that had fallen (or been pushed) into the quarry over the years or even testing the water for human compatibility, they simply installed an admissions booth/concessions stand and declared it open for business.
Over the years they installed a slide, a few rafts, a sixteen foot high diving board, and a flimsy rope that indicated the boundaries of the so-called “safe” swimming area. This was of course back in the 1980’s long before we took the issues of child safety seriously in this country.
The water was so dark green that you literally couldn’t see your hands paddling in front of your face. You could however, feel the occassional nibbles of fish or other nautical creatures sampling your toes or fingers.
It you can picture swimming in the ocean, without the enjoyment of the waves or the antiseptic properties of salt water, you get the idea.
Flash forward twenty years and I recently discovered that I have become a “toe dipper”. Apparently somewhere along the way, I’ve become one of those parents who you often see at the edge of the pool getting used to the water one centimeter at a time. These days I find myself cringing as I watch my kids run and jump into the water without giving it a second thought.
I can’t help thinking to myself, when did I lose that? When did I transform from this fearless kid who was willing to dive head-first into a murky cesspool filled with hungry fish and god knows what else, into this neurotic adult who slowly wades into a crystal-clear pool and winces as each body part is submersed?
So what happened?
As we get older, I’ve heard that we naturally tend to become more tentative and afraid.
Maybe we’ve had a few close calls, maybe we’ve read too many magazine articles or watched too many episodes of Law & Order and begin to realize that sometimes bad things happen to good people.
We begin to build a life. We get married, we buy a house, and eventually we have kids. Soon, we’re not only afraid about all of the bad things that could possibly happen to us and our stuff, but now to our family as well.
In other words, we’ve simply got more to lose
Jumping is an act of commiting yourself to a course of action where there is an unknown result. It is understanding and accepting the possibility of getting in over your head — because once you are in the air, there is no turning back.
We may prefer to inch our way in and “test out the water” first, but that’s not how jumping works. You can’t jump in slowly or halfway.
You either jump or you don’t.
Jumping in often means leaving behind the comfort and familiarity of our current situation, and opening ourselves up to the unknown.
It’s about having faith in yourself and your abilities. It’s about having the confidence that you’ll be able to survive and adapt to any situation.
As creative artists, we all have that nagging little voice inside our heads urging us to step outside of our comfort zone and do something that we have never done before. To expand our creative reach, to venture just a little deeper into that dark forest even thought we cannot see what lies ahead of us.
Sometimes we just have to jump into that dark creative murky water and swim.
We can’t waste our time wondering how our audience is going to react or how we are going to actually translate our creative vision onto our paper or canvas, we just have to dive in and have faith that we’ll be able to figure it out as we go along.
Great writing and art is always found in the deep end, where so few have the courage to go.
It is the interplay between the known and the imagined. The familiarity of our experience and technique mixed with the mystery of the unknown.
We have to continually be jumping off cliffs and developing our wings on the way down. ~Kurt Vonnegut
Maybe the water will be ice cold and maybe it won’t — but either way when you jump, you suddenly find yourself submersed in it up to your neck. Your previous experience warns you that you might go completely under the water temporarily, but eventually you will resurface.
It’s a combination of faith and courage that allows us to take that leap off the edge into the darkness of the unknown.
I know that I can’t waste any more of my life standing safely on the edge, and I simply don’t have enough time to slink into the water one cowardly inch at a time.
Once again I find myself standing on that diving board, staring down into the murky green water below.
So I take a deep breath and I jump….
Image courtesy of Joe Shlabotnik
Writer, teacher, and head custodian of the Skinny Artist community. His book "Getting Creative: Developing Creative Habits that Work" is all about finding the time (and energy) to live a more creative life.
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