On the terrifying possibility that I am good enough

Let’s briefly play lifestyle-magazine-style-voyeur, shall we?

This is what surrounds me as I type this:


a litter of uncleared painting things, a glass of drinking water I would never leave next to my palette if I were actually painting (for fear of confusing it with the paint-water), a generous scattering of Guittard bittersweet chocolate disks in the saucer left over from my morning tea, an old journal containing notes I wish to transcribe, the pouch containing all my electronics cords,


a packet of oversized watercolor paper I don’t know where to store, a marvelous cat print I bought recently on Etsy, and an amazing white hydrangea in a gigantic Waterman ink bottle bought from an estate sale. The centers of the hydrangea are turning blue; I didn’t know that could (or would) happen.

Across the street, the kids are at PE and running around on the basketball courts shrieking. (I assume it’s PE, not recess, as this isn’t enough of a crush to be the entire student body.) It rained today for the first time in weeks and the blacktop has that wet, puddled sheen I remember from my own school days.

It has been an interesting week. We spent several days going back and forth between here and San Jose, taking care of our friends’ sweet cat while they were out of town. While we were there, I fetched my sewing machine from the friend who had it while we were traveling, went to the doctor and got a prescription for physical therapy (diagnosis: strained trapezius, manifesting as an unusual degree of tightness in my shoulders and neck), logged my first recording session with the Bay Area studio of the organization I volunteered with in Boston, spent a lovely evening with Boston friends who have relocated to downtown San Jose, and went to my sister Sarah’s new house and rather giddily tried out their push mower. Do you know, that’s the first time I ever mowed a lawn?


Oh, and I’ve started a fiction project, but no more about that at the moment.

This morning in the physical therapist’s waiting room I picked up the February Vanity Fair and began to read about France’s “most famous dominatrix,” Catherine Robbe-Grillet. I have been doing a little casual internet research about BDSM lately — prompted by a story arc in this webcomic — and though I still can’t quite pin down what a dominatrix does (possibly because it’s a wide range, not a single thing?), and am not personally excited by the practices (not that it’s anyone’s business), there is something about it I find very intriguing. Probably it is the idea of female dominance, especially sexual dominance, but on the last page of the VF piece there was a description of an elaborately staged ceremony presided over by Robbe-Grillet, and it just sounded so beautifully orchestrated.

Although I can organize parties, travels, and creative works, there is still a part of me that lives in fear of the fête no one attends, or the trip where everything is a disaster, or the book no one bothers to read. Actually I suspect many people would say that I’m good at making things happen, but I am a grandiose dreamer; the things I make happen are usually quite a bit smaller than the things I wish I dared to make happen. And so I am fascinated with people like Robbe-Grillet, because it just astounds and inspires me that she can envision something so… so outré as a Belle-Epoque S&M altar with Catholic overtones… and people line up to participate, and the event gets written up in Vanity Fair. I don’t know whether to call it chutzpah or confidence or nerve or self-assurance, but whatever it is, I admire it: to say “I am going to do this crazy thing” and then go ahead and do it just as if it were not crazy, and by so doing, normalize it (at least within certain circles) so that it is, in fact, no longer so crazy. It’s the gutsiness of it that awes me: the daring to leap the chasm between what is and what could be.

Like I said, it’s not that I don’t do this in my own life, but I do it on such a smaller and more timid scale than what I imagine. I am afraid of going bigger because I lack the faith in my own vision that will back me up when things don’t go as I hope. If I only dare small, few will notice if I mess up, but if I dare big, everyone will see my mistakes, and I am so afraid they are mistakes, I don’t have the steel to just say, “Very well, I will recalibrate, and try again.” No, I am secretly afraid the critics were right all along, and that fear is sufficient to hold me back from trying anything major.

Perhaps counterintuitively, this is a bigger problem than ever now that I am getting (I think, I hope) quite good at the various things that I do. It was much easier to say “I have an idea for a novel/documentary/solo gallery project” when I knew I wasn’t anywhere near good enough to execute it. But now that I am good enough — or could be, maybe, if I worked just a bit harder — I find myself rather terrified of my own potential.

Not long ago Stacie had a wonderful series of posts on her blog, about recuperating from knee surgery and learning to re-live in her body. There are many parallels between the life of the body and that of the mind. In both cases, we often perceive ourselves to have far narrower limitations than we actually do, and growth and/or recovery are as much dependent on altering those perceptions as on our real ability.

It is so weird for me to realize this about my work. When people used to say “you’re so good at ____” I wouldn’t believe them, but now I am starting to think they might not be complete undiscerning fools after all, and that’s so much scarier than just doubting my baseline ability. The bottom line is, if I think I’m not good enough, then the answer to “why don’t you create this thing?” is an easy “because I can’t.” But if there is the possibility that I am good enough, then when the question arises, “why don’t you create this thing?” there is nothing I can say except, “Okay, yes. I will do it.” And then what happens if I mess up? Then what?

Here is someone with a perfectly realized vision of how her life can be: