On BE BRAVE FRIDAYS, we share other people’s stories (unedited) to build a community of bravery and inspiration.
Please let us know if you want to share your story with us and we’ll read it here and post it on our social media and website.
We don’t edit these because we want people’s stories to be heard as they tell them.
This life is too short to not be brave. We can do this together.
This week, I’m telling one of my stories.
“How do I become an artist?” I used to ask my mom this all the time when I was little.
“Nobody in our family has an artistic bone in their body,” my mother said every time I asked. She’d light a cigarette. She’d take a drag. She’d offer me a Pepsi, cold from the fridge, always poured over ice and never in a can because we weren’t that kind of people either. “Not one bone.”
“Our family” only meant her family. One of my grandmothers painted all the time, hiding away her canvasses, horrified by how bad they were. None were ever bad, but they were dark, dripping with sadness, a sadness that also came out in her poems. One of my father’s sisters did batik, made jewelry. Another aunt did ceramics.
That wasn’t about me though. My only genes, according to my mom, came from her. And so I was left wondering, “How do I be an artist if there isn’t an artistic bone in my body?”
And I gave up even though I was a kid who didn’t think with words, a kid who was haunted by images and color, the smash-up of form and hope always twirling around in my head.
And then my mother was dead. And my father was dead. And a brother and aunts and uncles were dead and grandparents and two best friends.
The grief grew in my fingers and writing stopped being enough. But I was lost because I still didn’t know how to be an artist.
I googled it. Google did not help.
And then I just started. I’d paint out the images in my head, disappearing women, angel-women (never men) watching landscapes, cruelty hidden as trees, shapes in the water that nobody would ever see but me.
A local artist that I love asked me about my oil technique and I said, “Oh, I’m too cheap for oil. I use acrylics.”
She gasped. I figured I was doing something wrong and didn’t post a photo of my art for a long, long time. I assumed that gasp meant that I was breaking the artist guidelines, the rules somehow.
Where could I find the rules? I wondered.
We all tend to look for the rules, the how-to-do-things when we first start out in our careers, our relationships, our lives.
“How to be a . . . ” is a pretty hot topic, right?
And it makes sense that we do this. We go to school. We learn that there are rules to abide by, ways to think, certain methods we should follow to solve math problems, right essays, grammar rules, behavior rules, etiquette rules.
Do well with the rules and you might get As, high marks, praise from the teacher.
But there is a certain joy that happens when you don’t know the rules, when you aren’t typing away every day on your masterpiece even though you don’t know about three-act structure, painting skies that look like envelopes drawn by three-year-olds, and singing songs that are completely, unintentionally offkey.
Art is like that.
Being brave is like that, too.
Art is when you see/read/hear/feel something and your emotions become bigger or even better? They become something you’ve never felt before. Art is something that pushes you beyond your own self. It can make you remember. It can make you think. It can make you forget to remember all over again. It can make you brave.
Because yes, there is a certain bravery to put yourself out there in your art. But there’s also just a bravery in putting yourself out there and living—living a whole, big, amazing life—a life where you’ll mess up massively and succeed hugely and fail and love and lust and fall down and sometimes not want to get back up again.
Being brave is determining for yourself who you are and not caring if you don’t fit the genes, if there aren’t artistic bones in your body. Being brave is doing things despite the rules. Being brave is being you. The real you. You can do that. I’m positive of it.
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Hey! We’re all about inspiring each other to be weird, to be ourselves and to be brave and we’re starting to collect stories about each other’s bravery. Those brave moments can be HUGE or small, but we want you to share them with us so we can share them with the world. You can be anonymous if you aren’t brave enough to use your name. It’s totally chill.
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And one of our newest DOGS ARE SMARTER THAN PEOPLE episode is about fear setting and how being swallowed by a whale is bad ass.
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It’s my book! It came out June 1! Boo-yah! Another one comes out July 1.