On Getting to This Place / by Jefna M. Cohen

Originally published September, 2015

I’m writing and drawing again. It feels wonderful. After the first time in years, I’m excited about what I’m doing with my time. This is thrilling. But, it’s not all “hugs and bunnies” as an old friend would say. I’m working hard at learning new things, sharpening my drawing and writing skills, practicing Adobe Illustrator, as well as becoming familiar with new social media. Of course, I’m tackling it all at once, and it’s overwhelming. Reinvention isn’t easy!

To get to this place in myself, my critic and fear of failure had to be turned off. In a relatively short period of time over the past year, I was able to crank down the valve on all the critical doubting that usually poured into my mind. I won’t say that faucet is completely “off,” but enough so that I allow myself to get down to business, creatively speaking. It occurred to me that if I didn’t get to work soon, when would I do it? These first 40 years have passed so quickly, and if I’m lucky I’ll have at least 40 more…and that’s not much! So, I am proceeding with a “sense of urgency,” as good teachers say in the classroom. Unhappiness, in its strange and useful way, helped me to realize that I’d lost the love for my job and I figured I’d better go about finding happiness elsewhere. It’s a good thing I knew where to go–into a blank Word document and a box of art supplies.

I know that I’m my own worst critic. It seems that most people play this role for themselves. The way I see it, I am just one among many in a large community of self-doubting haters! Case in point: I bet the grammar in these sentences is terrible. The thought that someone will read this, criticize it and point out my mistakes is completely terrifying. It will likely feel fun and good to that person to do so. However, I know that if I stay afraid then I will never create. The fear of not producing is finally outweighing the fear of not becoming a “maker,” of not telling the stories I need to tell. So here I go, communicating about my process right here. Me no care if you no like. (So go ahead, make your remarks! It will probably make my writing better.)

Lately I’m also becoming familiar with the cold, dead stare of Fear. Mostly, it’s the fear of being unoriginal. It’s scary to think that my ideas will be copies of others, or that I will not produce anything unique. Again, this is a plight of all artists. On one level, I know this is a common experience, and yet, on another, it is an extremely solitary place in which to find oneself. My critic mutters, “What if I’m no good? What if this is just like that other _____? Why am I even trying?” I try find comfort in the fact that all human beings, all artists, are riffing off the ideas of one another. We’re standing on the shoulders of giants, which is really another way to say that we’re all lifting one another up, toward the sky, into the stars, and up to the swirling universe of creativity and invention. And that’s where the magic happens, up there!

I have told a few people that my days of working as a writer and artist are usually an emotional roller coaster. Each day, by the time I pick up my children at school, I’ve been though so much, and it’s all in my head. Sometimes it’s exhausting. Other days it’s exhilarating. It’s funny to try to explain this out loud to other parents. I hear myself trying to explain this process and I realize that I sound a little nutty. At the end of the day, I feel extremely grateful to have some time to explore this way of working and thinking. (God bless my husband for being such a good sport.) I’m listening to myself. My being is literally yelling Go! Go! Go! And it feels right.