I am a coward.

That might be a bit melodramatic, but the thought certainly crosses my mind from time to time. My cowardice isn’t uncovered in the ways you would traditionally think either. Jumping out of planes, off of bridges, or out of cars doesn’t really scare me – I don’t find heights or depths all that frightening. In fact, I’ve been told that I would probably benefit a greater dose of fear now and again.

No, my timidity manifests in a much different arena.

Binders full of songs I’ve never finished, shoeboxes brimming with half-written stories, and folders replete with ideas that have never been enacted. In fact, I even have a stack of gift cards I’ve never used as I wait patiently for the “perfect opportunity” to capitalize on the gift that is now likely expired.

I visit my blog just about every day, fully intending to allow the artistic tsunami of my creative synapsis to drown the screen before me.  I write for an hour – maybe two – then convince myself that my concept isn’t clever enough, my narrative isn’t compelling enough, or my comedic balance is desperately out of whack – and I stop. Now, I don’t delete my work, mind you. The fate of my efforts is much worse than obliteration. If deleted, there at least is finality. I, along with hundreds of other self-conscious writers seal our written fate with the click of one button:

“Save Draft”

It is there that the words I worked so hard to pen are doomed to a life of leftover-mimicking tupperware existence. Once there, I may revisit from time to time, smell the sweet aroma of wishful nostalgia, and snap the translucent plastic lid of deferment back into place once again.

It’s remarkably difficult to pinpoint the source of this crippling routine. There is no particular moment in my past where I felt derided – thus resulting in some paralyzing fear of failure. I have tremendously loving parents, supportive friends, and a deep desire to create. Why then, do I find myself in an endless cycle of uncertainty and hesitation?

The truth is if I try and fail, there is no more “one-day.”

The allure of “one-day” is the fuel to this machine of reservation – the cogs of which keep my boldness safely at bay in the gearwheel of vacillation. As long as that ambiguous moment in time remains just enough out of reach, I can convince myself that the issue is simply that of timing and I will “one-day” find the inspiration, drive, and creativity to complete my task, finish that thought, and subsequently change the world (obviously).

This got me thinking about a word I learned a while back. It’s an artistic term called “pentimento” and it is defined as:

An alteration in a painting, evidenced by traces of previous work, showing that the artist has changed his or her mind as to the composition during the process of painting.

It applies specifically to the subtle changes in a work (placement of a hand, location of a window) rather than a complete change in composition (i.e. Picasso’s “Old Guitarist”). Some of these changes have been done in the underdrawing of the painting, while others by simply applying new layers upon previous compositions. Artists like Caravaggio, Rembrandt, and Titian have a number of such pieces, typically due to the rare presence of preliminary drawings in their work.

In most cases these subtle details are only visible through the careful use of infra-red reflectograms and photographs. To the naked eye, most of these paintings appear changeless and unaltered – as if the artist never second-guessed his work in the slightest.

In pondering this word, I find myself relating in a number of ways.  As much as I love strategy and consider myself a tactician, I often dive right in without a “preliminary sketch” as a guideline. I frequently change my mind mid-process and relish the opportunity to make clutch decisions on the fly. I don’t change the composition entirely, mind you, but will (sometimes obsessively) tweak and adjust a project until my mind or body reaches utter exhaustion. I regularly work to cover up previous attempts as best I can so that the struggle and effort it took to get me there is not revealed.

The major difference I see between myself and these artists (besides the obvious) is that, at some point, they put the brush down and, in so doing, declare their work “finished.” They accept the truth that while there may still be changes that could be made – they don’t. With a breathe of relief they relinquish control of the fabric they so carefully guarded for so long and allow it to finally breathe.

And, for me – this is the junction.

As cheeseball as it sounds – I am learning to live in the tension that I am not who I will be, that God is not finished with this tattered canvas yet – and that within such a reality exists a tremendous freedom to fail. My identity is not entrenched first in my ability to succeed, create, or inspire – but in something and someone much beyond my aptitude – an identity rooted deeply in the soils of grace.

In my quest for excellence and my pursuit of growth I am working to remember that, while this narrative has been written, the journey is messy and far from over. That amidst the many drafts of composition, there is a place for inspection and scrutiny. There is a place for exposure. There is a place for shared burdens. There is a place for courage. And there is a place to let the paint dry in the public square – blurred lines and all – before we pick up the brush and try again.

“Anything worth doing is worth doing badly” –G.K. Chesterton

4 Responses to “Pentimento”
  1. Jerry Miner says:

    It is as if you have been sitting in the little part of my head and taking down my thoughts. Well put. Very well put.

  2. Darria McDonald says:

    My son shared this link with me. Beautifully written, truthful and inspiring… and you close with a quote from my favorite author. At work I write blogs for different companies and have the sense of finality and letting go. But it is so hard to do the same with my own writing.

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