On Starting Over

Whenever I’d make a great pencil drawing, with detail, light, and shadows, and layers of pencil shading, I never knew when to say “it’s done”. Instead, every time I’d take it out, I’d take out a pencil and continue going over the dark parts, even if it made no visible difference.  Why? It wasn’t because my perfectionism demanded that I keep working on it until it was perfect and only then could it be finished. It was because it already was perfect, and I wanted to keep being a part of it, linger in the high of creating, not the dim afterglow of having created, something beautiful and perfect. It was finished, and I knew it, but I was afraid of saying so, because then I’d have to move on, face a blank page that could only ever be as good as what I’d already made, or worse, and let down everyone else’s and my own expectations of my potential and artistic ability.  Starting over was terrifying; it meant detangling my sense of self from everything I’d ever accomplished, everything I’d ever been, and somehow be able to produce it all over again on the spot to prove my worth when the situation demanded. Performance was a test and the only options were maintaining or ruining my opinion of myself. I was and still am terrified of coming face to face with the realisation that I am not as talented (or as artistic) as I think I am (and as everyone else may think I am based works I have no confidence I can replicate). It’s as if I worry that when I create something so perfect, so inspired, that my talent went into it, literally, leaving me and flowing through my pencil onto the paper into the work.  This theme permeated my feelings about graduating high school and starting over in university; I felt an almost physical pang as I deleted the high-school achievements and awards from my resume that I had so eagerly sought out and recorded and doubted that I’d ever look that impressive on paper again.

But then I remembered what an art teacher of mine once said to me several summers ago, when he saw me tenaciously shading over an already three-dimensionally pencil drawing: “the hardest part about creating an artwork is knowing when to stop”. His words never made sense to me at the time, and maybe he was a bit hyperbolic—I mean, the actual crafting part is pretty important, too—but it did get me thinking.  As it seems to me now, what I think he meant—and probably should have added for my benefit—was that it is only when you are willing to detach yourself and move on from a complete and whole artwork that you are free to create once again, and come to trust in your ability to create. I have not yet made this philosophy my mantra, but I hope someday to believe with all my heart that should my portfolio and cv be destroyed in a fire, I still carry with me the knowledge, wisdom, and learned ability from those experiences; My achievements are not the sum and proof of my worth which must be protected at all costs; While making my mark in creating these works and achievements, these works made their mark on me.  As I create my art, what I am truly creating is myself; I am my only lasting masterpiece, and this is one work I will never stop adding to and shading over.

We face “starting over” moments multiple times a year (or even month).  As I near graduation from my four-year dual degree and face starting over at a whole new school to pursue an entirely different field, Psychology, I am reminded of familiar anxieties. No essays I’ve written or grades I’ve achieved in philosophy, English, film, SASAH and FIMS at Western will have any tangible impact on how I fare at my psychology courses, whether or not I score highly, receive scholarships, offers to grad school, and, eventually, a job.  But I am a completely different me, more interesting, more confident, more competent, for having done these things, for having risen to these challenges, and for having hungrily piled more challenges on my plate (in the form of various social and extracurricular commitments). The life that I built for myself at Western University has, in turn, built me, too, and has made me stronger than I ever imagined.

To my fellow graduates: whatever blank page you are facing, approach it with your head high and your pencils sharp and at the ready.  Ready or not, life, here we come!

Signing off for the last time,

Your online editor-in-chief,

~Julia Sebastien

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