Fantasy and reality . . . are they really so different? Both are products of our own thinking, fears, and desire. The subtle difference boils down to audience. Reality is the act we play before our family, friends, and other people. Fantasy is the private movie that replays in the minds, shrouded in secrecy.
Fantasies are nestled deep within. While they can be a great source of personal pleasure, the thought of making a fantasy real – dragging it into the light of day and sharing the experience with another human being – can bring a tremendous amount of fear and anxiety. This is largely due to social conditioning. Being too free is taboo. It requires honesty, communication, and vulnerability.
The conditioning is so subtle, that I fail to see its effects on me. It seems like I dance between the belief that my fantasies could easily become my reality and the fear that they’re just deluded and unobtainable ideals. In moments of clarity, I realize that my own thoughts are what give me power or enslave me. I can recognize when my mind starts to play a repetitive loop of fear, insecurity, and doubt. These emotions are what really hold me back. While I can’t stop the steam of negative thoughts from arising, I can acknowledge it and move past them.
I primarily create art alone. It gives me a sense of security, since whatever I decide to make isn’t judged. Recently, I was able to realize a series of paintings that I had dreamed of making over the past three years. This series, however, required that I work with someone in a really intimate and vulnerable way. For a long time, this series could only exist as a fantasy in my mind because I had a deeply rooted sense of inadequacy. I never felt that my work was good enough, that I was attractive enough, or even worthy enough to receive what I truly wanted.
As I’ve started to discover ways to stop labeling and judging myself, I notice my life gets better. Dropping the labels and needing to identify my thoughts as good or bad makes me feel more confident. I feel a freedom to pursue the things that make me happy. Maintaining this balance of freedom and security takes a lot of work. It constantly is challenged, either by old habits or new experiences.
Making this painting series was not without challenges. This was definitely in the realm of new experiences for me. To say that art is my life would be a gross understatement. It has been my voice when I had none as a child. It has led me to foreign countries, new friends, and employment. It’s been a tool to help me make sense of the pain I’ve experienced with failures, breakups, deaths, and all of my darkest moments where I no faith left in myself. It is also a place where all the voices of comparison, shame, and fear become silent – a place where I can reclaim my own joy. Nothing makes me happier than a can of paint or a box of pastels.
To invite someone else to take part in painting with me was a big risk. I felt scared. I felt vulnerable. I felt nervous. All of the warning bells and whistles of self-doubt and shame started to sound, particularly when I met someone who inspired me to push past my fears. In his presence, I felt an almost paralyzing timidity take over me. Was I good enough? Was it safe to be the real me? Would I be judged? As some time passed, the fear subsided and I felt free – free of shame or anxiety, free to be my authentic self, free to experiment and make mistakes, and free to express my feelings and ideas to another human being. The experience is difficult to describe in words. Liberation, bliss, trust . . . all hint at this ineffable feeling that washed over me with each layer of paint we applied to one another. Yet these words only hint at what I experienced.
Reality is predicated on thoughts and beliefs. I no longer have to focus on the misfortunes of the past or judging myself. Instead, I can direct my focus towards the pursuit of happiness, the fulfillment of my fantasies. It takes courage to do this. But in finding the courage to believe, anything is possible.