Too bold, too big, too much

Success is such an overcharged item. We’ve all heard about the fear of success as a reason success evades us. I wonder whether it’s not so much success we fear but the situation for which we find ourselves unprepared. What do you picture your success to look like? Is it the Oscar nomination or winning the Oscar? Is it getting the job or getting the job done? Is success something you create by yourself for yourself? Or is it gaining a position ahead of everyone else despite everyone else? Recently I had an intimate look at my relationship with success.

It was a setting much like the art exhibition in a movie I recently watched. The American Society of Magical Negroes by first time writer director Kobi Libii has nothing to do with my story. But it opens to a scene that reminded me of a recent experience I had with a creation of mine. Aren, played by Justice Smith, and his art are being ignored while his fellow artists are being celebrated and they sell their art. The scene reminded me of how I had waited for someone to acknowledge my art.

My piece was taking up space, visible for everyone who entered the room, and could not be missed. People walked around with oohs and ahs. They commented and discussed each piece on display, but not mine. Nobody said anything about my labor of love. My piece was the elephant in a room full of art. Self-doubt reared its ugly head. I wondered if my art was a reflection of me, too bold, too big, too much. I felt like the elephant in the room, unfit, misplaced, so inappropriate nobody even wanted to talk to me. Yes, I was craving attention.

The room was full of people, an equal measure of artists and patronage, when a man entered I had not noticed before. He was smitten with the exhibition. He had a big smile on his face when he asked, pointing at my art, “And who did this?” This was the moment I was not prepared for. Half a dozen people raised their arms and their fingers pointed at me. In a single breath a chorus voiced in unison, “She did.” It felt as if the question had allowed for the release of some kind of energy. Being the center of attention, I had become a magnetic pole. Fingers still pointing in my direction, the man addressed my piece: “This is my favorite.”

I had the presence of mind to say, “Thank you!” I listened to the sound of my voice, dissecting it for the feelings it betrayed: did I sound relieved or satisfied? Did I betray my pride or how much I needed to hear this? I stood with everyone else and looked at my art. Of all the voices in my head one voice became dominant. “It’s only some color, a silly painting, nothing worth mentioning.” I screwed up when I let that voice win the debate over what to say next. I did not give voice to the first thought in my head, “I had fun playing with the acrylic paint.” And puff the moment was gone.

Why was I shell shocked the moment I got what I wanted: attention? Because the attention didn’t look like anything I imagined. It was too much. But why? Because I never imagined myself receiving such high praise. I never allowed myself to deserve such recognition. I had to be humble and thankful for whatever I got. I never prepared for receiving what I craved most: appreciation.

In The American Society of Magical Negroes, the gallery owner, played by Gillian Vigman, cancels Aren’s show. Because he failed “to stick up” for his work. You have to watch the entire movie to know what Aren’s magic is all about. But this opening scene got me thinking. I wish I had asked the man what he liked about my art. I wish I had told him about the techniques I used. What a great time I had experimenting, pasting and scraping the paint. I wish I had said what I felt in my heart, “It’s my favorite piece too.”

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