Don’t Let Go: A personal reflection about art, destiny, and sovereignty

Yesterday, I spent all day at work making art. Then I came home and went straight to my desk, on fire to make more art. When I looked up, it was nearly midnight. I still wasn’t tired.

I always knew that art is what I was meant for. I was avidly drawing as soon as I could hold a pencil. It was a defining characteristic of my childhood. Long before I had any other ideas about identity – before it had even remotely occurred to me that I was a Witch and a Pagan – I knew what I was. I was an artist.

But here’s the thing. It took me until my late thirties to find the guts and the strength to make this my vocation. In my teen years, art was pretty much all I did. And then I reached that age where people start asking you what your plan is in life, and no one wanted to hear me say “artist”. I was told (by the person closest to me) you can’t succeed; no one makes a living just doing art; you’ll be broke and miserable. Art is a hobby. It’s frivolous. It’s a luxury. You can’t expect to just do that. You need to choose something more adult, and just do art in your spare time for fun.

So I did. I let myself be persuaded to set aside what I had always known I was meant for, and pick another career. I changed my major in college, and I did another six years of schooling and got my degree. Went to work in a government office. I continued to think of myself as an artist, but art was squeezed in as a hobby, in my side moments between working full-time, commuting, and everything else. Art became the periphery of my life, and the office was its center.

I did that for ten more years. Until I didn’t.

The job evaporated and I was at a crossroads. I let it all go and ran full tilt toward what should have been my center of gravity all along: Art. Was it scary at first? Hell yes. But pretty soon I started to realize that there are all sorts of ways that art careers can be made, besides selling paintings in the fine-art world. Animators, art teachers, designers, illustrators, tattoo artists, CGI artists, concept artists, comic book artists… I started to realize that I’d been sold on a narrowing of imagination. I had allowed myself to be diminished, not just by giving up a part of myself, but by internalizing a shrunken image of the whole world I live in.

Why did I do that? How did I let that happen to me for so long?

Many reasons. I was young and naive. I had poor emotional boundaries. I was easily influenced by people close to me. I was in a relationship with an imbalanced power dynamic. I let myself be told, instead of listening and then weighing the decision for myself. A host of reasons that really boil down to one thing: I was too young to know what sovereignty was, or to notice that I’d given mine away. It wasn’t until my mid-thirties that I began to understand what had happened to me as an issue of sovereignty.

Now that I’ve seen it, I can’t un-see it. It now seems to me that personal sovereignty is what our lives are made of. That it’s really all we have. Fate, or chance, or whatever you like to call it, will cast us into all kinds of circumstances over which we have no control at all. What is ours is that right to exert agency for ourselves, to choose our way forward through whatever faces us, to choose for ourselves how to respond. To live by our own lights. Ancient cultures often framed this in terms of a heroic ethos, in which it was understood that even if fate took all other options from you, you could always exercise the choice to die well, and that to do so was to exercise the ultimate sovereignty. People in circumstances like mine are privileged to not have to frame this in life-and-death terms, but I think the ethos of free will and sovereignty still has merit and applies.

I’m now speaking from a place in which I’m doing the work I have always known I was born to do. I am building a career in art, through a combination of tattooing, fine art and crafts. I am thriving in a way I never have before. The way has opened to me. I think it was always open. I just didn’t dare take it before.

What’s my point? How is this relevant to you? Are you wondering if this is leading into vapid inspirational platitudes like “If you can dream it, you can do it”? No, it’s not. I can’t say that all paths are open to you to succeed at whatever you want. I’m not telling you that you can make your dreams come true no matter what they are.

photo courtesy of Patrick Mackie, via Wikimedia Commons

What I am telling you is: Don’t let go of your soul because someone told you that you couldn’t or shouldn’t be that. Don’t let go without at least trying for yourself, without getting your feet dusty attempting to climb the path. Don’t give your sovereignty away. Don’t let go of your soul.

Don’t let go of who you are. I’ve said before, everyone has a destiny, and your truest sovereignty is to hold to that, to fight for it.

I’m speaking this urging with compassion; I don’t sit in judgement of anyone. Any one of us can wake up realizing we’ve given away our sovereignty in little profound ways. Any one of us can wake up realizing we’ve let other people choose our destiny for us without a fight. I let that happen to me for a decade and a half. If this is you, don’t judge yourself, either. Just start now. Reclaim yourself. It is never too late. It is never too late.

Because this isn’t just about doing what feeds you personally. The world we live in desperately needs people to fight injustice and oppression, to fight destruction and degradation, to speak the truth, to stand up for what’s right. Where does that start?

Who will fight for you if you can’t fight for yourself? Who will you fight for, if not yourself? Who will right the world if the world is filled with people who have given all their power away, who are trudging exhausted down a path that isn’t their own? How will you be of service to the world if you’re drained from doing the wrong work?

This is how you can be of service: Find out who you are and what your destiny is, and then give it all your heart.

 

6 replies
  1. Sharon Knight
    Sharon Knight says:

    First off – I love your writing. It is very powerful and to the point. Second – I am so glad you have claimed your place at the artist’s table! It is a hard road, but, life is hard. Might as well face our struggles knowing we are on the right path. Also – magic opens up when we step on our right paths. Our lives open up and become miraculous. It is worth it.

    Reply
  2. Maria
    Maria says:

    You have no idea how much I needed to read this. I started grabbing hold of my own life a few years ago but things got harder… and harder… and scarier… and harder still… and my courage failed me. I feel like I don’t have the courage to keep going and I don’t have the courage to go back to soul-sucking jobs that stole my health along with my sovereignty. So I’m stuck.

    Funny thing, though: for my 50th birthday in June I received two tiaras from two people as different as night and day and who do not know each other. Did I take that as a hint from the Gods? Yes, I did — although I still don’t know what it means.

    I’ll definitely be re-reading this post and pondering further. Thank you.

    Reply
  3. Mandy
    Mandy says:

    Such an inspiration. I too gave myself away and lived the life someone else wanted for me for 10 years. Even if there hadn’t been any abuse in my marriage (unfortunately there was a lot,) it would never have lasted because I couldn’t be my true self. And one can never claim to love a person you don’t know. Keep being who you are!

    Reply
  4. Stephanie
    Stephanie says:

    This is marvelous! You refer to yourself as being sovereign and I always fought for autonomy in my life both personally and professionally. When I did that in my relationship with my son’s father, something he would actually tell me I needed to do, he would become upset and quite passive/aggressive. When I too awoke from my stupor of that imbalanced relationship, I couldn’t believe how much better my life and decisions became. I always felt that I had chosen the right career but my personal life was in a total mess. I refocused on what made me happy and how I wanted to be as a mom and I became a stronger woman and better mother for it.
    I am so glad you have chosen to follow the path of talent you have been given. You should never be made to feel that art is not a worthy career. You are so gifted and you use it wisely. I know you will succeed in all you do as long as you continue to fight for yourself…I love that!

    Reply
  5. Ash
    Ash says:

    As I read through this, I found myself musing on my own experience with re-claiming my sovereignty – it wasn’t until I hit the “magic” age of 40 that I realized I wasn’t living the life I wanted. So much positive change has occurred in my life since I’ve embraced this idea of self-sovereignty!! “Don’t let go of your Soul!” – yes! Yes, this! And now that I’ve got it, I will not let it go again…:)

    And a big “Huzzah!” for everyone drenched in claiming their creative expression, or just drenched in living their lives being true to themselves and encouraging others to do the same! :)

    Reply

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