On the radio, there is an interview with Polly Harvey about her score for a new production of “All About Eve”. She speaks with freedom about her art and, at that moment, I think of all the ways I have held myself back.
Like love, great art relies on openness. Like love, openness can only be achieved with vulnerability.
Whenever I have done anything as an expression of myself and been afraid to give it all it has been my downfall.
Many years ago, as homework given to help my recovery from depression I needed to ask how others saw me. My wife wrote, “There is forever a part of Graham which is hidden”. It is an observation both blisteringly true and crippling.
Musically, hostage for years to terrible performance anxiety I didn’t speak about, I was never in the moment. Forever fixated by the next chord or lyric. When the conscious mind gets in the way of creative flow it rarely ends well. Every time I lost my place it would confirm my own worst fears about my ineptitude.
In my writing, when I take risks they are always calculated. “There is forever a part of Graham which is hidden”. I can hide behind the true demands of professional ethics but it often feels safe to be slightly obscured from view.
Behind it all is a need to accepted. The tradeoff between truly being myself and needing external validation creates a tension which is impossible to satisfy. We can never be wholly acceptable to everyone. Better that we are who we are, for that is the simplest if rarely the easiest.
As if to accentuate the point I send a piece to my editor. Less than an hour later she emails me back with the opening line “Everything after “postcode” is terrible”. She’s right of course. There is not enough of me exposed.
Even the knowledge of where such dysfunction comes from is an insufficient antidote. Having spent my childhood and teenage years trying to bridge a gap in my mother’s happiness to ensure she wouldn’t leave us must have run its course surely? She’s been dead for over a decade. But belief runs deep.
Emotional crisis was my saviour.
Therapy only started working for me when I was honest with it. Confronted with the opportunity to appraise myself truthfully it was the point at which I said out loud that I didn’t really know me and, what I did know, I didn’t much like that I was able to bring about change.
In the years since I have gradually emerged, but emergence is a life’s work. Now when I hear great artists, read great writers or I am exposed to great minds I am no longer cowed into the shadows. Instead, I am pulled forward by a desire not to be more like them but to be more like me.