Let's Talk About Death (It's Halloween After All)

I guess it’s time-appropriate, with Halloween at our door. Today, I’m feeling really scared. Scared that I don’t have what it takes, that I’m not doing enough, that no one will love me. What if my vision is actually a fantasy? What if I fall flat on my face and can’t get back up? And if I make it, will the price to pay be more than I can pay? What will I have to sacrifice in order to make it, if I even make it?

Those are the thoughts swirling in my head this morning, as I feel the tears coming to my eyes. A funeral procession is passing in front of my window. Just when I’m supposed to sit down and write a blog post…of course.

I remember the day I admitted to myself that I was an artist, because all I ever wanted to do was art, and because the thing I was most scared to do was art. I was 16 and I had just started taking figure modeling drawing classes. Twice a week, after school, I would take the train to the nearest city and go draw for 3 hours. I felt so free, it was exhilarating! And also scary to see all these people in there, whose skills were so much better than mine…of course. 

That same day, the day I declared I was an artist, something got ignited inside of me.

I could romanticize it and say it was the flame of passion that has guided me through all challenges and never wavered…but that’s not really true. It was a feeling a urgency. The kind of feeling you would feel before an imminent catastrophe. I didn’t know what catastrophe, nor when it would come…it was years before I got it.

That imminent catastrophe was my own death. And even though I would most probably not die for several decades, it would still come, nothing could be done about it. The catastrophe was not so much my death, it was the possibility that I could die with my work not done, with my melody still inside of me, with so many paintings unborn, that would die with me. The catastrophe would be all the unborn “children” that would die with me…all the beautiful things that are inside of me that would disappear with my death, unexpressed, lost forever. 

During the next 15 years, as I was struggling to find my path, I did what I thought I was supposed to do, to be reasonable and please those I loved. And the sense of urgency grew stronger and stronger. I knew deep down that something was not quite right. Damn, a lifetime is not enough, and I’m wasting 15 years being lost and trying to find my path...

That’s when I realized that it was not about finding my path, as if there was an existing path somewhere that I just had to find and then all would be fine. Just like Prince Charming wasn’t going to show up with a compass to lead me to it. I had to create that path with every step, clearing what’s in the way with a machete if necessary, stumbling on rocks sometimes and enjoying the sun and the breeze at other times. 

It was that or dying with that sense of urgency. Being on my death bed and begging Death to give me one more minute, one more painting, one more I Love You...

I’d rather say I create because one day a light descended upon me and divine inspiration makes my life be grandiose and colorful every step of the way. It is true, but that’s not the whole truth. I also create because when I don’t, I’m miserable, I have regrets, I have this anxiety washing over me. 

Painting is the best way I found to be less scared about dying, having regrets, and all the other scary things in life.

Remembering that I’ll be dead soon is the most important tool I’ve ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life.

Almost everything—all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure—these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important.

Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart.

No one wants to die. Even people who want to go to heaven don’t want to die to get there. And yet, death is the destination we all share. No one has ever escaped it, and that is how it should be, because death is very likely the single best invention of life. It’s life’s change agent. It clears out the old to make way for the new.
— Steve Jobs