Hope, The Stuff of Dreams

“Hope is the thing with feathers –
that perches in the soul –
and sings the tunes without the words –
and never stops at all.” – Emily Dickinson

Those lines form one of my favorite stanzas by Dickinson or anyone really, not for the meter, the rhythm or the rhyme, not for the way the thought is said at all, but for the thought itself, the meaning behind the words.

I’ve been a positive person as long as I can remember. Spending most days with a smile that comes from an appreciation that’s difficult to describe. I’m a genuinely happy guy.

I joke sometimes and say I’ve had an octogenarian’s outlook on each new day ever since I was thirteen and nearly died. But it’s not really a joke. I spent each day over the next four years (my entire time in high school) absolutely terrified that my time had run out, and every night when I went to bed I was palpably afraid that would be the end, which is also why I greeted each new day profoundly thankful for another chance.

I’ve been praised for my outlook, and thanked by those around me who have drawn on my positive energy, and ridiculed by some of the latter as well.

“People who smile all the time,” I’ve been told, “are just putting on a face for others, hiding the pain and the frustrations of life.” Well, I suppose if one pretends there is no pain and that there are no frustrations, then that might be true. Except, I’ve found that choosing to acknowledge the pain and frustration to myself, assessing what things I can change and what things just are the way they are, and then approaching the moment with an attitude of hope, that is the reason I tend to smile.

And, most days, most of the time, no one else needs to be made aware of my pain or my frustrations.

Anyone who truly knows me also understands, that’s part of the reason I write. I see the darkness. I feel it emphatically. I am a very empathetic person, too much so, perhaps. And I’m also a very sensitive person when it comes to the struggles of others.

Read one thing I’ve written and you’ll get it. I focus on the shadows, the storms, the unpleasantness of the human condition in nearly every poem, in every single piece of prose. But, I do so from the perspective of hope.

I’m that way in my relationships, that way with my work, and also with my dreams though I did put those on hold for a long time. I believe that hope is an essential ingredient when it comes to making dreams a reality.

“Hope is the dream of a waking man.” – Aristotle

I recently asked artist Greg Marathas (whose Mechanical Bird is the latest arrival at Other Cool Birds) a few questions. His responses resonated with me and I want to share them with you.

When asked what he likes or dislikes about the process of creating art, Greg replied, “in every stage there’s the potential for that really good moment. Like when something about a sketch jumps off the page in a way that all the other sketches didn’t, that makes me keep flipping back to that page and getting more and more excited because I can see that it works and I can’t wait to take it to the next stage.

“And then there’s the flip side. Every painting I’ve ever done, there comes a point when I’ve started to block in all the colors, and I’m not quite jumping into the final details. That’s the point where I start to question every part of the painting and doubt whether it will be any good, or if it will just end up in a pile of paintings in the back of the closet (I need to remember to burn those paintings at some point . . .). That’s probably my least favorite part. That’s why I set up a process that I follow for each painting, as a built-in backup for those moments. ‘Remember all the other times you really didn’t like a painting at this point? Yeah, just keep going, it’ll be okay.’”

His response struck me for two very different reasons.

The first was the comment “in every stage there’s the potential for that really good moment.” I think we forget that sometimes. We often strive for perfection which can get in the way of creativity and flow, but if we have hope that the thing we are doing, the chasing of that dream is exactly what we’re supposed to be doing, we have the chance for that really good moment.

The second thing was his honesty in identifying a trait many artists (writers, painters, singers, etc) experience. Self-doubt. Which tends to be related to self-judgement, the sort of judgement that occurs when the hope is threatened or weakened or fading for one of any number of reasons.

Greg’s reminder to himself is simple. And apt.

Just keep going!

When I asked him if he thought there was something people might misunderstand about art, he said:

“I think sometimes people think that art has to be one thing or the other. When it comes to illustration especially, I’ve known a lot of people that think that you have to draw or paint to be an illustrator. Simply because illustration was drawing or painting for a very long time in the early years . . . When it comes down to it, illustration is using an image or a set of images to convey an idea, to tell a story. However you want to do that is up to you. Look at Red Nose Studio, and what Chris Sickels is doing with model building and photography. Those are some of the most amazing illustrations I’ve ever seen. You can create illustration out of anything you want, and you don’t have to be a painter or a draftsman to do it.”

This response also struck me for two reasons: the allusion to telling a story because that speaks to my own dream, my own hope, and the bold fact that however you want to tell your story is up to you.

I think we forget that sometimes as well, and we get more caught up in doing it the right way rather than doing it our way. If we stop, though and think about what we’re doing it for (why THIS dream), and then we trust ourselves to pursue that dream in our own way, that makes all the difference in the end.

I’m not saying we don’t need to learn craft or techniques or rules. Those are all important.

But we also have to learn to listen to ourselves. To be open to our own sensibilities. And to believe in our ability to do the very thing we hope to do.

Hope is the thing with feathers. In order for us to live our dreams, we have to allow that thing to take flight, to leap from its perch, to use those wings, otherwise it never has the chance to be what it was made to be.

Visit Greg’s website here. You can catch him this May at the Maine Comics Arts Festival, where he’ll be unveiling a loose adaptation of Robin Hood using some of his wonderful contraptions.

“Hope” photo at top by ĐāżŦ is used as per Creative Commons License on Flickr.