“Be brave. Be creative.”
Poet, performance artist, photographer, and sculptor Vanessa German said these words as part of her keynote address at the Children’s Theatre Foundation of America’s medallion event at the American Alliance for Theatre Education (AATE) conference I attended last week. (Whew, what a mouthful).
I cried through her entire speech.
I cried because we live in a world where people are judged by the color of their skin, the amount of money in their pocket, the people they love, the things they believe, and the place where they live.
I cried because so many people are denied access to creative outlets and the joy found in putting beauty into a world filled with violence and hate.
I cried because I haven’t been brave enough.
Several times, at the beginning of her speech, German pointed out to a room full of educators, artists, and others who have multiple degrees, “I never went to college.” She said it with a twinkle in her eye, that indicated that, perhaps, she knew it didn’t matter. But she also apologized, as if somehow our degrees meant her word was less valuable.
I wanted to jump up and tell her to stop disparaging herself, even in a joking way. I wanted to say, “you have done more valuable, inspirational, brave, creative work than many in this room (myself included). Own it, and celebrate it.”
I didn’t have to though, because her whole speech was an homage and celebration of what it means to live a creative, brave, powerful life. She shared her story of her community in Homewood, PA (a neighborhood in Pittsburgh) which , “has the city’s highest murder rate; it’s an impoverished neighborhood, where a third of the houses are blighted” (NPR, click here for the full article). German, despite her success as an artist, remains in that community because it is her home and it needs her. She bought a house in the neighborhood and turned it into an Art House for everyone to use. She has turned into a place that celebrates peace, combats violence, creates community, and brings the arts to life.
In other words, she is living her life motto, “Be brave. Be creative.”
I sat there listening to her speak and realized I have never been brave enough. Sure I’ve done some brave things in my life, perhaps braver than others, but I have also hid in my safe cocoon of academia. I could succeed there. I was a good student and I love the world of learning, discussing, and thinking. I was afraid of what was outside that world. My degrees were not brave, they were my comfort zone.
When it comes to me being an artist or pursuing my passions, I’ve set my bravery bar far too low.
I am determined to change that. I have to, if I want to be the person I believe I can be. I have to if I want to set an example for my daughter and others. It’s that simple.
But what does it mean to be brave? Everyone probably has a different definition of what bravery means. I don’t believe bravery just consists of heroic acts in war, or throwing yourself in the line of fire in dangerous situations. Those are a form of bravery.
For me, it means a few different things.
- It means recognizing that I may not be where I want to be at the moment (in terms of life) and learning how to change that. It means asking for help when I am unsure, taking leaps of faith, and trying even if I fail.
- It means taking risks as an artist, whether I am directing, writing, or creating in another way, without worrying about how my work is received or whether I will ever get recognition.
- It means entering contests, submitting work, seeking an agent or a publisher, trying new things even if all I ever get is rejection.
- It means acknowledging that I may never get to my goal weight, but that my body is beautiful as it is, as long as I continue to keep it healthy, and powerful, and moving through this world.
- It means recognizing that I have achieved many things, that I have offered things to the world, and that I am not an imposter in my own life.
- It means speaking up for the things I believe in, the candidates I support, and against the injustices I see in the world without showing fear.
- It means believing in myself.
I have a long way to go to become the woman I want to be. I’m taking the first steps with this blog post.
Are you brave? What does being brave mean to you?