Fear of White, Pt. 1

Okay, so here’s something you might have already figured out about me - I love writing. I’ve always loved to write. I’m fascinated and captivated by the written word, language, communication. From a young age, creating stories for myself and my younger brother (especially of our own fantastic adventures), was my favourite pastime. As I grew up, the writing grew too, and I was successful at it.

But, here’s something you might not know - for quite a long period, I wrangled with a very personal, 'fear of white'. Being confronted with a sheet of blank, white paper made me anxious. Or rather, the prospect of writing on it did. Not all writing eluded me, just anything personal. I never lost the ability to write or edit for others. In fact, once the fear set in, I found it much more gratifying to invest my energy in helping other people  to realise their own written ‘voices’ and stories, than worry about where mine had disappeared to. Writing for other people, I could exercise an objectivity that I found impossible to apply to my personal work. Confronting a blank page for a client is an exciting challenge, full of possibility. Put the same page in front of me for personal writing, and it was a pristine expanse that would only be ‘ruined’ by my inky scrawl.

For one reason or another (seldom is there ever just one), there came a time when nothing I wrote was good enough. I was a walking contradiction. What I loved most about life - the imperfections, the shadows and wrinkles, the flawed qualities of humanity - I came to despise most in my own prose. I was consumed with striving for perfection, phrasing every line and scene ‘perfectly’. I wanted to capture every detail, faithfully reproduce every nuance of what I saw, whether in life, or my mind’s eye. If I felt that an idea wasn’t perfectly conveyed on a page, I’d destroy it. Words no longer flowed like a torrent, each was weighed very heavily. Spontaneity vanished. I became mired in order, rules, descriptions, and definitions. Over time, this rigid pursuit of perfection, and rejecting anything ‘less’, snowballed. It gave way to misgivings, apprehension and fear. Soon, I didn’t want to mar the page at all. Alone, it was pristine, white, perfect. In the end, I lost faith that I could write anything. I was paralysed.

Self-expression is a tricky and stubborn ‘animal’, however. Ultimately, it ‘will out’! I fretted that I might never write personal creations again, but I also knew that there had to be a solution - no two ways about it. It may have looked as if I was standing still, but apparent inaction, doesn’t always mean that there’s no learning in action! What’s that quote about icebergs, or treading water? It’s all going on under the surface?

In the end, I came across two concepts, which resonated with me very powerfully. Although separate, they were catalysts which percolated together, and set me on a course to overcoming my fear of white. First, found on the pages of a dog-eared book about acrylics, in a second-hand bookstore, came the concept of wabi-sabi.

Continued in Part II...