(Some) Relief in Uncertainty

Ah, stories..stories of where we come from and how that influences us as people and
where we're at now. This is part of Collette's story, a good friend of mine here in Carbondale.
She's written a piece about finding a bit of relief, of peace and understanding within herself, through
the idea of not having so much of a plan. We're all on our own path, and there are many aspects of our
lives that can influence the direction we take. It's up to us to choose what feels right in our hearts, 
what will help us to grow and live the life we see for ourselves. Read through Collette's story and
maybe you can relate to some part of what she has to say. We're all in this together, you know.


I was labeled an ALPHA student in 1st grade. I grew up in Indiana with very financially responsible parents and a lot of encouragement for academic achievement and ambition. I’m a people-pleaser, I have some neurotic qualities, and I can be sometimes annoyingly intense about structure and rules. These influences did their job and set me on a path to honors classes, AP classes, Honors College, scholarships, multiple majors, multiple minors, all sorts of varying labels and pieces of paper congratulating me, and two years of therapy.

I moved to Carbondale, Colorado in September 2015. Carbondale was in the plan as a two-year stepping stone to graduate school, which had been a goal since at least 2013. I have been working in clay for about 10 years now, and I started finding a voice about 5-6 years in. I discovered that I liked pattern a lot, and I would lose myself for hours in a flow of perfecting a pattern, creating mathematical precision by hand in this very tactile and malleable medium that I fell in love with. I started making these hand-built double-walled vessels that I would carve patterned latticework into, and I loved it. For me, the fulfillment was in making technically challenging work, and I continued to raise the bar for myself for the next 3-4 years, going more tedious, more time-consuming, more intricate. It was honest work, and it became very much a reflection of myself and my anxieties—perfectionistic tendencies aimed at obscuring flaws, a constant gauging of self-worth, a skepticism of my abilities, and an overcompensation for those doubts. It’s an exhausting existence.

Well on my way to my dream of graduate school, I visited three schools I was interested in last Fall. It was on my way back from my last school that I started having my first hesitations, and just after the New Year I was knee-deep in an identity crisis after allowing myself to consider not going. When I am excited about something, I have *all* of my ducks in a row; I make lists, I fantasize about what kind of tools I might need, I make premature moving plans, I research where I’m going to buy groceries the next three years, and I look up my future peers who might (or might not) be my future bffs. None of that was happening, and I was just feeling dread and anxiety. I had had this goal of an MFA in my head for nearly five years. I spent so much time researching professors, programs, tuitions, assistantships, towns, thinking about what my life would be like, the people I would meet, the ways I would grow and change for better and worse, and I put hundreds of dollars into it. For years, I told friends and family about my grand plans, the specifics of what I wanted, how excited I was to work with this person / do that thing. It is so difficult and heart-breaking after all of that investment to suddenly realize that it isn’t right anymore, that these things I thought I wanted for my life aren’t what I want, and that I had become a different person than I used to be. Furthermore, with being a different person, the three-year body of work I was making wasn’t honest anymore. Gotta leave that. Suddenly, it felt like everything I had been working on for years was in shambles, and it was half devastating / half relief.

Where did I change? This little town of Carbondale, Colorado has brought me more joy, fulfillment, freedom, and sense of home and belonging than I have ever had. I feel like I’ve been sprinting toward things my whole life, and Carbondale has taught me to slow down, not take things so seriously, relax more, have some hobbies, develop more enriching friendships, and just enjoy my fucking life a bit. It’s been amazing for my mental health—and that was the realization that really put the final blow on school. If I went back, I would ultimately regress as a person, and it would be for years.

When you feel like you’re really good at one thing, you tend to pigeonhole your self-worth into it. When it felt like most of my self-worth was hinging on the success of this one thing, it cultivated these hefty anxieties around myself and my artwork, and it’s a shitty place to be. I want to keep expanding my roles, hobbies, and identities so that I can disperse my self-worth into many areas and feel more well-rounded, and this town has helped me start that. Carbondale has given me a tight-knit community filled with sub-communities of great people that care about each other, our home, and having a happy life, with emphasis on the arts and outdoors. Carbondale has also given me the freedom to use spare time to try new things and find other interests, which honestly isn’t really something I’ve had before. I remember not wanting to go out to a Thai restaurant for the first time in college because I didn’t know if I’d like it—not reliable and predictable like a tried-and-true Applebee’s. Leaving a regimented life for a more spontaneous life of exploring, discovery, and trying new things has already been unbelievably liberating, and I have never felt like my life is so open for whatever I could possibly want to do. I suppose the plan now is to try to have less of a plan, which is a little nerve-wracking for my personality, but a big part of me feels like I’m finally starting my life in some ways.

I don’t know if it’ll still feel right in three years or even next year, but I know it feels right to try to immerse myself in the list of things I never gave myself time for right now. Maybe I’ll get it out of my system and need another change in a couple years, and I’ll figure it out. I think I need a little uncertainty, a little risk, and a little curiosity to help me grow as a person and develop some new parts of myself, and what’s happening right now is all that any of us can really work with.

Collette is having a solo art exhibition at the Carbondale Clay Center, titled Points of Cadence, which will have work from both before and after she made this shift. The show will be up July 7th – 29th, and the opening will be Friday, July 7th 6-8pm. You can contact her at collettecspears@gmail.com. 

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