I think the above image is my first time making something even remotely resembling “vent art.” It represents my feelings of vulnerability and insecurity. For those who may not know, this is Ine. He’s a main character from my webcomic, Aww, Feathers! but also represents myself in many ways. Over on awwfeathers.com I use another character, Lark, to represent myself as the creator of the webcomic. But Ine is still the character who most feels like me. Especially when I’m feeling unsure or afraid.
Letting people down. Leaving important things undone. Failing to provide for those who depend on me. Or worst of all, causing harm where I meant to do good. I realized just the other day that those are the things I fear most. The fears that most occupy my mind. It's usually not severe or unremitting. But I feel it often, usually as a dull uneasiness in the back of my mind, and occasionally for brief periods of a more severe form of anxiety.
I fear letting my children down, either by losing my temper or by not paying them enough attention or spending enough quality time with them. I fear letting my wife down, either by demanding too much or giving too little. I don't really fear death; at least, it doesn't occupy my thoughts (though my nightmares are sometimes another story). Rather, I fear leaving my family behind before they're ready for me to go, and before I’ve prepared a safe and comfortable future for them.
I still wonder if I let Jakiro down (our bearded dragon who died a few months ago). Dang it, why does that still hurt so much?! I suppose it's because she was our first family pet, and also that she was so small and utterly dependent on us. Even baby humans can cry when they need something. But with her, all we could do was research, seek advice from her vet, and at the end of the day, guess at what would be best for her. How long did she suffer in silence before we even realized something was wrong? Maybe there's more I could have done to keep her healthy. I certainly could have taken her out more. Was she happy? As happy as a lizard can be anyway? I'd like to get another animal companion one day, but I'm afraid of the same thing happening again...
I fear letting my job down. They've been good to me. I don't always agree with their decisions, but that seems barely worth mentioning; in a company of over 400 employees (or is it 500 now?) I can't expect to be the one that's perfectly happy with everything that happens. Moreover, it's apparent they care about their customers, their employees, and even their employees’ families. I want to do the work that's expected of me and help the company to thrive. I want to be an excellent employee, but fear that I sometimes fall short of that mark.
I fear letting the readers of my webcomic down. Aww, Feathers! started as a passion project. Even if I never made a nickel from it, I would still do it, because it's been a fun and even personal journey for both myself and my wife. But over time it's evolved into more. I've received compliments from a significant number of readers who find it entertaining, touching, refreshingly down-to-earth, and also clean; the fact that I'm committed to making a family friendly furry comic is of particular importance to many readers. I worry about the quality of my work sometimes, but not much. I've seen enough improvements in my art and writing skills to believe that that problem will take care of itself in time. But it's the "time" part that worries me. I fear letting readers down by not being able to update it as often as I’d like. It makes me happy to think that something I've created is a legitimately positive part of somebody's life. But I fear not being able to continue to deliver that due to time constraints.
I fear letting my friends down. I want to be there for my friends when they struggle. I want to listen and understand and give sound advice when it's asked for. But what if I'm not able to be there at the moment they need me most? What if I give the wrong advice? What if they catch me in a moment of weakness, and I do or say the wrong thing and it ends up hurting them or our friendship? How many times has that already happened with old friends I never hear from anymore?
I even fear letting myself down. I have hopes and dreams for myself too. I want to be self-employed someday, using technology in interesting ways (apps and games especially, but comics and other digital art as well) to tell stories that positively impact those who experience them. I would also love to have more time to myself to just read, play games, or do other things I enjoy simply because I enjoy them. I can't help feeling a little selfish in those desires though, which feeds right back into my fear of letting others down.
Most distressing of all... I sometimes fear letting God down. In "A Grief Observed," C.S. Lewis says (I'm paraphrasing) that we never know how strong our beliefs are until they become a matter of life and death. I believe in God, I believe in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, and I believe in the teachings of the Church. But while those beliefs have been tested from time to time, I don't think those tests have ever reached the level that C.S. Lewis describes. When I stare down into the throat of hell and God tells me to jump, trusting that He will catch me... will I jump?
I've been hesitant to put these thoughts down, to make myself "emotionally naked" in front of anyone who reads them. Not so much out of shame. Rather, once again, I don't want to let people down. I'm supposed to be strong, a city on a hill, a light on a candlestick (Matthew 5:14-15). Does it worry others to hear about my insecurities? Does it make them question my strength or integrity?
The stupid irony of all this is that obsessing over my fear of letting people down actually makes me more likely to let them down. On top of that, I know that many of these fears are irrational. I know that I have many wonderful friends and family who support and stand by me, and an amazing wife who loves me in spite of my weaknesses. Still, it doesn't make the fear feel less real. But then what do I do with it? What can I do with it? We’ve been commanded to “be not afraid,” (Mark 5:36, for example) and I believe that God always provides a way to obey His commandments (1 Nephi 3:7). How then can I overcome this fear of letting people down?
Once I recognized and identified the fear, the above words came so easily, like a dam finally breaking. But along with those thoughts and emotions there was a single phrase: “love casteth out fear.” As soon as I could, I searched for those words, and found them in 1 John 4:18: “There is no fear in love; but perfect love casteth out fear…” I felt some hope and reassurance from those words. Unlike the ease with which the torrent of words about my greatest fears came however, I’ve had to go looking and soul searching to find the ways in which love can cast out those fears. But I did find them. And when I did, I felt better about sharing my thoughts.
I love my God. And I know He loves me. He already knows my fears and my weaknesses. He wants me to be constantly improving myself. But He is also infinitely patient. He knows when I’m doing the best I know how, and takes my honest intentions into account. He may yet require difficult things from me. But I love Him and trust Him. Because of that, I am confident that, though I may stumble, I will eventually rise to whatever challenge comes my way.
I love myself. I’ve come a long way. I’m so grateful for the progress I’ve made and for the things I’ve been able to accomplish. Not that I wish to boast of my own accomplishments; I don’t consider myself any better than anybody else. Nor do I want to become complacent. But as I seek to continue to grow and improve, I will acknowledge my successes at least as much as my failures and will thank God for them. I will allow myself to take part in wholesome recreation and set aside time for it, because it’s important in its own right. I will exercise moderation in the type and amount of entertainment I consume, but I will allow myself to enjoy it without feeling guilty for it. I also won’t give up on my dream of self-employment. That will likely be a long journey, but I’m game to try.
I love my friends. Over time I’ve developed the ability to listen and empathise, and I will continue to develop and utilize that gift. When asked for advice or answers to difficult questions, I will respond to the best of my ability, but I will also be humble enough to acknowledge my own limited understanding and point them to someone who can serve them better, such as a doctor, counselor, or other professional, their parents, religious leaders, or God.
I love Aww, Feathers! It’s important enough to me that I’ve sought God’s guidance on how to proceed with it on multiple occasions, and I’ve felt that it is a project that I should continue. I’m glad that I’ve done so, in spite of the challenge it has been. I’ve seen good things come from it, and I’ve got plenty more plans for it. I have wonderful fans who have been understanding when I’ve occasionally had to delay a new page. Though I’ve also tried to reward their patience with something small but fun. I’ll continue to update the story, but I will also seek a good balance so that it doesn’t drain every remaining drop of my energy and free time, as it occasionally has in the past.
I love my job. I love the people I work with. And I love the children that our product serves. I enjoy programming very much. I sometimes wish I could be programming different things, but there are still fun and interesting things to do at my work. I know I’m a good programmer. I’ve received many compliments at work, and the results of my work also speak for themselves. It is sometimes a challenge to stay focused on the job, but I’ve been getting better at that. I’ll take short breaks throughout the day to stay fresh, and then when I’m supposed to be working, I will work diligently and continue to show my employers that I am a valuable part of the company.
I loved Jakiro while she was with us, and love the memories we have of her. I did my best to prepare a safe and comfortable home for her and to keep it clean and to feed her right. I know I made some mistakes in my care for her. But it wasn’t for lack of wanting and really trying to do the right thing, even at significant expense of time and money. And besides that, the vet strongly suspects she had been sick for a long time without us knowing, maybe even from the day we first got her. There’s no way to know if I could have done anything different. But I do know I cared about her. And I love and care about all of God’s creatures. If I were to get another, I know I would love them too and do my best to take care of them.
I love my wife and my children. That love motivates me to become a better husband and father. I quickly recognize and seek forgiveness for my mistakes--a habit I learned from my own earthly father. And I know that my wife loves me, not just in spite of my weaknesses, but because I’ve been willing to share them with her and to be exposed and vulnerable in front of her. I enjoy spending time with my wife and each of my children, and will try to regularly set aside time for them, together and individually.
I still fear letting people down. But I’m determined not to let that fear control me or paralyze me. I know I will let people down, in spite of my best efforts, because I am imperfect. But I also love people. It’s easy for me to love. So I will allow that love into my heart at the times I feel afraid, and let that love motivate me to do what I can, and leave the rest in God’s more than capable hands.
If the image above was my way of venting feelings of anxiety and vulnerability, the one below is an expression of hope and gratitude. Like me, Ine experiences moments of fear and doubt, but also times of clarity and peace. It’s oddly fitting that my first piece of “vent art” is accompanied by my first attempt at depicting the Savior (that I can recall, anyway). I believe it is because of Him that I can overcome fear and weakness. “I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me” (Philippians 4:13).