A fresh piece of paper is white. So is a primed canvas, or a new document on a computer screen. It is pure, full of potential, and maybe even promise. It can shine. It can be so bright that it hurts your eyes. But there are other reasons we look away. We all come to this point at the very beginning of any project, whether we seek to fill the blank with an image, words, or music, we experience the emptiness before us. We are gazing into the void. Sometimes the blank page doesn’t feel white at all; it feels black. We can feel the emptiness but our sight can not penetrate its depths. Starting a new piece can feel like standing at the edge of a cave. Perhaps we can see inside a little way, but beyond that all is darkness. And we are all afraid of the dark.
The mind can fill the unknown with terrors and populate the darkness with monsters. In the moments before beginning a new project, uncertain of what it will be or how we will do it, our doubts and fears rally. The cave may be home a dangerous animal. It may contain a bottomless pool containing pale, sightless creatures without names. Maybe its simply a dead end. Maybe we’ll never find a way out. But we know the longer we waver at the entrance, the less likely we are to start in. And so we advance, taking the first, hesitant steps.
You probably have some idea to light your way at the start, some concept of where you want your project to go. But that idea is merely a match. It is a flashlight if you are lucky, but it still has its limits. Its light can only reach so far into the cavern. There is still a lot of unknown ground to cover. And all too often the match will get blown out, the flashlight batteries will die. Our first idea goes out on us, leaving us in the dark. And this is where we meet fear and doubt again, only we’re in their house now. You have come so far and now in the middle of your project you are second guessing yourself. Should you have entered this cave at all? Was this cave metaphor really a good idea in the first place?
We can give up and get out, or we can go deeper. We can do our best to see our project to completion, even if it means groping in the dark. Maybe there is still something to discover, and the price of discovery is venturing into the unknown. Maybe we will find long forgotten treasure. Maybe we will discover paleolithic cave paintings. Maybe we will find the purest water we’ve ever tasted. Maybe we will find nothing but our own perseverance and a place few people know about.
“One inch ahead and all is darkness”
We advance one step at a time. This is all we can do. We can be bold and cautious at the same time. And it is alright if we have gone as far as we can go and it seems we haven’t found all that much. There is a difference between giving up and feeling finished. We can climb out the way we came in, perhaps to explore further some other day. Or perhaps to turn our creative spelunking to another cavern, and take these lessons to another blank page.