Finding Awe
February 2024

Since childhood, awe has been the impetus for my visual artmaking. An innate sense of wonder, curiosity and beauty seems to make me especially receptive to awe-inspiring places, beings, objects, situations.

Awe is the emotion of wonder. It creates a feeling of expansiveness and vastness, and often occurs when the inexplicable or the unexplained is experienced. Awe can be felt both positively and negatively. Although the physical sensation of awe is transitory, its impact on the psyche is often enduring.

Awe can be defined as deep mystery dissolving the individual self, transcendent epiphany capable of restructuring a particular worldview, divine consciousness realigning borders between the seen and unseen…but none of these intellectual definitions actually suffice. Awe is never textbook. It is an indefinable emotion with innumerable expressions, and what causes awe for a person is intensely personal.

For most of my life, awe happened to me so regularly and effortlessly it seemed to be an emotion of never-ending supply. Then a few years ago, heartbreak taught me a truth I had somehow avoided ever having to accept. Awe’s presence is not guaranteed. Awe could dwindle away, disappear, vanish. Even for me, childhood wonder could die.

The fallout from suddenly not having awe was swift and strong. I walked away from artmaking, a life-long constancy, and for three years I made no visual art. Instead, I only did the things that had to be done. Emotional and physical and mental exhaustion filled day after day after day. To escape the daily grind, I retreated to bed in the evenings to read—the only creative activity I could muster.

I’ve always been a prolific reader, but over the pandemic, I was voracious. In the first year alone, over 150 books turned their pages on my tablet screen. I only began to falter when grief settled into all corners of my life the following year. No longer having the emotional focus or energy needed to digest literature, I started picking up lighter and lighter fluff for diversion.

For my reading choices, I relied on my library’s e-book ‘available now’ listings, sorted by ‘popular’. At first, my foray into the vast territory of easy-reading popular fiction was well-curated (hey that actually was a pretty good read!). Unfortunately, it didn’t take long for a distinct algorithm to set in. My feed was soon proliferated with books from the largest (most popular!) fiction genre…romance.

Despite its labyrinthian layers of subgenres, I quickly discovered the romance category was astonishingly redundant and predictable, especially in the titillation department. I abandoned book after book (hm, maybe this one…nope!) with growing impatience. Eventually my boredom erupted sideways as incredulous scorn (oh, come on—seriously, how can this insipidity be a bestseller?). Incessant exasperation quickly followed (oh no not that overused phrase scenario name character description again!). And once indignant frustration (oh god I could write something so much better than this drivel and I wouldn’t even have to try!) I knew I had to stop reading—at this point, binge-watching tv would be a much better use of my time.

At first, what I watched was far from amazing, but at least is it was better than my recent reading choices (oh it’ll be good enough…click!) But then I decided to try an action series, full of swords and death…and my apathetic resignation vanished.

Visceral doom and gloom isn't my typical fare (snore), but this series offered some interesting eye candy (why hello there!). I gave it a shot and surprisingly—satisfyingly—I found the series to be immensely entertaining. The story was interesting, driven by the main character’s incredible gift of attracting mayhem. He was dark and violent and not all that sensitive, but he was a keen observer, had a dry wit, and was very lovely to look at....

When I finished watching the last episode of the series, I found myself actually missing him (why look at that—he’s just like a beloved heroine!). I shared this fact with a friend, and she slyly asked how I missed him specifically. I quickly replied with a droll comment, and we roared with laughter. Inevitably, the quip devolved in my mind into a storyline so hilarious I thought, “oh wow…I really should write this one down!”

I got to work, dashing out my humorous little trope. One, two, ten, twenty pages went by…until three days and sixty hours of typing later, my husband said to me, “Wait, you’re not done with it yet? But…how many pages is this thing going to be?” I looked up at him with bleary, sleep deprived eyes. “I have no idea—but apparently it’s a novel, not a short story!”

Trusting in spontaneity, serendipity, and chance—things also sorely missing in my life—I chased my wildly unruly story. For over a year, my joyful, exhilaratingly creative writing adventure made me wonder if I even needed to make visual art anymore. That sentiment would change drastically a few months later.

By then, I was looking for a way to end the novel. But I still didn’t understand something essential about the main character, and that was keeping me from wrapping up the story. I stopped writing for a bit, hoping to sort out my thoughts. And it was then, during this lull, that serendipity brought me an experience of breathtaking beauty.

And with incredible visual clarity, the true heart of my novel revealed itself.

It is because of that beautiful moment of awe that Looking for Arete exists. And while I don’t yet see where the project is taking me exactly, I do know it is the most intense creative idea I’ve ever committed to as an artist and writer. And I understand with utmost clarity what I want it to be.

I want Looking for Arete to be full of magic and wonder—a lens of mesmerizing and transforming awe.

Finding Awe