I’ve been thinking lately how odd it is that we imagine our lives made up of befores and afters. We seem to love to bookend things, to wrap each phase of our time in a neat bundle.

But I sort of think that while we’re in the “during” of it all, we find it unbearable to be unsure of exactly which “before” and which “after” will frame our present.

So…maybe we sort of consistently consider ourselves with reference to the most recent end. As if it might be the very last “end,” and we’ve presently arrived at some sort of permanence. Do you know what I mean?

I think maybe that’s more comfortable than the uncertainty of the middle bit—not knowing what this time will end up having been about, what we might go through, what we might learn, what we might lose.

I’ve been really trying to pay attention to this current “during.” I feel (and I hope) that I’m in the middle of something important. But I feel pretty wishy washy about it a lot of the time.

Sometimes the objective seems clear-ish. I get little glimpses of what a possible “after” might look like. Then sometimes I feel totally unmoored. Like I know I’ve let go of whatever was going on before, but I just don’t know for sure where I am, or where I’m going.

So. As I have been relistening to last month’s batch of Artifice conversations, I wanted to see what my guests had said about their befores and afters.

Mark said something that really struck me when I heard it in real time, and maybe moreso upon relistening. He talked about using art and creativity to compel a new chapter to begin.

He said “Sometimes becoming an artist means ‘burning the bridge behind you’ to get out of a soul-sucking living. Plant yourself an escape hatch, and burn the bridge behind you.”

Now. If I’m being honest, I think I’m equal parts invigorated and totally intimidated by this idea. But I love that he said it. And I love that he said it in the calmest, most measured voice I’ve heard recently. Just matter-of-fact. When you don’t like the present, use your own creative ingenuity to build yourself a new possibility, and use that same creative spark to prevent yourself from easing back into a status quo.

It’s that meta-creativity I love so much…

Alternately, Caitie talked about leaving a map of all of the “during” within the end itself. With specific regard to any single piece of visual art, she prefers to be able to *see* evidence of the process—of failure and problem-solving. She wants to behold the physical marks of process in a completed piece (opposed to a fully edited and perfected final product).

This idea feels homey to me. Comfy. I think this is sort of where I land most of the time. And I do so believe in it. Though, I think that when I myself am the thing…I can get confused when I think too much about all of the evidence of process and problem-solving. I think I sometimes get a bit fixated on the wrong things, and start to worry I’m not making any changes at all.

I’ve known Wes for years now, and I’ve personally seen him struggle with intense performance anxiety. With that context in mind…I feel plainly overjoyed to hear him share the story of being a teen, and seeing his favorite band live for the first time.

He imagined himself on stage in the place of the lead singer, and immediately knew it was what he wanted. I asked Wes…When he imagined himself on stage like that, did his imagination include any evidence of stage fright?

Wes said: “I imagined myself being fearless.” …this presently dominant restriction didn’t factor into the vision at all.

It’s so simple, but it also feels profound to me. It’s almost like he’s not imagining this as some “after” in which he has fought to overcome the obstacle. But more like he’s imagining a “before” and a “during” in which this fearlessness is a simple fact.

I feel like this kind of dual or concurrent understanding is another way to approach an uncertain middle. Even in a “before,” even in a “during,” we already *are* the “after,” as well. We already have all of the pieces—we just have to reorder them a bit.

I’m sitting now with the idea that there are at least three strategies here. We can delete the “before” entirely, and plant ourselves decidedly in the middle. We can reject a clean bookend altogether, and opt to hold each lovely, messy layer at once until we determine a culmination—if not a finish, per se. Or, we can see ourselves at an arrival already, and keep our focus there until it all lines up.

Move forward by destroying the “before,” move forward by building upon the middle in precious increments, more forward by candidly assuming the end. Of course.

For now, I can tell you that I have been busily creating in the come-what-may—making what I can with what I have, and with what I know now. It feels really right, even if the context is still a bit cloudy.

More coming your way very soon…