I Am Not a Paintbrush
by Jennifer Paros
“It takes courage to grow up and become who you really are.”
In the first studio art class I took, my professor addressed the
group’s anxiety over our upcoming art show in this way. She
“It’s not YOU hanging on the
We laughed as she then pretended to hang herself like a piece of
art, lifting her arms as though pinned to the wall while letting the
rest of her body go limp. Yes, we laughed, but we were not
soothed. That was a room full of raw egos all trying to figure
out how they could protect themselves from the potential judgments
Some time later, still unable to integrate my teacher’s wise words,
I threw my back out hanging a painting for a group show – tense with
fear over leaving my work open to criticism.
In the arts community, there is much talk about the vulnerability of
the writer/artist - a perspective that implies the act of sharing
our work risks something greater than someone simply not liking it.
This talk is based on a blurred line of perception between who we
are and what we do, which can make sharing our work seem
(if not favorably received) like a threat to our well-being.
But the threat is only ever to the self-image or ego. Regardless of
other’s opinions, we do the work we most want to do, driven by a
purpose and connection within that always remains, regardless
Close to twelve years ago, I went to the doctor because my hair had
started falling out more than normal. Then I went to another
doctor, another, and one more – and none could help. So over the
next years I lived with the situation while hoping it might rectify
itself. During this period, I ran the gamut in emotional reactions –
from nightmare panic and urgency, to a calmer stance. But never was
there any resolve either of the physical “evidence” of the problem
nor of the emotional duress.
"The secret to peace of mind is to not identify with anything other
than your True Self."
-- Robert Adams
Illustration by Jennifer Paros - Copyright 2012
four years ago, I was painting our bathroom with an old, inexpensive
brush I liked especially for edging. But as I worked, it kept
shedding bristles, and I found myself in a high state of distress.
Soon I realized I was responding to its seeming constant loss of
bristles - not as a frustrated painter in need of a better tool, but
as a victimized, suffering paintbrush. My mind was
playing a game in which I was the paintbrush, and I was feeling the
same way I felt about my hair.
Despite knowing the truth, it took great effort for me to calm down.
The pain my thoughts were instigating with this faulty
identification was so strong, it was difficult to break. Eventually,
the absurdity of it forced my rational mind to acquiesce and admit
there was nothing to be in pain over. But what of taking myself for
hair, for my physical image? My mind spun the story of loss in such
a convincing light, all I could experience was fear of trading in
one self-image for a lesser one.
couldn’t see that it’s not a matter of getting “better” hair, a
“better” paintbrush, “better” reviews, or “better” anything with
which to identify, but instead, becoming aware of what we really are
and living from that awareness.
"Who looks outside, dreams; who looks inside, awakes."
-- Carl Jung
The more we mistake our identity, the more vulnerable we feel, and
the more the mind worries - fearful its self-concept hangs in the
balance. I have learned there is no security in the self-image
because a thought of the self can always change. So the fear of
losing these stories of ourselves, the need to maintain control of
them, the desire to protect them, is all wasted energy. We locate
ourselves not in thoughts of who we are or want to be, but in
the present moment. And experiences of criticism, judgment, and
rejection can be used to help us remember where we actually
reside – in the dynamic, invulnerable energy that
wants to come forth and share and communicate freely.
Who We Are cannot be squeezed into any self-image – be it a size 0
or 24, Sick or Healthy, Failure or Success. All self-images,
self-concepts, are technically too small for what we are.
They’re momentary focuses of our energy and intention. And like the
paintbrush, they’re tools that allow us to create, but never define
who we are.
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Jennifer Paros is a writer,
illustrator, and author of
Violet Bing and the Grand House
(Viking, 2007). She lives in Seattle.
Please visit her website at