And these are challenges, to which I am exhorted to rise, smiling.
People need challenge. Without it we become bored or complacent. So we seek cures for cancer, we train for marathons...but we also die taking selfies on top of crane towers. Not all challenges are equal.
Working as an artist, an animator is challenging. (working as an illustrator when you are really an animator, doubly so) - the frustrations of trying to fit a layout template onto an organic and irregular story form. Of trying to animate rushing water. Or find a sound that will reliably represent the non-existent and unimaginable. Experimentation, and often failure; submission, and often rejection; technology demands and trying to remain sane and civil when these go horribly wrong. Pushing boundaries - challenging your own skills and stretching them.
I believe in challenge, in confronting your own fears, in saying let's see what happens if I... And more importantly, in doing this alone - yes I CAN cycle up that 3 mile 1-in-4, yes I have a fear of heights but I can fly a glider, or perform on stage at the Sage, or travel to Svalbard, or lose a bunch of weight and learn to surf, or put it all on again and smile and say 'hey-ho'.
Now Harry Lime said, however inaccurately...
So - the challenges of coping with systemic fear and uncertainty are supposed to make me produce my best work ever. Big challenges - justice, equality, overthrowing dictatorships and protesting attacks on democracy; here, anger is useful. There are large things you can do, in community with others, helping each other in solidarity. You can write the Internationale, create posters encouraging people to join the quinta brigada, write Ubu Roi or 1984, film Fahrenheit 9/11. Save the world by painting it.
But when you feel, or when you have been told quite categorically there IS nothing you can do... the challenge is to accept, "deal with", make the best of, to find an opportunity in the middle of an imposition of confusion. I'd love to be the kind of person who says "bring it on, I eat problems for breakfast". But I'm this kind of person. The kind who chooses challenges which are interesting, exciting and will make the world a better place. Can I teach this module? Can I overcome my fear of heights? Can I draw a squid climbing out of a spider suit? Can I organise everything when your mother is possibly dying in a foreign hospital? yes. Can I cope with stuff happening at work/ in the government which seems to make no logical sense and which I suspect I am not being told the truth about? with the feeling of powerlessness and being dragged about? Does it motivate me to seize control? er, no. It simply make me depressed, the opposite of creative.
These are not useful challenges, they may make me more resilient but they will make me less sensitive. They will make me leap to the defence of the people and the things I love, but they will not help me do the things I love (animation, teaching amongst others) better. Of course we survive - but as an artist and an educator I have to do more than simply survive. I have to dream. I have to make those dreams useful. I have to share the useful dreams and make other people believe they could come true.
If challenge is a central driving force in the work of the artist, If challenge is an exciting, dynamic agent of change, then I would like that to be change for the better. To pick a useful and worthwhile challenge. A friend in Hull told me that there are many ways to be a hero, that stepping in front of a bullet to save another person's life is an easy way.. But that surviving day after day living on Hessle Road is a much harder way to be a hero.