It was the first day of class, and we were introducing ourselves. Tell us your name and then let us know the name of your alter ego—your artist name and the reason for your choice.
Around the circle, students introduced themselves as Emerald or Raven or Morning Star with a related story about the significance of that particular name for them—a special someone or a special characteristic they would like to emulate.
Halfway around the circle, I was surprised to find my eyes welling with tears. I wiped them surreptitiously, hoping no one noticed. Unable to account for my tears, I would be mortified if someone drew attention by asking if I was alright.
I had no answer.
Before travelling to the conference, I had been preoccupied with projects at the office. Then boarded a cross-country flight. I spent a week hiking in the mountains and was rewarded with gorgeous summit views—and altitude sickness. And now I was meeting new people in new surroundings.
Perhaps I was low on resiliency and reserves.
My turn was coming up. Think quick! Fabricate a name for the sake of the exercise. No one would know.
Rather than adopt a last-minute identity that I might have to live up to in a later class exercise, I chose to be authentic. When my turn came, I mumbled something about needing more time. I was ashamed at being so inarticulate about who I was.
When everyone had finished introducing themselves, they placed tent cards on their work table showing their artist name. Mine was blank.
Later, alone in my room, I revisited the introduction circle. It was unlike me to be emotional without reason. I am normally even keeled and in control.
In the darkness, thoughts tumbled in confusion. The silence echoed with questions: who are you? Deep down, really, who are you? What uniqueness characterizes you—your art? Do you have talent? Under scrutiny, would your art hold up? Could it be you don’t have it? Are you a pretender, a con artist, a magician? An illusionist without substance? Blank? Oh…am I truly Blank?
More tears—sobbing now. In the absence of any other presence, the flood gates opened.
I thought about who I was. Am. I have always been confident about who I am. Maybe the inability to articulate it—to come up with just one name—was the problem. Maybe pinpointing a single characterizing quality was the stumbling block.
I thought about the qualities of Emerald—a gem…valuable…rare. Or Morning Star—bright light of Venus…morning light. I thought about the other class names.
In the stillness, a faint image emerged. Sparkling lights. Candles in paper sacks. What were they called? A Google searched turned up the word I chased.
I liked the sound of the word…but exactly what was it?
Luminaria (lü-mə-ˈner-ē-ə): a Christmas lantern consisting of a votive candle set in a small paper bag weighted with sand and typically placed with others along a driveway, sidewalk, or rooftop as a holiday decoration.
A simple candle that emits a flickering glow housed in a paper sack, set in sand, and placed on the ground.
Hmmm…hardly stellar. Definitely not Morning Star quality. But it was a happier option than Blank.
Luminaria. A simple votive—a disk of wax housed in a tin receptacle. One of many—not unique. Moderately decorative. Functional and adequate. Set on a sandy base in a paper sack. Conforming to the shape of the ground.
Hmmm…despite its appealing sound, the word signified something plain and simple. The search continued for grander possibilities. I spent the evening searching for my identity. On Google. Haha.
Into the wee hours, thoughts ran amok. Self-examination is like that. I wanted to be true to my character and personality. After all, I am who I am. As an artist who wrestles with concepts and texts, I have always sought to serve the message. To bring light to ideas. Or ideas to light. To illuminate. Or to question. My style is unfolding and my artiness is emerging. I am becoming. I am multi-faceted. Maybe one identity is too limiting. OK, peering deeper within.
The next morning, I quietly placed a tent card on my work surface.
Hello, I’m Luminaria.
Luminaria guide the way for others. They enlighten the lost, illuminating the path to a destination: a celebration! They remain open to the skies, drawing oxygen from the starry night to radiate their singular glow. They shine brightest when it is darkest. Firmly grounded and breathing deeply, luminaria are open to the heavens, the stars, the possibilities. So many possibilities…