Friday, April 16, 2010

Waiting for that total eclipse of the sun.

Three total solar eclipse expeditions and 15 years. That’s what it took for Einstein to prove his general theory of relativity. Those total solar eclipses, the long six-minute ones that Einstein needed to photograph—occur rarely. Often many years apart. So one would think that the time it took to put together expeditions around these rare occurrences is what held Einstein up. But in reality, time is what actually helped him.

The first time Einstein approached the astronomy community to put together an expedition, they were not exactly excited about the idea. When he was finally able to get one person interested, the expedition to Russia “failed.” Not only did clouds make it impossible to photograph the solar eclipse, but World War I had broken out, and the Russians seized the equipment. Einstein later realized that, had the expedition succeeded in photographing the eclipse, his career would have been ruined. At the time of this first endeavor, his formula was wrong, and the photographs would have discredited his theory.

Einstein’s journey, aired on PBS in the form of a documentary, is yet one more reminder that when it comes to creativity or any type of change, our perception of time means very little. Like most people with dreams and goals, I continually struggle with this concept. Because our creative ideas often come in bunches, sometimes we don’t know which ones to work on first or how we’ll find the time to work on them at all. For someone as impatient as me, constant reminders that time is on my side are extremely necessary. Even though time and again, my creative projects have shown me that ideas have a life of their own. And if we let them, they will let us know when they’re ready to be born.

Two years ago, I realized a life-long dream to travel to Cuba and interview the artists there. When I returned from my trip, I wrote a lengthy, passionate essay about my findings. Then I hit a block. People who read the essay said things like, “This is an important piece. You need to get it out there.” But that just blocked me more. I wasn’t sure how to incorporate the feedback I was getting or even where to publish the essay. And it felt urgent to get the information out there as soon as I could before predicted changes in the country would make the piece obsolete. The essay sat in my drawer for close to two years.

At a Cuban art exhibit one day, the essay, which had been sleeping nicely inside of me, began to get feisty. As I moved through the exhibit with my friend, I explained the history of the arts in Cuba and the symbolism in some of the pieces. I could feel the passion rising in my body as I spoke. Once again, I was trying to reverse typical misperceptions about Cuba. My voice grew stronger, my heart beat faster, a surge of energy vibrated in every cell in my body. My essay would not be ignored any longer.

At the museum, I noticed that the exhibit was sponsored by the Center for Cuban Studies in New York. This gave me an idea. At home, I began Google-searching the words “Cuban studies” to try to find a home for my essay. I not only discovered the various centers for Cuban studies around the world, but found an international journal that focused on researched essays on Cuba. Newly motivated, I sat down, edited the piece to the 5,000 word limit (with the help of a friend), added the required citations and submitted it in January of 2010.

As we move towards our dreams, we all have our own solar eclipse expeditions—things that slow us down or even block us for periods of time. Sometimes to help us incubate ideas further. Other times because we ourselves are not ready. We may not have the tools, habits or mindsets we need to help us create, overcome our fears, channel our emotions or handle a new way of life. Because many of us don’t hear about the time and effort that it takes most creative endeavors to come to fruition, we form unrealistic expectations and place unnecessary pressure on ourselves to succeed immediately.

I no longer wish for more time to work on my creative projects. Or for success to arrive any faster, from its apparent wanderings. I simply wish for the mental clarity and the ability to remain grounded enough to keep working on my projects little bits at a time. Taking small steps steadily, consistently, tenaciously. This deliberate process of tiny progressions is what eventually takes us to that ultimate eclipse of the sun. When our lives are changed forever. At just the right time.

Einstein’s third and famous attempt to prove his theory attracted seven different expeditions from various countries. Much had occurred in Einstein’s career by then, transforming him from an unknown physicist to a well-respected scientist. And two years after my trip to Cuba, I found out that my essay will be published in July of this year. Maybe the time for my solar eclipse has come. Or perhaps this is just another step towards the sun.