Detail of “Joy”
30 x 24 oil on museum quality panel, framed
What follows below is a letter I could have written to myself a few years ago. I did, in fact, pen it–but it was to a dear friend. Reading back on it, I now see that I was talking to myself as much as to them. It has been said we teach best what we most need to learn. I came across it in my files and thought it worth sharing—just in case one other person has felt the same way I have– that maybe it would help to look at what it means to be an artist…just one more time..:))
Letter to a Friend
You say you know what it takes to succeed. That you keep your eye on the ball. That you stare and do nothing, paralyzed by fear and uncertainty, and are then “surprised” when nothing happens. You say that perhaps the reason is– you never donned the glove–or perhaps you never even left the house to go to the ball field.
I tell you what is tricky. Knowing how to get anywhere when the life you have chosen is a build as you go, creative blueprint. Yeah, it’s like building a home. Some people have the money and a clear idea–they either purchase ready made plans or they hire an architect to do the thinking and planning for them. They are pretty much guaranteed success. The measure perhaps being size and geographical location. But a success on some level.
To me these are the ones who decide “I want to be a nurse, I want to teach school, I want to go into social work”. They go to the colleges and universities that offer those courses. All they have to do is show up and take the required courses. They complete it, look in the ads and voila—instant life with career. I am not saying there is not hard work, dedication and passion involved. I am saying that these vocations come with an easy to read set of blueprints. Do this and this and it will equal this. Black and white, plain and simple. Obviously there are varying degrees of measured “success” in these jobs–you may work at a nursing home or you may invent the mechanical heart. But you are guaranteed a measure of success and a measure of acceptance by the world at large because your job is understood and well defined.
Enter the artist. The writer. The film maker. The musician. Whew—-makes one break out into a sweat just to start amassing them into one pile. A big nebulous pile of a zillion different ways to do something. The very thing that can bring so much deep passion and joy also carries within in it the heaviest burden of uncertainty. There is no blueprint. There is no formula guaranteeing a degree of success (if our creative heart could settle for a lesser ideal ). We want, we want, we want. And so we begin. Because you have as yet, not achieved a measure of success in creative endeavors, it has become your proof that you are not doing the work–not doing anything but staring at the ball. I am not going to talk you out of where you are for the time, because it is part of it.
But I am doing my best to help you see that folding your dreams up, your hopes up, and placing them in a drawer for life is not the answer. It won’t work—ask any creative person if they have ever done it, how did it feel, where did it lead—-and they will tell you–the desire to be yourself, for that is what it is– and that is what you are rejecting because you have not found acceptance in the world as of yet, will never go away.
Right now you are in the all or nothing mode. Either it is all good or all bad. Either you have done everything right or nothing right. Either you work at painting, (writing, music, acting) or you have never done anything toward it in your life. If you think where you have been is tough, you are now realizing how morbidly painful giving up is.
“An artist will paint when the pain of not painting becomes greater than the pain of painting” That’s a quote from Art and Fear. YOU think you are a unique loser. That your situation is different , so different than what other creative people face. You think that others are writing and producing rather than sitting and thinking about it. You think you are the only one who has been paralyzed with fear to the point of not getting out of the car to do a walk on acting part. You fear that what you have hoped to be is a myth, a lie, that you have deluded yourself.
The untruth here is this. Thinking that somehow this is not how it works. That if you were really meant to be a painter, a writer, a musician, you would just be chomping at the bits, painting regularly, acting regularly, taking massive action every moment on your dreams. There is what we think it means to be a creative person and lead a creative life and then there is the reality of what it means to be a creative person and lead a creative life. Bringing something into reality from nothing. Some thing from no thing. Second guessing ourselves. Hoping for good things, certain we deserve none of it. Because somehow we feel we haven’t earned it. We are not smart as others, weren’t born to the right parents, grew up in the wrong place, attended the wrong schools, made poor job decisions, hung out with the wrong people. How skilled and schooled we become on berating ourselves.
And perhaps the hardest part of all—we can go for years with little to no definitive success in terms of money, awards, recognition. Even being recognized by society (family, friends, former classmates, new people we meet) as someone doing something that makes sense seems unrealistic.
It is not easy being an artist, being creative. I am not saying that to sound dramatic. But to balance out our fears that surely we must be the stupidest, laziest , unrealistic person on the planet kind of thinking. Because that is how you feel at times.
The thing is , you don’t really have a choice. If you are born with these ideas rattling around inside you, it is something in your DNA, from your source. You may as well be lamenting the color of your eyes. Sure, you can go get colored contacts or wear sunglasses all the time, but guess what—you are still gonna be looking at the world through hazel colored(or blue, or brown or green) eyes.
So maybe, just maybe, you should love, celebrate and enjoy the beautiful, unique, one of a kind artist and gift to the world that you are. Take whatever you have in your hand at the moment and apply yourself. One thing at a time. Allow yourself to dream again and know that it is not only the right thing, but the thing you are meant to do. And I think out of that will come peace and a growing awareness of your rightness in the world. That you are making your way (literally creating your way ) as you go. Each step has its own significance and life at the end of our days, is a long series of steps–our steps. There are no missteps–just your own unique path. Walk in it with joy. Walk in it with love.
“Do not go where the path may lead, go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.”
~ Ralph Waldo Emerson
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