Part of the job is to make it look easy.
Sometimes it is. Sometimes lightning strikes and you have your bottle ready and waiting — it’s in hand, the cap is off, and your eyes are cast toward the sky in anticipation of the moment the elements come together to send that magic burst right into the glass.
Most times it isn’t. In fact, most times you’re just working on the bottle.
What those who are outside the process don’t and aren’t supposed to realize is how hard that work on the bottle really is — the frustrating hours spent chasing something just out of reach, the failed attempts at catching it, the deleted files, the sleepless nights, the already fragile and regularly busted up ego, the mornings spent with the self in front of the bathroom mirror in conference about getting a real job…
There are some parts of the process of making art that get easier as the craft of what you’re doing becomes more ingrained — shortcuts are learned, confidence is gained, and even the rules are more easily and assuredly broken so you can dance with ease with and around your own personal style. But none of those things that come with time and experience can ease the utter terror of the new song idea that keeps tugging on the hem of your coat, day one in the recording studio when a new album is being made, the first show of a tour, or the blinking cursor to the right of the “e” after the words, “Chapter One.”
The artist doesn’t only have to do the work, we have to make the work up in the first place. We mine our lives and imaginations for material. A tip: Be careful if you get involved with an artist of any sort if you are a private person — in art, all bets are off, trust me — most of us would sell the world’s secrets or at least our grandmother’s pearls for a good line or solid idea. But back to the point. Most of us are sensitive beyond measure, which is, of course, a double edged sword. We have to be hyper-aware to pick up so much in us or around us, and that can be a painful attribute because who wants to go around feeling all the time? Add to that the possibility that we will be criticized for turning all that information into work that the world has access to and we can become Jello — quivering messes afraid of the sharp edges of life, and sometimes the sharp edges of tongues, that seem to come at us from all sides. It makes no sense and total sense at the same time. But we keep doing it no matter the crazy-making elements of such an existence. We keep creating, putting ourselves out there in varying degrees of bareness, because it’s what we were put here to do, because we hope we will connect somehow, because we feel driven to express something that others will be able to relate to, and some days, we keep doing it simply because it’s our job.
I suppose this is on my mind today because I’m writing another book and it’s a tricky one. Hell, they’re all tricky when it gets right down to it. Even though I now have the first one behind me and it’s living out in the world on its own and that has given me a small bit of confidence that I’m not a complete dilettante, here I am again holding my bottle, waiting for lightning to strike every damn day. And I know it isn’t going to. Some days the work is just about keeping the receptacle ready and the gears oiled. And that’s not to say that I sigh a sigh of huge relief when I catch that bright flash of electrical discharge — what if the magic isn’t the kind I was hoping for? What if it has too much baggage attached to it to let it be seen by anyone else? Not only do we wrestle with the process, we have to decide what to leave out. Sometimes that’s the hardest part of all.
And with that, I’ll leave you until next week.
Peace and love,
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PSS: Recommended reading to go with this post: Stephen Pressfield’s “The War of Art”
Question of the week: What sort of mascara do I use?
Answer: Always Tarte’s Lights, Camera, Lashes. I’ve tried every other, and this is my favorite. It comes in waterproof too, to help with those crying jags.