One of my best friends laughs sadly as she recounts how her father thought she was studying to be a concert pianist for her first couple years of university—she studied theater—because that seemed to be more prestigious in his head. Someone close to me still only introduces me as a writer. It seems more promising and less embarrassing than an actor, to be sure. I have heard the offhand remark: “She’s in there doing her ‘work’ (in finger quotes), or whatever it is she does,” among others.
I sometimes (a lot of times) find myself still pandering to my inner saboteur, always trying to justify my choices. When a stranger asks me what I do, I will often say a generally airy, “I’m in the arts.” It sounds ephemeral, exotic, mysterious. Leaves them wanting more…and it doesn’t raise the eyebrows like more definitive terms do.
Have a glass of wine when you start a new project.
I don’t care if you are a visual artist, writer, performer, director, a strange frog maker. You’ve got to admit, the way people see us artists is kind of funny. Our families generally think we are wasting our time at low-paying, not-too-likely-to-work-out careers. Our friends in other professions don’t really understand what we do, or our choices, though they are kind of envious of the freelance nature. The world at large seems to alternately love and revere, or accuse and tolerate us. On a bad day, they look away in disgust and cut more funding. It is hard to keep our heads up sometimes.
Now, I realize this all sounds like a lot of complaining. I guess I am having another whiny artist moment. Blah, blah, blah—poor me, I’m going to get a coffee. Everyone’s allowed their slumps, right?
Stop—wait a minute (yes, I did do an “Uptown Funk” shimmy) before our funk gets too funky. I call crappy crap McCrapster, married to McCrapperston. We need to do a therapy session. I need to hear this too. Right now. Put my “practical” degree to use. Grab that coffee, chai, green tea or whiskey, and relax. Let’s all say in a soothing yoga voice: It’s going to be okay….
It can be hard to convey the logic of what we do. People’s creative processes are individual, as are work styles. There is no real standard to truly follow or reach for. Each vein within each sub-industry is vastly different, so we don’t really understand (and do judge) each other as well. The nature of a creative endeavor is that you are creating, reflecting and musing on life and people. This can be hard for others to grasp, as sometimes there isn’t much to hold on to at various stages. I am constantly reminded by one of my own guru advisors that we can’t judge our success and progress in the same way as other industries. People see the end product, and may understand it—film productions, a piece of art, or theater—but very few people truly understand what actually goes into making them. Or that all film does not have to be a Hollywood blockbuster, that all theater is not expensive Broadway, all writing is not a best-selling novel, or all art is not hangable. Music, well, let’s not even go there.
But don’t judge others too harshly for not “getting it.” Be honest, we don’t often “get it” until it’s done. It is nine times out of ten not personal. Take the time to explain yourself and be excited. Enrich others’ lives, and let their experience, concerns and ideas enrich yours. The only way to change mentality is to educate.
Celebrate. Like a lot. Even sometimes in the yay-at-least-we-participated-or-finished-it way. Here’s the reality: If you are not going to be happy unless you win an Oscar, you are probably not going to be happy. Many artists don’t receive fame or recognition till after they’ve died, many not ever. You cannot judge yourself or your peers by this. We also know that politics and marketing often play large parts in decisions, castings, promotions, whatever. It’s just that way. Deal with it. You either play the game, or you get out. I’m not saying not to aim for the moon. Just don’t get too down on yourself if you get yet another rejection or aren’t where you think you should be.
Instead, give yourself a pat on the back when you finish a chapter. Have a glass of wine when you start a new project. Take a little reflection and give yourself time to feel proud at the end of the day. If you have touched or changed one person, yourself included, or gained even a scintilla of success, count yourself accomplished.
GET OFF YOUR BUTT AND DO IT. NOW.
Finish. Push it out there. Do it again. And again. Work on multiple projects and avenues. Some won’t work out. Next. Ideas don’t mean much until you see them though. Find new avenues.
We’re creative thinkers for heaven’s sake! Sometimes go off the path and crash through the forest. You aren’t getting into film festivals? Submit to another country’s. The US isn’t the only player anymore. Multitask. Is it easy? No. If it were easy, everyone would do it.
So be a bloody rock star, invent a hovercraft, and fly above the forest.
Photos by Ashlee Renz-Hotz.