Art vs. Industry: What are your values?

A story I like to tell sometimes is about when I was a little kid and I had a Disco Mickey portable record player. Back then, I was all about my Long Playing Record storybooks. If you grew up in the 70s or 80s, you know what those are. The rest of you will be baffled. They were tiny 33rpm records that went along with an accompanying book and they would prompt you to turn the page. It’s probably one of the big reasons why I learned how to read very early on.

To me, it was my record collection. If I had a crush on a girl who came by the house (it didn’t happen often) I would drag out my storybook LPs and show her my record collection. It was a way to show someone else what my interests were. Since then, throughout the years, there have been other record collections since and other girls I have liked that I have shown them too.

I guess what my point is that when people get to know us, and we get to know ourselves, we have certain things that are important to us, and they aren’t always collections or hobbies or interests. Sometimes they are philosophies, values, and little characterizing things that let them behind the curtain just a little bit more than someone else. A lot of us tend to live very Surface. It’s easier that way. It’s like having a piece of crap car when you live in a bad neighborhood. You don’t even lock it at night because you don’t want some idiot smashing the windows to rob the change out of your cup holder.

The good stuff is inside. Safe. Sometimes we don’t even let on that we have it.

One of my recent posts talked about a friendship that needed to end. The crazy thing is that at the end of it, one of the last texts I got was this person telling me how much they hated The War of Art and how it was stupid. Muse this! Muse that! I hate this stupid book! I thought it was a weird ad hominem attack. But in a way, it was like somebody kicking a hole through my favorite record. Only it said more about them than it said about me.

You see, in this world, there are creatives, and they value things like emotion, and creativity, and beauty and art. If you want an idea about how that stuff works, watch Moulin Rouge. These used to be ideals that people would die for. There aren’t many of us Warrior Poets left. The way our world has gotten has become so cold. Utilitarian. The art and beauty and emotion has been considered superfluous. Ironically, so many of us throw our money at new movies or TV shows and never think for a moment that someone came up with that. Someone whose piss probably smells like a venti Americano.

I suspect these are the same people who look at a field through the car window and think, “Corn. Sunflowers. Wheat. Cows.” While someone who appreciates these things marvels at how sunlight and water and nutrients in the soil can make a seed grow into a plant and all those plants are feeding the world. How one variety of corn tastes sweeter than the rest and brings back memories of a hot summer afternoon, grilling hamburgers, the kids splashing in the wading pool. They might even stop to think about how some people aren’t getting enough of those things in that field and they are struggling to feed themselves or get by. To the other, it’s just calories.

I’m not saying one is right and the other is wrong, it’s just not what blows my hair back. It seems a little cold.

As a creative, I know that in times of war, bronze statues are pulled down and melted into slag to build tanks and shell casings. I know that books are thrown into burning piles and reduced to ash. In our daily lives, school music programs are the first to be cut, unless an art program exists at all. But to some of us, life isn’t worth living without art and expression. It’s just existing, and who the hell wants to do that?

I have been told by this hater of Steven Pressfield’s works that I wouldn’t be single if I made more money. You don’t have a lot to offer her in terms of security. I think that says more about other people’s values than it does mine. And I’d rather be single than worry that someone I was with required me to have good credit rating in order to love me.

I’ve written about this in the past. There is a lot to be said about toiling your life away in a thankless, unfulfilling job, just because it has a decent pension plan, versus chasing your dream. I’ve done both, and I have to say, I’d rather miss a couple meals and tighten my belt than sit at a desk all day, literally watching the minutes of my life tick past and hoping that by the time I am old enough to retire, I can still live off the scraps that my annuity gets me. Where I’d probably be too old to travel, my health would suck because I’ve been sitting on my ass in my comfort zone all day, and I’ll be riddled with cancer, diabetes, heart disease, and depression because I kept waiting for my life to begin at 65. 66. “Maybe I’ll retire at 68…”

Do you know how many people I’ve watched die within months of retirement? How many more have died while still waiting to retire?

Right now it is 10:30pm and I’m writing. I’m not getting paid to write this. (If you’d like me to get paid, check out my other site and buy me a coffee!) Fewer than 20 people will probably even read it when it posts, but it makes me happy. I value art, the written word, putting my thoughts to paper, and the fulfillment that brings. Even if I’m not rich enough to get a girlfriend.

Weird that even people who are broke as hell still find each other, and a lot of them are happy. And some of the most miserable people I’ve ever met live in mansions.

I’ve had things. I had a lot of things when I was married. I had a whole basement of the collection of several Christmases, two bankruptcies worth of credit card purchases spanning fifteen years, and a minivan with a DVD player, two china sets, an 8 place Gorham silver set from 1895, purebred dogs, and a lot of antiques. I wouldn’t trade anything right now to have those back.

They are just things. One of the valuable lessons divorce taught me is it’s just stuff. The thing that bothers me the most is when I go looking for my potato masher and realize it is in a drawer in the kitchen in somebody else’s house.

I value connection from kindred spirits, other creatives, artists, dreamers, and those who keep sitting down to do the work because they love it. And some of them aren’t even that great at it. Hell, my writing is probably debatable! But someone who says “I am not the best at what I do, so why waste my time? Why listen to the Muse who hovers over every blade of grass and tells it to “GROW” when I can…my mind just goes blank at this point. What do they do?

They are the kind of people who can just walk away from someone they loved and actually forget their name. I’m the kind of guy who lights a candle for someone’s birthday whom I haven’t seen in years. We aren’t the same.

Right now, I’m working, but I don’t feel like it is work. Every word I write is the iron sharpening iron that makes me better at what I do. It makes me better at connecting to my audience. Better at showing just a little bit of my record collection, and in doing so, I get to see yours too!

To anyone who doesn’t get why the Muse is important or why the War to create Art is such a driving, passionate part of our lives…it’s like they used to say about jazz back in the day.

“If you have to ask, I can’t tell you.”

It’s how the light gets in

Sometimes it’s hard to write in this blog, considering how personal it can be. Really hard to write. I agonize over what I should share and what I shouldn’t. When you write, there is a fine line as to what is self-exploitation and what is getting the story told. The story really doesn’t care much about the writer. It just uses us, day and night, until it is told, or it kills us. So, there is some debate. Sometimes I overshare.

The other day I watched a Brenee Brown YouTube where she says, “Vulnerability without boundaries is not vulnerability.” That’s just a smack in the face with a cold fish to hear someone put it that way. I think of some of my favorite pieces of literature. The books Unbroken, or Wild, or the poetry of Leonard Cohen, Pablo Neruda, Silvia Plath, or countless melancholy bands that I love to listen to on a dark night when the rain is tapping on the windows. TV shows like Fleabag, movies like Good Will Hunting, the Razor’s Edge, or so many others.

I have to gauge what my boundaries are. I’ve read several Townsend and Cloud books. There’s nothing in there about how to set boundaries for a writer. I don’t share everything on the page, and often the words I put down are done to serve the story. Though at times, the details and the emotions may seem exploitative. It’s a form of expression. A very deep and intimate one you share with your readers–whether or not you know them. Someone close to me once told me that I needed to write unafraid. To keep telling the story.

So I’m going to share a story. It’s a love story.

It was probably one of the last beautiful nights of the summer. Nobody uses the phrase Indian Summer anymore, not only because of how sensitive everyone has become about being culturally sensitive, but also because the last two years has made the change in seasons pretty much meaningless. It was a cool night, but not cold. I pulled a kitchen chair onto the sidewalk in front of my apartment. I put on my fedora and my recent playlist and lit up a cigar which I smoked until long past sunset.

A couple summers ago, this was a ritual for a Friday night with someone I was dating. She introduced me to cigars and it is one of the bad habits I don’t regret. What other vice forces you to sit down for 45 minutes to an hour and just do nothing else. It is meditative. Which is often what I do as I draw the fragrant smoke into my mouth and exhale it as phantasmagoric tendrils of white smoke into the night air. It is therapeudic.

She and I used to sit in front of the firepit, sipping whiskey or wine, eating cheese, smoking cigars, and just chatting about life. Our relationship lasted only about nine months. It took me a long time to get over her. I had friends who sat with me in that grief and made me feel safe. They reminded me that I was worthy of being loved, even if she was gone. Someone who loved me so hard, but still left.

That night, I thought of her clearly for the first time in almost a year. Gone was the grief. It was laid bare and I missed only the company we shared. I have had no desire to seek her out for over a year. I held up my drink and toasted her. I felt gratitude for those moments and was happy to remember them. I wished her happiness and hoped she too was enjoying a night like this, maybe with a man she was in love with, or her big family, or maybe just by herself. I still carry a love for her inside my heart, without feeling that pull of regret for things having ended.

The next day was rough.

I need to finish work on the house and I have been procrastinating. It’s almost like a feeling that if I finish it, I won’t have anything left to distract me from my problems. Upcoming court hearings, work, relationships, family, etc. The house has been good for distraction, but I’m at a point where I have only a few things left. Right now I see only the flaws of a DIYer. I still see a lot of work ahead of me. Which eventually needs to be done.

I drove to get supplies. It beat sitting in the house with my thoughts and worries and pieces of my life which I feel like I have been holding onto like sand. The tighter you squeeze, the more slips through your fingers. Not even the three hour round trip could ease my racing mind. Nothing seems to help. Not alcohol or binge watching TV shows or playing hours of fetch with the dog.

I haven’t been sleeping lately. Last night I got two hours of sleep. I’ve been shaky and not wanting to be social at all. (Posting this will be the end of a two day self-imposed communications blackout.) My cough is back again. So I took a nap, or tried to.

It was in the liminal space between sleep and being awake that I realized a lesson I was on the verge of learning on that last night of summer. Nobody asks us to love them or stop loving them. Love doesn’t mean getting your way. It offers no guarantees. It is not something that allows you to control someone or make them feel shame that they don’t love you enough or in the way you might expect.

That isn’t how it works.

It wakes you up in the morning. It sings and rocks you to sleep. It keeps you close when everything feels like it has cracked and broken. It sends pens to scratching on the surface of notebook pages, bleeding out ink like blood onto the page. It calms you down and helps you breathe. It can also kill you if you hold it in, just as sure as an anuerism.

In its truest form, love lasts long after we are gone. When everything else has broken down and been washed away, it stands on its own. It doesn’t demand anything. It doesn’t incite jealousy. It allows you to recapture joy from a single moment sometimes that meant something. It’s enough to push back the night that feels so cold and endless. Whether it is hearing the laughter of a baby who is grown up and gone away, or a first kiss and long embrace of a lover, or a grandmother fussing at you as she cooked you bacon, or a pet who never left your side when you were sick, it is always going to be with you.

It is stronger than we give it any credit for being. It is like gravity. It never goes away when it is real, no matter how much we might wish we could forsake it. Like a story, it is independent of ourselves, though we can draw upon it. It outlives us because we pass on the love we have to others and they get to carry it with them.

I’ve heard the phrase “It takes a while to unlove somebody.” I don’t think this is possible. We just let the grief teach us something, but we can never unlove someone once we have loved them.

Ring the bells that still ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack
a crack in everything
It’s how the light gets in
It’s how the light gets in

Leonard Cohen, Anthem

That crack is what happens when we grow. It hurts. It sucks. And it feels like it’s going to kill us. But the love we receive is the light that gets in. We get to keep it, even if the ones who brought it are gone. Until we are ready to give it to someone else.

So, when I think of what Brenee Brown said about boundaries and vulnerability, I probably should have just kept this revelation to myself. But if it sets just one person’s mind at ease and gets them through a rough patch like the ones I’ve had lately, I’m prepared to argue that with Ms. Brown. And with me will stand every poet, artist, writer, musician, and anyone else who has ever expressed the abundance of feeling from that cracked vessel they call their hearts.

I guess the right you have to sharing this story with me is that you are here and you are reading. Even if some might consider it oversharing.

The moment you let love in is a moment when you feel at peace. I hope this helps.

Thank you.

Sometimes you have to be bad at something to get good

A few weeks ago, I mentioned that I my original idea for what to do when I grew up was to be an illustrator. It took one course in college to derail that. Because of that class, I hadn’t picked up a drawing pencil in…a very long time. The other day, I was given a set of pencils and a fresh pad of drawing paper as a birthday present.

There is nothing more daunting than an empty page. Whether it is writing or drawing, the empty page represents endless possibilities. You could fill that blankness with literally anything you can create. And sometimes you just freeze when presented with the opportunity.

I know that sometimes my reluctance to write is based on a streak of perfectionism. I know that a lot of the time, I can write very well. Sometimes I write too well. I can’t shut up. Because of the ease that writing has taken in recent years, I’ll be honest and say that really it’s not that good. It’s not as good as it could be. So, sometimes, I struggle with sitting down and putting the words and thoughts down because I know it could be better. It’s not going to be perfect. It’s going to be passable, it might resonate with some semblance of brilliance, but really it’s just jabber. Editing is what might give it a chance at being okay. But why edit when you can just keep writing?

So, the drawing set…

I haven’t drawn almost at all in 26 years. Other than a brief flirtation with watercolors (and they sucked) I haven’t drawn anything. So, I’ve been trying to make myself sit down and at least sketch something every once in a while. Jeez, it is hard.

If I had an excuse, I would have to say that my job at the university gave me ADHD. Anytime I was in the middle of doing something, somebody would come into the office and I had to stop everything to chat with them. It didn’t help that we had the only windows looking out into the hall and outside in the entire building. Any sort of movement meant it could be another walk-in or student or professor needing help. So, you threw on the brakes and did your actual job between contacts. There was also the matter of working in the office lobby in an open environment, which usually meant anytime a co-worker saw something on the internet, you had to give it your attention. Cat videos, gossip articles, the forecast. It’s a wonder I got anything accomplished.

So, when I sit to draw something I have a list of problems.

  • My skillset: I’m not anywhere near how I used to be. I fight the technique. I get discouraged.
  • My attention: For example, I took a break from doing a sketch to write this.
  • What to draw: I don’t even know what to draw anymore. If I’m going to take an hour out of my day to do something, it ought to be worth it, right?
  • My confidence: Anything I draw is going to suck and therefore it is a waste of my time.
  • Frustration: Sometimes it’s palpable.

These are all excuses to stop.

But here’s the reasons I keep doing it. I can actually feel parts of my brain that haven’t been used in years getting a workout. Yes, my technique is beyond rusty. It is corroded. Probably just a step away from being dust but it can only get better.

It increases my level of patience, not only with the art, but with myself. I’m forced to take the time to do something that doesn’t come easily. I’m forced to pay attention and work through a problem and I can feel pathways in my brain reconnecting. I’m forced to just be still and work through it.

I don’t know if it is getting any easier every time I try to do it. I do know that I’ve forgotten so much. I remember some basics. Darker pencils for things that are closer. Just work through it and draw what you see. Sometimes there is more erasing than drawing.

Anyway, I want to keep at it. But when you aren’t immediately good at something, it can be difficult to keep working at it. I don’t plan on being an illustrator anymore. I just want to reconnect with a different artform that isn’t just writing. It’s something I have missed yet something I am still interested in.

These days we live in a world that equates value with how much money you can make on doing it. I think we’ve limited ourselves so much in this. Sometimes there is just the joy of doing something and that is the reward. We monetized joy and I think that is wrong.

So, I’m going to keep sucking at art. If I improve, then I hope I can appreciate how far I’ve come. If not, at least it is relaxing. I guess this is one of those “hobbies” I keep hearing about. I haven’t had one in a long time. Not one that I hadn’t planned on making my life’s passion.

Sometimes you just have to do something for yourself. Even if you are terrible at it. The drawing set was not something I asked for, but as it turns out, it was something I have needed.