“Okay, but once you sign the contract, you have to write the book.”
“I know, I want to write the book. People need to know how to shut you up once for all.”
“And you think you can write a book about that?”
“A whole book?”
“Sez who? You’re not a shrink or a counselor or an expert of any kind. Who cares what you have to say?”
“I’ve lived with your voice in my head for decades, haven’t I? I’m pretty much as expert as you can get.”
“And you think you can shut me up?”
“Watch me. Hand me that pen.”
Book contract for "Shut Your Monkey" signed. Book out next fall. Let the fun begin!
When I’m anxious, I do something, I make something.
It feels like making something changes something and therefore I will be okay.
Or is making something, “look, I’m a good boy” credit that acts as a bulwark against whatever the monkey is needling me about?
Or is it just a distraction?
Is that how real artists feel? Soothed by their creativity?
I guess I have always been anxious a fair amount and that’s why I have always been pretty productive.
I don’t think much about the quality of what I’m making, it’s just the process, the act that acts as protectant. And if anyone comments on how much I get done, I feel more embarrassed than proud, as if I was getting credit for nail biting or nose picking.
I’m being particularly self flagellating right now, and maybe writing this down will just reshuffle the deck and I can get on with things again.
Could be worse, I guess — I could be a drinker or pick fights with strangers.
Instead, I’m writing this to you.
I can do that with people. Friend or foe. Genius or fool.
I can do that with movies, books, food, pens. Thumbs up or down.
I can do that with opportunities, trying to figure out what something might amount to, whether it’s worth doing from the get-go. I know what it will be like to go there on vacation, to eat that, to watch this, to do that.
1 or 0. The binary life.
In some ways, this is an efficient way to live. I can sift through things, sort ‘em, leap to conclusions and move on. In other and more important ways, it’s dumb and limiting.
When you thing you know what some thing will be like, why live it? But no matter how smart I think I am, I don’t really know how things will actually turn out.
The most interesting things happen in the grey areas, in the open spaces, unpredictable, chaotic and fecund. Fecund because they aren’t gridded out and regimented. Because they follow the laws of nature which are chaotic and random and constantly shifting.
Learning to live with ambiguity is one of the toughest things I have done. But if life has taught me anything, it’s that you never really do know what’s going to happen and it’s self-defeating and ridiculous to pretend that you do.
I’ve spent a lot of time over the years convincing people that making art is just as natural as breathing. And as easy.
But maybe I’ve been avoiding the hard truth. That making art can be hard. It can be hard keeping to a habit. Hard pushing past blocks. Hard mastering new media. Hard facing your mistakes. Hard being your own cheerleader. Hard seeing clearly. And hard putting yourself out there.
I’d convinced myself that if I make it seem like the barrier to entry is just a bead curtain that I will be doing people a favor. But when I make it seem easy and you find it hard, you might worry that you are exceptionally untalented or lazy or dumb. Which is far from true.
The fact is that sometimes making art can be very demanding.
And that’s okay.
Just because something is hard doesn’t mean it’s scary or to be avoided. Hard can be good. It can make the corpuscles course through your veins. It can make you stand taller. The things that are hard to do are often the ones worth doing. Success isn’t meant to be easy.
In my own life, I have many things on my plate, but I’ve been working to eat my vegetables first and save dessert for last. Just because something is easy to tick off the list doesn’t mean I should do it first. Instead, I try to crack at least one tough nut a day.
At times, I’ve had the reverse approach. I told myself that it is better to have a sense of accomplishment by plucking low-hanging fruit and doing something easy — making the bed, answering email, emptying the dishwasher — than it is to tackle the things I dread.
But Ive learned that the pleasure of having won the hard battle is far greater and worth the pain.
Now I start the day by thinking and writing and inching ahead, and end it in front of the TV with a basket of towels to fold. Life is easier when you scale the mountain first and coast down it the rest of the day.
My advice: Your days are numbered and there’s loads to learn — so don’t be afraid of something because it seems difficult. Rather, seek out the toughest challenges and fight your way through them.
It can be done. And you are the one to do it.