“Conference room. San Ramon, California”. 2013. Blood, sweat, ink and watercolor

What does it take to lead a truly creative life? What demons must you slay? What ancient voices growl from deep within your head, chanting familiar curses?

What can art do to show you the way? How do other artists embolden you and say, “It is possible. It really is.”? Do you think of Van Gogh in his shack, deciding to abandon the ministry to paint through his remaining days?

What is the price of golden handcuffs? How firmly does Money hold you by the tail, insisting it will never share your love and attention? Can art ever compete?

What do the people around you say? Do they encourage you to leap? Or pepper you with their own doubts?

Are you willing to be selfish? What’s the cost?

What are your fantasies about the way it could be? What does the best day look like? What about the scariest one? How does your grimmest fantasy compare with the worst trial you’ve ever actually endured— and overcome?

What does it take to root your life in passion, rather than necessity and obligation?

How many days do you have left on this earth? How many of them belong to you?

When, finally, will the time come?

27 thoughts on “Courage”

  1. very thought-provoking. I am a hairdresser (it helps me buy art supplies) and I mostly do older lady’s hair… some of them are in their 90’s! And I often wonder about what they think about… I would be thinking the end is near… I guess Im a drama queen haha. Lovely post.


  2. These are the very questions I ask myself every day, while the mice of doubt gnaw at my written pages which are not enough (the pages, not the mice) to build a fire escape out of my office window, across the gaping crevice on the other side of which await… my dreams and hopes and a timer that says “there’s time still, darling. But do start now.”

    What is the price of golden handcuffs? Sore and aching wrists bound behind our artist’s backs. Five more years, I tell myself, five more years and then I’m outta here. Perhaps I ought to try the leap sooner.

    Thank you for this. “What does it take to root your life in passion, rather than necessity and obligation?” Wow. “Gleichgewicht ist nicht entweder – oder. Es ist UND.” (Balance is not either – or. It is AND) Work hard AND write. Yes? Yes. 5 more years…


  3. The question of how many days belong to me, seems like an unimaginable possibility. At what point do you get to allow all the other hats of mom, employee, wife become secondary to being that true individual that your heart longs to be? Or more accurately find the balance to be self without guilt?


  4. I took the final leap about seven years ago and haven’t looked back. These years have been among the happiest of my life – filled with struggle, frustration, challenge, intensely hard work – and sweet fulfillment. I’ve always done creative work – writing, producing, design – but since 2006 it’s been fine art on my terms. Surprisingly, the adage really is true … do what you love, the money will follow.


      1. As you have been mine, Danny! If I hadn’t gotten my feet wet with sketching and daily art journaling I might not have had the momentum to continue. The encouragement of you and other EDMers gave me hope in those early days that maybe I could follow my true heartfelt passion and not just stay in my lifelong (writing) comfort zone. In January of this year, a major Nevada organization purchased eight of my paintings for their corporate boardroom. I’ve had my work in more than a dozen museum shows. If someone had asked me in 2004 if that was possible I would have said they were nuts. But with the support of family and friends near and far, the dream came true, and thankfully before it was too late.


  5. I hear you, brother, loud and clear! You are not alone in this kind of thinking. Think you should make the title of this one your description: “Blood, Sweat, Ink, and Watercolor”)


  6. Yup, retirement with health, enough money to travel and buy art supplies. So far so good but the clock is ticking. Hang in there, Danny.


  7. NEEDED this today, Danny… thanks so much! It was good to see Karen’s reply above, too– I am now OUT of that corporate world with its golden handcuffs, but feel “guilty” leaving poor hubby to be the sole breadwinner. My love is children’s books and I’m working towards improving my illustration abilities as I write them. Art and drawing were both passions as a child, but I somehow got sucked into the lure of “big money” in the corporate world when I was in college… oh-so-many years ago. BIG regret! Great post!!


  8. Reminds me of a conversation I had with a neighbor last night. I ran into the couple at a local restaurant and I caught a strange look on her face; sorting of gazing sideways at her husband. He caught the look and told me that he had just been let go from his job that day. He said it wasn’t a bad thing. He’d had equity and other things that were the ‘golden handcuffs’ holding him in that position. He’d been a CIO for 13 years. And now it was time to do something that he had a passion about. So sometimes the situation is given to us – or we must take the leap ourselves. It’s probably a bit like being a parent for the first time — you have no earthly idea how you are going to do it or what challenges you are going to face… but in the end we do the best we can and hopefully leave a legacy. I say make the leap – that is what the doodles say to me. That is what ‘Everyday Matters’ says to me. It sounds like you’ve been hearing the drumbeat for some time too.


  9. When I was in college and my parents had written a proper script for how my life was going to be in the early ’70s (some sort of medical technician, as I had refused to be a secretary), I had to choose dropping out in order to follow my inner mandate of creativity. I’ve never looked back. Other than a few stints working for publishers and print houses, I struggled as a single mom to continue painting (portraits, mostly) at night and weekends. Finally I could build a studio and there I sculpted, ending up making a good living with my work. Folks all over the world bought my pieces. After the economic downturn (and arthritis), I went back to sketching and painting, and now, inspired by Danny’s books, I’m writing fiction based on the life of three women friends who sketch together. The book will include pages from “their” sketch journals. Never give up your creativity, no matter what the circumstance!! And thanks, Danny, for touching so many lives with your own creativity.


  10. I love the combo of encouragement and “I dare you! ” that my heart hears in these replies. Danny, you threw down a gauntlet for me. My guilt has been around feeling self-indulgent when I write or draw, like this is some sort of unreasonable luxury. And yet fine artwork and fine books make my life worth living! The Golden Handcuffs come in many forms, including Social Activist Guilt. Only I hold the key.


  11. I am wondering if these questions are the reason we love art. Regardless of the milestone that I reach I realize that the doubts never truly go away and courage is always needed. (Not that I am that old or that successful!) but maybe what I love about art, is that it stays difficult, that it stays as something I can’t completely grasp and have in my pocket. Life as an artist might get financially easier but it will certainly never be predictable. I may never take it for granted because it keeps me aware. As a result art will always keep me, us, creative people in the moment. And in the end, what better gift can we have than to live this one and only life to the best of our ability. (Hope I made some sense)


    1. Thank you for saying this, claudomin… it does make sense! And to paraphrase a common bumper sticker, “My worst day drawing (or painting) is better than my best day in the office cubicle”!


  12. I’ve asked myself those very questions, and I think I’ve answered them in my own heart. I know where I am and I am content. It’s amazing how frugal you can be if you set your mind to it. I live for art. I live to encourage others. I volunteer. I’m not at pension age yet, but I saved while I could. I do have a wonderful husband who loves me and keeps the roof over our head. Without him I don’t know what I would do. I do know that the answers to those questions would change.


  13. I’ve asked myself some of these questions — and some of them I hadn’t thought of. Trying to move into a more creative-based life is scary and beautiful. My answers to the important questions like these are evolving, and someday I hope to embrace, as you wrote, a “life in passion, rather than necessity and obligation.” Thanks for this post, of airing these thoughtful questions.


  14. This is a constant in my life…art vs. daily obligations. But I have bronze handcuffs not golden ones. Need to keep at least a part-time survival level job until my kids are out of the house (8+years). I have approached art from several angles (textile design, fine art, and children’s illustration) and been interrupted many times by the daily grind . If I could at least commit to the journal everyday as you do, Danny, then I know in my heart that the art will never truly go away. The key is to do the practice, even if you have kids, have illness, have the job, have setbacks etc. Easier to say, harder to do!


  15. Good thoughts/questions.

    Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about “What is the price of golden handcuffs? How firmly does Money hold you by the tail, insisting it will never share your love and attention? Can art ever compete?”

    and “Are you willing to be selfish? What’s the cost?”

    Since my graduation with my MFA, I’ve been jumping between adjunct teaching positions that pay less than minimum wage for the time spent on them, supplementing with odd jobs in between working in warehouses, tshirt shops, and so on.

    We moved twice in 8 months, from South Louisiana to Kentucky and then Northern Ohio. I’ve applied for about 40 teaching jobs/grants/visiting artist gigs and counting. I’ve gotten some promising feedback, but have no idea where I will be in the fall or what I will be doing. In the meantime, I’ve been working on my Etsy shop, working in a tshirt shop part time, working at a letterpress shop part time (thank goodness for the press access to make prints!) and doing some odd web design work here and there and commissions for books, prints, and crochet (would like more of those!)

    My husband and I are both in the same small field, printmaking, so we often compete for positions and it is difficult to find more than one in any town. Thankfully, he’s got a year on his contract at the university here in Bowling Green. I’m just trying to figure out what I’m supposed to be doing in the meantime if I don’t get any classes for next semester. A bald spot on my resume! Wondering just how many part-time job hours I can sacrifice for my own work time. Wondering if I can spare the expense/time to go to an artist residency if I don’t get any classes…

    I’m in the middle of several very exciting art projects. I’m glad for the time I had to work on them earlier this year, but I feel it’s time for me to try to make some $$$ for a while to continue supporting my goals/dreams.

    I still draw every day ( and make prints and books and other things ( But I could use a bit of a “courage” boost to figure out how to answer those questions you’ve asked in this post…It’s a mystery where I’ll be next and what I’ll be doing!


  16. Just saw this quote, Thought you’d appreciate:

    “Creating a life that reflects your values and satisfies your soul is a rare achievement. In a culture that relentlessly promotes avarice and excess as the good life, a person happy doing his own work is usually considered an eccentric, if not a subversive. Ambition is only understood if it’s to rise to the top of some imaginary ladder of success. Someone who takes an undemanding job because it affords him the time to pursue other interests and activities is considered a flake…. You’ll be told in a hundred ways, some subtle and some not, to keep climbing, and never be satisfied with where you are, who you are, and what you’re doing. … To invent your own life’s meaning is not easy, but it’s still allowed, and I think you’ll be happier for the trouble.”

    —Bill Watterson


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