ONE YEAR LATER: Six Things I Learned From Following My Dream

dream
A year ago, I dropped out of design school to get married and publish a novel. It was one of the weirdest, most terrifying decisions of my life. I’ve changed more in the last year than in the previous twenty-five—or maybe I’m just feeling dramatic today. Regardless, I want to share with you a few meditations.

  1. Relationships are always more important. As an obsessive-compulsive creator, I have to learn this lesson again and again every day. Our culture has taught us to make something of ourselves and follow our dreams and be rock stars. Lady Gaga cut this seemingly harmless sentiment to its awful core with the famous quote, “…your career will never wake up and tell you that it doesn’t love you anymore.” Oh, she was so wrong. My writing career wakes up a good three days out of seven and tells me to go to hell. If I had chosen to marry it, rather than Danae, I would have already descended into abject misery. As it is, I am learning to live a balanced life—one which puts loved ones ahead of creativity. This prioritization is essential because…
  2. Art is a gift. Art is not a way to get famous, make money, or wield cultural influence. Neither is it strictly self-expression. It is a gift of healing which, if you are a creator, you are called to give away to other people. Rather than trying to make a splash or impress people, you should just listen to that inner painter-poet. If you are truly a creator, that inner painter-poet will speak. The best thing you can do is get out of the way and let it flow—through yourself, out, and into the world, where it can change a mind or a heart or even a life. Getting out of the way becomes easier when you realize that…
  3. You are a funny person. Taking yourself super-seriously is dumb. The way you look, talk, dress, think, act, post, write, sing, and play is kinda funny. Unique, quirky, beautiful, intrinsically and metaphysically full of gravitas (since it is a sincere human expression), and yet funny beyond belief. You don’t have to make an impression on people. You don’t have to come across right. You are silly and excellent, just the way you are. It’s important to remember this, because you’ll soon discover that…
  4. Your work is not as good as you think it is. Not gonna lie, I thought The Tower of Babel was revolutionary. I still know it’s mildly unique in literature, but when I published it, I thought it was the bee’s knees. However, consistent feedback from confused readers has shown me that I tend to live (and write) in my own head. Nobody can experience the network of my thoughts, the interconnectedness of everything in my fiction or in my picture of How Life Works, unless I give people a little help. This was the lesson I had to learn a year ago, and my blindness to it then tells me that I am blind to another lesson right now—and that I will be blind again and again, for a long time, maybe till I die. When this gets too hard to handle, I simply reread number 3 above. But I find I can get over it from another angle too, because…
  5. You, the person, are better than you think you are. This one comes with an asterisk: if you commune with God and let him make you beautiful. On your own, yes, you are the sum of your failures; you are a drunk in the gutter at 2 AM. But sing hallelujah from the gutter, and damn well mean it, and you just might be moving towards God. It’s the only thing you were ever meant to do. You’ll find this path more fulfilling than trying to make a splash because, no matter how hard you try…
  6. Nobody wins. Selling more ebooks (more than what? Than whom?) isn’t winning. Playing more shows isn’t winning. Pushing people away because you have serious art things to do isn’t winning. If there is any confusion, see numbers 1 and 3 above.

Don’t get me wrong: I haven’t arrived yet. But I have begun to see. I hope I’ve helped you to see, too. 

Mediocrity

bandcampI’ve had enough of mediocrity. I understand that we can all make art now; but most of us have no business doing it. Spotify is paying musicians pennies on the penny, and laptop speakers on college campuses sleep in a haze of jangly indie sameness. Amazon is drunk on Kindle books whose covers feature jpeg compression and the finest typography that Word 95 could ever have mustered. Another talented indie filmmaker is posting a great film to Vimeo right now, but you’ll never see it. Among other things, I just promoted The Tower of Babel for about $270 and made $19.18 in return.

This is art today, in snapshot and panorama. The grave is dug. If you aren’t helping yet, grab a shovel and start making an album.

This is a two-edged sword, for both the talented and the untalented. For those who should actually be heard, it’s now easier than ever to produce a creative work. (I use the term technically. Production is not the actual making, but how the thing made gets from artist to you.) The infrastructure is there. You just upload your stuff. But the side of the sword that will kill you is the fact that everyone else can do it too, and this creates noise. You may have a right to be heard, since your stuff is excellent; but the nobodies all around you are cluttering up the airwaves.

For the untalented, life is great! You’re in a band! You made an album! You put it on Bandcamp! People listened to it! People gave it Facebook Likes! This is like Led Zeppelin, but you can do whatever you want! Yeah, you listen to them! You’re a rock star! You’re playing at The Musica next week! (Oh wait, it’s just Musica, not The Musica?) Sure, the “promoter” is making you sell tickets, but hey, you’re in a band! You made an album! You put it on Bandcamp! So what’s the bad side of the sword for you? The fact that the stuff you’re pouring into the wonderful art-sharing infrastructure of the Interwebs just plain sucks. You will never receive the recognition you crave, because you are not making something that people need.

We are living in unprecedented times for the world of the arts. To paraphrase a certain old-school guy, it’s a great time to be an artist, it’s an awful time to be an artist. It’s a great time to be in the audience, it’s an awful time to be in the audience.

I think it’s Monday.