How many of us never start something, because we’re afraid of the ending: will we succeed, or will we crash and burn, looking the fool. Fear is healthy. Fear keeps us from jumping off cliffs (without the right safety gear), acting out the way we want, sending us to hangout with a crook named Ernie behind bars or in a cozy padded room; it keeps us from losing that which we love. But fear sometimes is just a toothless shadow, that keeps us from trying new things, living life to the fullest, and pursuing our dreams.
I think of myself as a rebel, someone who doesn’t give a f*ck about what people think, but really some days I’m scared. Like really scared. Scared to death of failure of making the wrong choices, and missing out. I’m afraid of not working hard enough and so will fall short of my dreams; I’m afraid of looking like a crazy idiot “in front” of all these people that know my chosen career path. And so begins the cycle of not taking chances, because I don’t think I’m good enough, then hating myself later because I didn’t take a chance, ending me up in a mental bog of anxiety, frustration, and more fear. A bog like, you know, the one in the Lord of the Rings when Frodo falls in because he followed the lights and Gollum gets to have a heroic moment.
Anyway . . .
About a month ago, I made the pilgrimage to the Black Sheep a divey music venue in Colorado Springs. I want to go to more live music shows and so my goal this year is to visit as many of the small venues in the area as possible, without becoming completely broke. Brick + Mortar a two piece band from New Jersey was the band I was seeing that night at this legendary venue.
During their set, they shared the story behind their song “Bangs” (I love when artists do this.) The lead singer and bassist (I’m always impressed when someone can play bass and sing.) Brandon Asraf shared that like many, he was afraid of not making it. He was afraid of looking like a fool. He said that the road to the stage had been long, hard, and not traveled without perseverance. He said this is what their song “Bangs” is about: it’s about the contradictory voices in an artist’s consciousness. One day the voices will say “This piece you are working on is the absolute sh*t, you’re the sh*t!” (“This is awesome! You’re going far, kid. Woohoo!”) Then the next week or next day the voices will say “Wow, you’re sh*t. This is sh*t.” (You really think you’re going somewhere with that crap? Wow, you’re crazy and delusional. You’re going to end up living in a box, and no one will remember your name, because you’re an untalented weird, crazy turd.”)
Asraf ended his story with (paraphrased), “You know, eventually I decided not to give a f*ck, because I love making music, and so I don’t have a choice. I have to make music whether I ‘make it’ or not. Do what makes you feel alive and don’t give a f*ck.” The song began and the room was alive with an energy of hopeful rebellion:
I know I’m never gonna make it anyway
I think I’m gonna make it anyway
I know but really I just don’t care
I think I’m gonna make it anyway
I know the things that I just can’t say
I think I’m gonna say ’em anyway
I know I think I’ve finally found my way
I think I’m gonna make it today
I don’t know about the other people in the crowd, if they were artists or had big dreams, but I felt a giant weight lift off my shoulders. I felt like I could breath again. I still care about “making it” and making a career, but I was reminded why I create: because I love it, because it makes me feel alive, because I can’t not create. This attitude took the focus off “making it” and the fear of living in a box and no one remembering my name, that my writing would become recycled for commercial toilet paper (the worst of all toilet papers!); to focusing on the actual art I’m working on and loving on the actual piece instead of cutting it, stretching it, and manipulating it into something that I think the gods of the commercial universe will deem acceptable. I am a screenwriter so I understand the importance of the commercial properties of a work, but for my own sanity I needed to stop thinking about that part of the process.
Being an artist is really great. People think you’re cool and thoughtful, and mysterious. They talk about when they will say “I knew you when.” But being an artist is also hard. Often times, I feel misunderstood. I feel frustrated when people wonder why I don’t have something done. Granted, I have my own problems of finishing things and really struggle to order my life around writing, versus hoping that I’ll have some time to write. (The universal struggle of creating: balancing all of life’s and art’s demands.) I also struggle when I feel like I’m sacrificing things for reaching the end goal and the end goal feels so far away.
But that’s why it’s really awesome when other people with similar goals share how they felt or are feeling about “making it,” or the struggles and pressures of being an artist. We remember we’re human and we’re in it together with a bunch of other humans who are trying to make something of themselves and share a piece of their souls. And we see them when they succeed, and remember to work harder and we succeed. And they will see us when we succeed, and they will work harder and succeed.
It is like we are all in a world of perpetual darkness, each person carrying a torch. Sometimes our torch, our dreams, our passions, who we are dims and goes out. We are discouraged and we question everything about who we are and what we are doing. We don’t care, and we feel like giving into the current of what “everyone else” is doing. But then we hear a song like “Bangs,” or read about someone’s story of perseverance, or someone gives us a kind, hopeful word, our torch is re-lit and we stand up tall once again, and continue walking our path, perhaps re-lighting the torch of someone else. We can be like Samwisw Gamgee helping carry each other to the top of our own mountain. (I really love Lord of the Rings. Can you tell?)
Seriously, though . . .
We underestimate ourselves so often. We can. We will. But who really cares, because we’re living right now.