I used to have a notebook that I kept by my side while I read. When I read something that I liked, which was fairly often, I would write it in the notebook. I imagined myself filling many of these notebooks and then leaving them to my nieces and nephews (yes Sister I plan for you to be the one to carry on the family line). About two years after starting I spilled a completely full cup of coffee — a wonderful Dolce latte from Luke’s Drug Mart — all over it. That and a sketchbook were the victims.
I sat in mourning for all the things that had been lost that day. My quotes. So many beautiful sentences that were now mushy paper and running ink. All the books I’d lived in and spent time in over such a long period of time. The ones that brought me joy. The ones that were an escape when I desperately needed it. I’d just begun the sketchbook so not much was lost. A cup of coffee.
Then there was the cup of coffee I would never get to drink. A cup of coffee that I felt I really needed right about then.
I gave up on writing quotes in notebooks and lining shelves with them. I stopped collecting beautiful sentences.
Then I noticed a blogger I like (the name slips my mind but I remember what his website looks like) was posting quotes he liked. Just random ones with no particular context.
Lately I’ve gotten back into tracking quotes. I don’t plan to keep them in notebooks lest there be an earthquake or an errant cup of coffee. Instead I will leave them here.
I really enjoyed The Art of Asking by Amanda Palmer. Since it’s the end of the month my thoughts on it will be posted imminently. I plan to actually post them right away this time. I do. I am getting better. I even cleaned my room today.
We just draw them and then present our connections to the world as a gift, to be taken or left. This is the artistic act, and it’s done every day by many people who don’t even think to call themselves artists.
Then again, some people are crazy enough to think they can make a living at it.
But I had no clue how anybody got such a job, or what being a wage-earning artist meant in practical terms.
Gifting them my flower — my holy little token — was what made me feel like an artist, someone with something to offer, instead of a charity case.
Over the years, thought, I got used to it, and instead of taking it personally, I began to understand:
Sometimes people don’t want the flower. Sometimes you have to let them walk away.
Feeling gratitude was a skill I honed on the street and dragged along with me into the music industry. I never aimed to please everyone who walked by, or everyone listening to the radio. All I needed was … some people. Enough people. Enough to make it worth coming back the next day, enough to make rent and put food on the table. And enough so I could keep making art.
I desperately needed someone to listen. And once I’d unloaded all my teenage pain on him, he knew the way to win my trust. He never told me what to do.
Instead, he told me stories.
People working in the arts engage in street combat with The Fraud Police on a daily basis, because much of our work is new and not readily or conventionally categorized. When you’re an artist nobody ever tells you or hits you with the magic wand of legitimacy. You have to hit your own head with your own handmade wand. And you feel stupid doing it.
There’s no correct path to becoming a real artist. You might think you’ll gain legitimacy by going to art school, getting published, getting signed to a record label. But it’s all bullshit, and it’s all in your head. You’re an artist when you say you are. And you’re a good artist when you make someone feel something deep or unexpected.
Given the opportunity, some small consistent portion of the population will happily pay for art.
I realize now that I felt chronically guilty about having chosen to be an artist. I didn’t understand this at the time; I just felt a consistent kind of inward torture, pulled towards a life in art while simultaneously feeling foolish for having made that choice. The Fraud Police ate away at me persistently through my twenties; the needling voices simmered below the surface and gnawed at my subconscious in an endless grating loop.
Yes. You’re allowed to do that. Go ahead.
The ideal sweet spot is the one in which the artist can freely share their talents and directly feel the reverberations of their artist gifts to their community, and make a living doing that. In other words it works best when everybody feels seen.
As artists, and as humans: if your fear is scarcity, the solution isn’t necessarily abundance. To quote Brene Brown again:
“Abundance and scarcity are two sides of the same coin. The opposite of ‘never enough’ isn’t abundance or ‘more than you could ever imagine.'”
Which is to say the opposite of ‘never enough’ is simply:
In that moment, I understood something about my writer husband that I’d never understood before. I had a glimpse into the act of writing something down as a direct, very viable escape from pain.
I did my TED talk, and people liked it. My life was starting to grow back, people on the Internet seemed to be tired of hating me and had moved on to being outraged about Miley Cyrus’s decision to twerk. Spring was coming.
Trying is the point of life.
I may have missed some commas because man does Amanda Palmer like to use commas compared to what I am used to. My years as a student journalist beat every last comma using urge out of my body.