DOROTHY: I don’t like this forest. It’s dark and creepy.
SCARECROW: Of course I don’t know but I think it will get darker before it gets lighter.
DOROTHY: Do you suppose we’ll meet any wild animals?
TIN MAN: Some, but mostly Lions and Tigers and Bears.
My artist’s life is wonderful, beautiful, and also very scary, dark and creepy. When I chose this path or it chose me, I started to make sacrifices, many times putting my art above being financially secure: leaving law school, choosing more menial and transitory music jobs to make a living, all to my own financial detriment for sure. So when doing the work, living in process, perfecting my craft and hopefully showing that work, the Lease, the Job and the Taking Care of Ourselves gets darker before it gets lighter, it gets the “I’ll worry about that when the crisis comes.” The forest gets thicker and blacker, the animal noises grow and become more menacing and the thought comes to mind, “How in the hell am I gonna get through this!?” How will I pay the rent, get through this shift, and yes, ‘bear’ it all….Oh My. Leases and Tippers and Bears, Oh My. Leases and Tippers and…well you get it.
As artists we seldom seem like we have it together. (Some seem to have it all together and we messy artists secretly loathe, worship, and compare ourselves to them. Those lousy together artist. *spit*) We ‘untogether’ artists can seem random, scattered, unorganized, not overly concerned about outward appearances of status, seemingly not following the typical everyday norms that deem us to be keeping up with the comfortable, bland Jones’. -I see the Jones’ not as some benchmark for financial success but more as the keepers of conventional wisdom, the common denominator that makes us feel safe, like a Youtube video of three kittens playing with a ball of string or an episode of Everyone Loves Raymond. But of course the artist’s life is fraught many times with financial insecurity. So that most used bludgeon of the Jones’ is totally apropos as well unfortunately. –pulls pockets out and frowns clownishly-
Sometimes an artist’s messy life makes people uncomfortable. Many times it makes us as artists feel uncomfortable. Long story short it makes me uncomfortable. I’m uncomfortable. Crawling skin and sleepless nights uncomfortable. I’ve been bouncing around subletting, trying to find a livable affordable living situation, going what it seems like from one doomed apartment situation to the next. I’ve been back to waiting tables and beating up my 45 year-old back and arches, all the while trying to figure out a way to do as much art as possible and have any quality of life. Some quality. And I do. But it is just some. Not much quality of life. ..lately. The last three to four years especially. And mostly because New York City decimated any financial security I had accumulated. So this is a sad, sad story. The ultimate cliché. ‘The sad life of the starving artist,’ ‘the aging artist,’ ‘the artist who hasn’t made it.’ Boo-hoo. Yeah, I’m heckling myself right now. (“Get a job!”)
I had an interesting conversation with a fellow waiter at my slightly past trendy Asian restaurant last night. He, 27 with a boyish look and swagger of a teenager, told me he was headed back to school next semester. I asked him what he wanted to do, always thinking people will tell me what their Dream is. Capital D-Dream. He told me he wanted to become a CPA. I asked him if he loved numbers. Me, head rested on hands, dreamily wide-eyed waiting for his poetic reply. He said nah. Nah? (Record needle scratch.) Not following a dream?! Agahst! Egads! He continued. “I don’t have a passion. I want to make money, have enough to have a house and support a family and be able to do my hobbies. That’s what I want.” He didn’t seem to be angsty at all. A sudden wash of jealousy filled me. Then the band-wagon showed up. That sounds fantastic! I remember having the same feeling. I wanted that! I wanted the simplicity of that. The conventional wants of being a human being that I denigrate in my mind so often. Why do I have a dream?! What good is following a dream if it brings so much insecurity and stress into my life? How long can I have a dream and not collapse under the pressure of it? I want a family and a house and travel and hobbies. Don’t I?
Creativity is a drug. I feel like the drug addict who has passed the point of no return, not wanting to continue without the fix of the laughter of the audience, the tears that a phrase I write creates, the elation of completing that perfect lyric or paragraph of dialogue. When I see an audience of hundreds of people react to what I have written, all the stress melts away, the clouds part and it’s all skipping down the Yellow Brick Road. I have experienced that, fortunately or unfortunately as your philosophy might have it. So one take is that I am beyond returning to the simplicity and ease of being an accountant (or lawyer in my case,) or my perceived idea that that life has simplicity or more ease. Who knows? I know there is no fiber of my being that doesn’t want to follow a dream with a capital D. My dream that I am following, but would like to be following in a more healthy way. A dream that does not take place in the thick of the forest surrounded by Lions and Tigers and Bears. Oh My. Oh my God I don’t want to wait on another person ever again.
I just finished my first month of Retirement Plan: Broadway! One month out of one-hundred and twenty months! The thought of all the magic I can make in that time is overwhelming to me at times. The fear that the terrain stays the same is paralyzing at times. The Leases and Tippers and Bear-ing it all. Holding up.
The Cowardly Lion’s scary demeanor crumbles when confronted by Dorothy. He spills his guts. He’s scared most of the time:
-It’s been in me so long, I just gotta tell you how I feel. I’m just a cowardly lion. But I could show my prowess be a lion not a mouse if I only had the nerve.
Dorothy, however, is content to just go home and be surrounded by people she loves. Or knows. Or settles to love. Or settles to know. Does Dorothy have a dream? Is that the moral of the story? Be content with the simple things? Or does she not have the nerve? Why are some people born to follow a passion and others are blessed to not have to? Dorothy is the hero of the story, no?
I guess I’m more the Scarecrow, the Tin Man, the Lion, than Dorothy. Does it matter what category you fall into. You just are that.
I took the steps to make the Leases and Tippers and Bears more manageable when I moved back to Philly. Yet I’m in the Kansas tornado still. And that’s Ok. Ok? Of course I don’t know, but it’s bound to get lighter soon.