Struggle is not incidental and avoidable. It is essential. If you want to be happy or to achieve a dream, then struggle and suffering comes with the deal. There’s no way around it. If you want to live a life without struggle, then it isn’t going to be very interesting and you aren’t going to get much of worth done.
This article is worth reading:
The article poses some very important questions: What pain do you want in your life? What are you willing to struggle for?
The other side of that coin is to ask yourself what struggles you definitely do not want in your life.
What we get out of life is not determined by the good feelings we desire, but by what bad feelings we’re willing and able to sustain, to get us to those good feelings. This is a very interesting way of looking at an artistic journey, don’t you think? You’re setting out on a bumpy, hazardous road. Are you prepared for the trials, setbacks and disappointments? Do you have the determination to withstand the discomforts, until you reach your destination? Can you find a way to enjoy the vicissitudes?
Many people want to start their own business, become established artists or become financially independent. The problem is that you don’t end up being a successful entrepreneur unless you find a way to appreciate the risk, the uncertainty, the repeated failures, and working insane hours on something you have no idea will be successful or not. Can you live with that kind of uncertainty and self-sacrifice for uncertain ends? It’s not so very different when you take on the life of an artist. Obscurity may be the ultimate reward for years of penury, dedication and hard work. Alternatively, you might succeed.
“What pain do you want to sustain?” You have to choose and choose wisely. Some pain won’t be acceptable to you. Other pain you might feel is endurable, if it means you continue to learn and to grow and spend your time doing what you choose to do. The choice is not avoidable, either. If you think that the pain of being a starving artist can be avoided by taking the safer route in life, working in a job, on somebody else’s dream, then guess what? That brings its own pain with it, too. Some of that pain might prove to be more than you want to bear.
The quality of your life is not determined by the quality of your positive experiences but the quality of your negative experiences. To get good at dealing with negative experiences is to get good at dealing with life. Life deals out both kinds of experience. You can rely on that. Positive experiences are easy to deal with and accept. How well you deal with the negative ones is what determines the overall quality of your life.
With that article in mind, I sat down and sketched out which pain I was willing to tolerate and which pain I definitely did not want in my life:
- Struggling to get better at my art – painting bad pictures, recording take 72, messing up the drawing, scrapping a day’s worth of badly written work
- Finding ways to do things that I don’t know how to do, with whatever resources are available to me
- Thinking it through, before claiming I have an answer
- Facing bitter truths
- Writing for long periods of time
- Periods of extended, intense, creative focus of all kinds
- Recording music that might never be heard by anyone
- Designing software that works better and is better than before
- I want to be healthier, so I have to endure all that it takes to get healthier
- Dealing with low-life weasels, snakes, psychopaths and shysters
- Dealing with brain-dead zombies and the wilfully stupid or ignorant
- Dealing with professional jealousy, in all its forms
- Dealing with highly vocal, public humiliation, rejection and denigration
- Living with endless financial precarity
- Sustaining corruptions in government, corporations, wherever it arises, through my taxes, my vote, my work or my spending patterns
- Turning a blind eye to things that can and should be better
- Software coding – too long, intricate and boring, for too little forward movement
- Electronic production design and debugging – again, like embroidery, you get little reward for a lot of effort
You can see that this presents some problems for me. It’s very difficult to make any headway as an artist or musician, unless you are prepared to deal with low-life weasels, snakes, psychopaths and shysters. The industry is liberally peppered with them. It’s like a magnet for them. They are who you have to deal with. My solution may have to be that I delegate.
I’m also going to have to find a way of ignoring the haters and the critics. This might simply amount to never acknowledging them.
I have to face the fact that I am never going to code some of my best ideas, from scratch, in my bedroom. That’s also going to require that I develop skills to enthuse and enlist the support of people that love to work with symbols, secret writing, esoteric languages, backward grammars, obscured ideas and abstract constructs rendered imperfectly in ASCII. Designing software is different to coding software. Contagious enthusiasm is the way forward, I feel.
The same goes for my electronic designs. Unless I can find a way to leverage my knowledge in that sphere, without having to deep-dive into hand-matching the current carrying capabilities of every transistor array I encounter, or re-routing signal layers to avoid noise induction in the power transmission frequency band, I’m just not going to devote enough of my life to suffering with it. It just isn’t going to happen.
Financial precarity might be harder for me to avoid. I haven’t succeeded so far, in a lifetime of trying, no matter what I do. Still, it’s not a form of pain I want to live with. I just don’t have the solution, yet.
Interestingly, a lot of what I find unacceptable can be found in all sorts of jobs, occupations and settings. Sometimes, I encounter more of them outside of art, compared to within art.
How do you want to suffer?
When it comes to my life in music, I am not all that wedded to the daily drudgery of practicing, unless I can make it interesting and fun. I’ve found ways to do that. It involves an element of composition, song writing, improvisation and instructional videos in genres of music I don’t normally play. When practice is like that, I love it.
As for live music, though, the logistics of forming a band, populated with people that have similar values, goals and musical direction, is too daunting for me. I don’t mind the rehearsing, but I hate the artistic differences (i.e. the egos). It’s easier for me, in some ways, to just play all the parts myself in the studio. That brings its own pain and challenges, of course. It also means that playing live is not an option (or an option I am willing to go through the pain of realising). Consequently, building an audience for my music takes on an additional handicap. I can’t take it to the people in live venues.
I didn’t want to climb the mountain of dragging myself to distant gigs, driving ancient vans with few creature comforts, with all my gear, eating crappy fast foods, hoping that my band mates and the audience would turn up and be enthusiastic about the music I want to present, watching my guitars and amps disintegrate with the inevitable knocks and scuffs of life on the road and dealing with having to make sure we get paid by the promoter. The mountain I chose to climb, instead, was in finding a different way to bring my music to the attention of listeners, finding ways to sell and promote my product without tour support and being wholly responsible for the production quality of what I present. That’s the mountain I prefer, even if it is harder to get people excited about what I am doing.
People who enjoy the stresses and uncertainty of the starving artist lifestyle are ultimately the ones who live it and make it. Those that can’t stand it do something else, eventually.
If you’re struggling, that means you’re progressing.
We create because things are not ok (yet).
Let me leave you with a quote of a quote I extracted from an article by Chris Hedges:
“Let me give you a word of the philosophy of reforms,” Frederick Douglass [African-American social reformer, abolitionist, orator, writer, and statesman] said in 1857. “The whole history of the progress of human history shows that all concessions yet made to her august claims have been born of struggle. … If there is no struggle there is no progress. Those who profess to favour freedom and yet deprecate agitation are men who want crops without ploughing up the ground. They want rain without thunder and lightning. They want the ocean without the awful roar of its many waters. The struggle may be a moral one; or it may be a physical one; or it may be both moral and physical, but it must be a struggle. Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will.”