Friday, March 16, 2012
Screw The Devil You Know
For the longest time, I feared a creative career would make me hate being creative. I'd heard authors and artists complain bitterly about compromising their vision or bowing to market pressure or client whims, or having to spend all their time making only one kind of thing which limited their time to explore other kinds of things. Selling creative product corrupted their joy.
I was terrified of that. Of losing art. Losing the joy of creating. It's very personal and satisfying and self-indulgent to tap the imagination. A person can do lifetimes of living deep within.
What would I do if art and language ceased to delight? The very notion is unbearable. I don't mean to be melodramatic about that, but it is. Unbearable to lose that passion, that escape, that huge component of my identity. And because I worried so much that a creative career would corrupt my enjoyment of it, I kept it to myself and working was only a means of supporting my creative habit. Art was my fantastical plan C or E or Q. It wasn't something you do for a living, it's what you do after you get home from doing what you do for a living. Art is for evenings and weekends and to be set aside before the rigors of a real work day.
I worked and I created and I didn't sleep much, and all the while I secretly hated myself for giving it up like that. And I resented any intrusions into my creative "free time." I harbored anger, I nurtured dread, and I fed my inner-critic to bursting. But the Devil you know, right? At least going without art most of the time spared me the possibility of going without forever.
I worked a wide variety of jobs, putting in sometimes twelve hour days just to race home clinging to whatever kernel of an idea I was attempting in the hope I could execute it before exhaustion set in. Road Crew was among the more vivid as it involved scraping up road-kill, repairing guard rails, digging ditches, washing trucks, laying asphalt, applying hundreds upon hundreds of those little yellow reflectors... It may sound strange, but clearing culverts and rotting street-meat remains one of my most favorite support-my-writing-habit jobs. It was physical and demanding and my brain was my own most of my time. I could re-direct traffic and still write in my head all day long. I could be there, and not be there at the same time. It was great. On the other hand, that's also a recipe for getting run over. Happily, I didn't.
Now that I have children, I look back on "my youth" in awe of the vast quantities of "free time" I had at my disposal and wonder, "why didn't I do more [enter any fun or productive pass-time]?" I didn't vacation, I didn't party, I didn't entertain friends much or tackle my increasingly long list of hobbies and activities I'd like to get to one of these days. Instead, I hoarded and funneled what time I could into my real work, my life's work, my raison d'etre. I learned, I wrote, I drew. Effort and inspiration poured out of me in sporadic, undisciplined bursts, often stalling out or switching projects as energy came and went. Then back to work to earn scratch enough to keep buying supplies, to keep dreaming.
I don't know exactly when I started to really care about including others in my dreams. I know I did care, right from the start, but at some point it became an actual goal, sharing with others. It wasn't enough to make something, I wanted that something to be seen and felt, I wanted to engage with others, to be heard and to listen. Maybe I grew up a little. I realized I'd sabotaged years of creative productivity by wasting years' worth of available productive hours on irrelevant labors and being afraid of losing something I couldn't actually separate from myself if I tried. I'm an artist. I'm a writer. I can't not be, I don't know how. Thanks to a collection of odd jobs, I do know how to do a ton of other things. I console myself saying these experiences all feed the writing, they all inspire the art, but I'd rather have that time back. If I had it, I'd probably write a better post.
On the other hand, I don't know if I'd have thought of the cartoon...