Note: this entry was originally posted on 2/17/2010. I’ve resurrected it here for convenience and because it is hella pertinent to my current situation. And probably, several of yours.
Like every unpublished young writer, I yearn for the day when my name is not familiar to a mere handful of people, but uttered with reverence throughout every household in America (and possibly even the Mother Country). I spend many of my waking nights longing for a day when the power of my words captivate the lives of people I’ve never personally met, and will never meet. I pine after the glory of literary immortality–or heck, if we’re being honest, even 395 pages of top 100 grade entertaining crap–like it’s the last drop of SPF 40 on the surface of the sun.
Also like many attempted authors who came before me–and those who will undoubtedly follow in my footsteps one day, provided the world does not spontaneously implode–I struggle.
You see, I have this theory about artists. We’ve all heard the oft-repeated adage(s) about “struggling actors,” “starving artists,” or “naked musicians”; how being “in want” of important things are somehow imperative to any type of creative success. (Not sure if that last one applies to what I’m talking about, but I’m sure it’s equally true.) But the one thing nobody seems to mention about this universally accepted truth is that yes, deprivation does tend to build character, but how much is necessary before it simply becomes cliché and redundant? And is one form of deprivation somehow preferable to another?
To answer this question, I set out to observe a few of the starving and/or struggling people I know. (And yes, darlings, there is most DEFINITELY a difference between the two.) Including myself, the creative masses who fell into the category of “struggling” were oft quite successful by other standards. Indeed, having a good job, good grades and functional relationships might be more than enough for an ordinary, non-creative person. But that’s exactly why we struggle. For us, it’s the balance of these other desirable things that makes finding the time to create our dreams a bit tricky. Especially when there are so many functional friends, relatives and significant others there for us at all times, telling us what should or should not be a priority in our lives. (Hint: this is a problem because usually, the world tends to rank those lovely frivolous little dreamer tasks toward the bottom, when there are 9-5 jobs and hungry little mouths present in the equation. Hard to say no to those things.)
On the other hand, there are the starving ones: those who’ve chosen to place all other earthly (and some might say practical) goals aside in the pursuit of their one true creative mission in life. Many generations have looked down on this decision, coining terms like “beatnik” or the aforementioned “starving artist” to describe them, as though the abandonment of “ordinary,” “respectable” pursuits (e.g accounting, or architecture) makes them selfish in some way. Or out of touch with reality. In their defense, though, I like to think they’ve simply got a lot more balls than the rest of us do. But that’s not to say that the nay-sayers don’t have a point.
In today’s age of ever-present expenses and epidemic consumerism, not many have the luxury of starving themselves to satisfy their lifestyle of choice. And those who do aren’t guaranteed the perspective granted to those who, in past times, became “deeper” because of their suffering. Based on my experience, those who’ve chosen starvation over the struggle simply get lazier, fatter and more depressed–because that’s what a steady diet of ninety-nine cent fast food hamburgers and ramen noodles does, didn’t you know? But hey, one only has to read an in-depth interview with a top 10 artist/writer in Newsweek to find the exception.
Sometimes, I have to wonder though. Do those who’ve found success ever build up their suffering (post-suffer, of course) for heightened drama? Heck, I probably will if I ever get famous. (Imagine me making a ridiculous, self-effacing facial expression here.) “I still remember those days when I had to walk to and from campus in thirteen-degree weather…now my private helicopter pilot just drops me off on the roof of wherever I need to be…(sigh) Those were hard times.” Psssht. Right. If I ever hope to be a bestselling author, I’m going to need to come up with something a little more heart-wrenching. Like eating beans out of a tin can, which were always unevenly heated due to my homely little hot plate, and even the broken down old hot plate was against the rules in the communal hovel where I lived. …See what I mean? Starving artistry has become the ULTIMATE cliché.
So, for now, I guess I’ll just have to keep on struggling. (Sigh…)