Guest Post: Sometimes The Muse Can Be A Cruel Mistress
(Today we have a guest post by by Barry Howard. He is an artist that lives in a small trailer he pulls with his bicycle! I have tremendously enjoyed his blog and encourage all of you to check it out. http://theaimlesslywanderingartist.blogspot.com/ A recent post really moved me and I want to share it with all of you. As you read it you may think “I’m not an artist, this doesn’t apply to me.” But I believe it does. I believe your whole life is a work of art that you were placed her to create and the only sin you can possibly commit is to fail to create it. If you aren’t an “artist,” simply think of whatever you have a passion for in life.)
Many people die with their music still in them. Why is this so? Too often it is because they are always getting ready to live. Before they know it, time runs out. ~Oliver Wendell Holmes
Yesterday I was working on a new painting station that attaches to the front of the caravan. I had some paintings stacked inside and was just rummaging around when a woman approached suddenly and asked if I would resolve an argument she was having with her husband. I haven’t usually been known for my marriage counseling skills but still, I wanted to be helpful…like when you ask someone for directions and they don’t really know but will try anyway…”Well, I think you go down this way and take the fourth or fifth street and go left, or maybe right, yeh, I think go right and then it’s maybe a mile or so, I think, no, wait, don’t do that, go down here about six blocks and take a right where the flashing yellow light use to be, then…”
You know, they just want to be helpful…so I said, “sure, be glad to…” “Do you think,” she asked, “that there are some people who get bitten by a Muse?” I thought about that and wasn’t sure what she meant. Did she really want to know if I believed there was some kind of little fairy-person who could bite you, vampire like, and then you would forever be driven by an insatiable lust for art and creative expression? “What do you mean by that?” I asked. “I mean, do you think that some people just have to make art or sing or dance in order to be happy in life?” she explained. “Oh,” I replied, “sure, in my own case, definitely. I don’t feel I really ever had any other choice but to do what I’m doing….” The husband had been hanging back, standing off a ways, clearly not wanting any of this conversation or at all interested in my take on it. It turns out that the question concerned their 18 year old daughter who was a singer. Mom, obviously, was siding with the daughter’s desire to pursue singing as a career, whereas Dad thought this was foolish and irresponsible.
“I remember very clearly standing next to my friend on the first day of kindergarten and saying, as they passed out the Crayons and paper, “This is what I love to do!” I already knew then what my passion was. I’ve never had any doubt that pursuing an art career was what I would do…often to my own disadvantage…” “See?” the woman said to her husband…”often to his own disadvantage…”she repeated, nodding her head up and down. Now the husband edged closer, feeling emboldened to make his argument. “I don’t see why you can’t have both.” he said. I knew what he meant by this….I’ve heard this argument many times. When people say this they usually mean that they don’t see why a person can’t just go for a “safe” career path with some security, and do their art, or singing in this case, in their spare time. “Because,” I replied to the dad, “If you have a very strong passion for something, it’s what you want to devote most of your time and energy to. If you do it in your spare time, it’s a hobby, not a career. And to get very good at anything takes a great deal of time and devotion. And besides, when you choose something else to make your living at, it’s giving up before you have really tried. I have always been ruled,” I went on, “by the terrifying fear of getting to the other end of my life and saying to myself, “I wish I had gone for it….really pursued my dreams instead of hanging back in fear of failure.” That, to me, is the worst thing I can imagine, because by then it’s too late. You’ve spent your life doing something you don’t really love, maybe don’t even care very much about. You’ve spent your life putting your energy into making someone else’s dream come true. Your employer’s. Now, if you love your job, really love what you do, then that’s great, you get the best of both worlds. Some people don’t have a built in passion for one thing that obliterates everything else, and those people are lucky in a way. There have been many times when, exhausted by the effort it can take to keep trying to figure out how to make it work, I’ve wished I was the sort of person who could just work in a little hardware store or something and be happy with that. Yunno, just enjoy my coworkers, go home, go bowling on the weekends or whatever and be content. That is a gift, but it’s not a gift I have. I seem to have been born with this monkey on my back…this non-negotiable drive to create as much art as well as I can before I leave this life. It is certainly not an easy path, and it’s cost me much….security, a stable relationship, and certain freedoms that come with choosing a more predictable path. It’s never been straightforward and clear, I am always having to figure out how to proceed and hope it all works. And here’s the thing,” I went on, “maybe your daughter will succeed wildly and maybe she will fail, but if she tries and fails, and then chooses to change course and do something else it will be because she went for it and came to her own decision…but if you advise her to take a path she really isn’t passionate about in order to be safe, she may one day look back and regret having made that choice…she will always wonder what would have happened if she went for it…and she may resent you for steering her away from what was most important to her. But maybe she won’t fail… I always think of what John Lennon’s aunt said to him when he was a kid. She said, “The guitar is fine, John, but you’ll never make a living at it.” The Dad seemed to really listen to what I said, and I don’t know what he felt about it…I don’t know what happened after that…they drifted off and I went back to my work. There are so many different paths and ways to go about life and it’s all a trade off. Maybe nothing is perfect. But I know that much of the incredible and wonderful art, and music and literature and science out there would never exist if the people that brought those creations into being had chosen a more conservative path. The very nature of art and science is exploring the edges of the boundaries of what’s known or familiar…of putting oneself out on the edge…and it’s not necessarily a safe place out there. It’s not necessarily a comfortable life all the time. But I think the ones who put themselves out there beyond the boundaries add the bold accents to the fabric of our lives. Some people see artists as self indulgent and irresponsible, but those of us who occupy the fringes to do what we do, sacrifice a lot….and really, I don’t think we have any real choice to do otherwise.