Shit I Wish Someone Had Told Me Sooner About Being An Artist

An open letter from one young artist to another.

Just because I’m kind of at the point where I’ve figured some of this shit out, and also because I’m worried that I never entirely will.

You don’t need to have a tortured past in order to be an artist.

You can be a happy person. You can also be an artist.
Like, you seriously can grow up in the suburbs of Ohio and call your mom every day and and still be an artist. You can.

It’s okay to like your parents. It really is. It’s okay if you never joined a street gang, or went to prison, or survived an addiction. If your life turned out that way –- oh, god, please make art about it! But deliberately self-destructing because you think it’d be great material for your one-man show? Ain’t nobody got time for that.

Drugs do not make you an artist.

Don’t get me wrong – they can be a form of release, they can be enlightening, they can be spiritual, they can be hella fun. But you don’t need them to be an artist. My drugs of choice are booze and cheese and men, and that’s not changing anytime soon. But they don’t make me an artist. They just make me someone who likes drinking and brie and making out with dudes. And frankly, it’s kind of hard to get any actual work done when you’re drunk and have the dairy farts with some dude waiting in your bed.

You don’t need to try cocaine just “for the story.” You just don’t.

Tattoos don’t make you an artist. Piercings don’t make you an artist. Wearing a hat doesn’t make you an artist.

It just makes you someone with a unique look. Which is awesome! Express yourself however the fuck you want to. But seriously, girl in line at the Starbucks wearing a leotard and a wig and fishnet stockings and loudly talking about “your craft” – dressing like Sally Bowles all day just makes you a girl wearing a bowler hat who wants an iced venti Americano. And girl, you looked great! But that shit doesn’t make you an artist.

Having an internet connection doesn’t make you an artist.

Great art can be created and shared via the internet in incredible and meaningful ways. I am certainly not arguing that. I’m writing this on my blog, for fuck’s sake.

But having a twitter account and being an artist are not interchangeable.

Being poor does not make you an artist.

It’s an unfortunate byproduct for most of us, which is a shitty and complicated situation that I wish were easier to unpack and understand and change. But in the meantime? Being poor just means that you don’t get to have nice things, and that you have to fight a little harder to survive, and that your gas bill doesn’t get paid on time, and you probably don’t eat enough iron. And if you’re lucky enough to have figured out how to make art and rent at the same time? That’s so great! You don’t have to feel guilty about that.

You can have health insurance and still be an artist.

Talking about being an artist is inherently less interesting than just making art.

I’m so incredibly guilty of this.

It’s not anyone’s fault that you’re not famous. 

Not the establishment’s, not the industry’s, not your parents’, not mine, not yours. Period.
And really, although recognition is nice, do you really want to be famous, anyway?

*

Hard work won’t make you an artist. But it’ll help.

Being nice to people won’t make you an artist. But it’ll help.

Learning won’t make you an artist. But it’ll help.

Listening more won’t make you an artist. But it’ll help.

Fear won’t make you an artist. It can actually cripple you, if you let it.
So don’t let it. Tackle it. Face it. Make art about it. And it’ll help.

*

Writing this blog post doesn’t make me an artist. It just makes me some girl with a blog.

But I hope it helps.

 

 

I Am Both Big And Little At The Same Time.

“But Daddy, why can’t I have this one?” asks the little girl, no older than four, her shoes squeaking on the floor as she jumps and wriggles.

“Because it’s for little girls,” says her father, who has tired circles under his eyes. “You are too big.”

“I am not,” says the little girl, indignantly. “I am a kid. I am little. I am very little.”

“But you are too big for that toy,” says her father. “That is a toy for someone who is littler than you.”

“I am not,” she says, but with less conviction. “I am still a kid and I am a little girl.”

“Come on,” says her dad. As he takes her hand, gently, she places the toy back on the shelf.

“Daddy,” says the little girl. “I am both very little and I am also not very little. Am I a big girl and a little girl at the same time?”

“Yes,” says her father. “You are.”

She mulls it over as she toddles beside the red shopping cart, holding her father’s hand. She giggles at first.

“That’s silly, Daddy.”

And then it dawns on her, slowly, how it is still true.

 

As the so-called “adult” who just ate ice cream for dinner, I can’t help but think, “I feel ya, sister.”

 

****

 

personal note: If you’re a regular reader of this blog and couldn’t help but notice that I disappeared for like, three weeks — I’m totally still alive. Just got busy and forgot to write. Was so hoping that I could make a glorious and dramatic comeback to my online writing life with a post explaining that I had fallen madly in love, or fought off a band of vicious pirates, or anything slightly more compelling than “she’s been working a lot and hasn’t done her laundry in like a month and keeps trying to function on like three hours of sleep,” but ….. Alas, alas, alas.

 

Can you please….. I just need to get through.

I’m out shopping this afternoon. It’s rainy, and cold, and I’m in a hurry. My winter boots are cheap, and worn almost through — my socks are starting to absorb the moisture that has leaked through the cracks in the sole.

I’m in a busy part of the city at a busy time of the day, but it’s quiet in the beauty supply store when I get there. The security guard smiles, makes a joke about the weather as I try to shake the water from my shoes and coat. I’m helped at the wig counter by a woman who has helped me before. She smiles and rolls her eyes as I walk in – what is this crazy costume design lady gonna ask for this time? 

I have the wig in my hand, and I’m headed up the stretch of long aisles towards the front of the store, where an older woman sits behind the register, windexing the counter. I’m in the middle aisle, with the wig in one hand and my phone in the other, my purse slung across my shoulder, when I notice a man in a hooded sweatshirt blocking my path. He’s in his fifties, maybe. Skinny. Bearded. Dirty jeans. Looking at eyeshadows.

I get a little closer, and as he sees me coming, he leans forward, resting his elbows on the makeup counter, extending his legs so as to make it impossible for me to pass through. He makes eye contact with me as he does so. He smiles a little. I realize he is missing teeth.

“Excuse me,” I say. “I just need to get through.”

He smiles, again. He hasn’t stopped looking at me this whole time. His eyes remain focused on mine. His lips turn upwards slightly into a half-smile. The left-hand corner of his mouth twitches a little. I don’t like how it makes me feel.

“Not till I get them digits on your phone,” he says.

I purse my lips.

“Uh,” I say. “No, thank you. I just… uh. Can you please let me by?”

He leans closer. My shoulders shrink backward.

“No,” he says. “Not till we have sex.”

I feel as if this moment lasts a very long time and not any time passes at all.

“I just need to get through now,” I say.

He doesn’t move. My heart is rattling, scratchy.

“I need to get through,” I say.

He shrugs. “Suit yourself.”

Slowly, with his eyes still on me, he raises his hands,  a gesture of surrender.

He moves out of the way. I walk past him, towards the register. I make my purchase and leave.

When I look behind me to see if he is still in the store, I don’t find him. I walk quickly back to work, partly because of the drizzling rain, partly because I’m newly aware of how, in a stretch of a few blocks, how easy it could be to shove me into an alleyway, how quickly I could disappear.

*

Here’s a funny thing about privilege. It’s all kind of relative, right?

Here’s what I thought about, as I walked back to work:

I know I am privileged because I found this incident upsetting.
Because something like that hadn’t happened to me in awhile.

I know I am privileged because this kind of thing doesn’t happen to me regularly.
If it did, my heart probably wouldn’t have been beating as fast as it did.

I know I am privileged because I got to walk out of the rain and into my workplace.
Where I could tell people, and they listened, and said, “Ew,” and “I’m sorry.”

It had probably been three months since the last time I was that viscerally afraid of an assault, since the last time my stomach contracted and I had wildly calculated my options in the span of a few seconds.

That, to me, is progress.

And that’s incredibly fucking sad.

*

Poll: It’s time to take the car for an errand! Do you first check:

a) The rearview mirror
b) The gas tank
c) The undercarriage and backseat for hidden rapists and assailants?

What? Did your mothers not tell you to do that?

*

I’ve talked about gender issues here before. Gender equality has become a big topic in my small world, more so in recent weeks than most — a lot of important discussion being generated specifically as it pertains to women in my chosen field.

I could say more, and I will. But here’s what I will say for now:

I love being a woman. It’s the foundation, the cornerstone of who I am, informing all the rest of it. Being a woman is the way I smell and the way my hair moves and the way my body curves and the way I breathe and the conversations I have and the voice I inhabit and the logic of my mind and the warmth of my soul. It’s everything and I wouldn’t change it for the world.

Being a woman is also being a little bit afraid all of the time.
Being a woman is to choose safe rather than sorry.

Being a woman is having to figure out what to do if the guy from the wig store follows you home.

And that sucks and I wish that were different.
And that sucks and I wish that were different.

And that SUCKS.

And I wish that were different.

Except this is entirely perfect.

I had a long day.

A good day, but a long day. The kind of day where my head feels porous and all the thoughts keep leaking out of it. My to-do list is snaking out of my notebook and coiling around the pit of my stomach, settling in so securely that I’ve already forgotten what it’s like to not worry about thirty things at once. It’s a very busy time for me right now with work, and I’m not as good at multitasking as I think I am. There are quiet alarm bells constantly ringing, and it’s all I can do to keep them at bay. I’m convinced that I’m never going to get it all done, that it’s all going to fall apart.

That I’m letting someone down by taking the time to type this blog entry, instead of typing one of the dozen emails that I owe to people.

That I’m letting everyone down, period.

I decided to go see a play tonight – this heartbreaking, quiet, beautiful play – mostly because it was the only night I could see it, and because I thought it might be good to shut my anxiety brain down and get out of my head for a few hours. It was a good move. It was a gorgeous production, and it hit me, hard.

It was also “Industry Night.” (Most theatres don’t perform on Monday evenings, so the actors can have a day off. Some theatres will do a special Monday night performance, so that folks who might otherwise miss a show are able to attend). Which meant that the place was packed: people I work with sometimes, people I want to work with someday, people who donate to my theatre company, people I don’t know all that well but feel like I should, people whose names I remember but I’m always convinced they don’t remember mine.

Usually I’m okay at those events, but tonight was hard for me. It was such a quiet, still, beautiful show, and one that resonated with me in a way that I can’t totally articulate just yet. I wanted time to live in the world a bit more. I wanted to see it again, immediately – take a bathroom break, and start all over from the top. I wasn’t ready to talk to fifty people immediately afterwards.

And as much as I hate that I did this, I did this: I said hi to some people, and made my way to the bathroom. I paced around. I poked at my skin. I re-applied my lipstick. I took a few deep breaths.

Then I flushed the toilet and washed my hands, so no one would realize that I really didn’t need to be in there.

I really am filled with genuine love for everyone I then hugged and kissed and talked to and hung out with. I’m just not very good at talking to everyone at once.  I get overwhelmed easily, and it sucks that I can *feel* when I’m being a big weirdo — and I just can’t make myself NOT BE WEIRD in those moments. Even if, as I suspect and others have confirmed, all of this is entirely in my own head and I’m actually pretty good at faking my way through these things. I still stewed about it the whole way home, though. Ran through every conversation again in my head. Covering my bases.

And then I came home and I checked my email and I found this.

Image

Someone sent this to me: a reader, a friend. It’s a quote from a blog post I published recently. She drew it on the train today, took a picture, sent it my way. She signed it “thanks for saying things that make sense to me.”

It was the best gift I’ve received in a very long time.

It made me feel really, really, really fucking lucky.
And so not alone in the world.

That maybe if I write things about how often I feel like a big weirdo, and it resonates with other people, then maybe I’m not describing failure at all — I’m just describing what “being human” is like.

That maybe it’s okay if I need to hide in the bathroom every now and again.

Maybe that’s just the way I need to be human.

And I’m starting to get better at realizing … that’s okay.