Keep on Keeping on
Earlier this year–Tuesday, April 28th, to be exact–my good friend, Katherine Cox, saw a dream become reality when she placed a freshly minted copy of her book, Katie Fry Private Eye, on the shelves of the bookstore where she’s worked for the past several years. Each day, she would arrive to work and be surrounded by books, which at times could feel like being among old friends, offering solitary comfort in their rich and imaginative pages, and other times it could feel like being surrounded by the competition, reminding her that shelves upon shelves of other people were living her dream and that she wasn’t there yet. Nevertheless, the word “yet,” is what is important. Like any artist who has achieved a modicum of success, Katherine’s story is one of persistence and perseverance, for to create anything of quality one first has to spend tireless hours honing their craft, beating themselves up and searching near and far for inspiration. For the seven or eight years that I have known Katherine, she has always talked of being a writer and having stayed true to her passion and continued to write day after day even in the absence of income and a clear end in sight, she can now harvest the fruits of her labor.
Yesterday marked the release of her second book in her Katie Fry series, Katie Fry, Private Eye and the Missing Fox. Sounds pretty glamorous, doesn’t it? Indeed, it truly is, but I want to make a different point today. At face value, you may hear the words “young author living in New York with two published books,” and your mind may conjure an image that looks something like a scene or character straight out of Sex and the City. While that makes for good entertainment, its end product is actually quite harmful in that it sets an unrealistic expectation – one that might suggest that if your life doesn’t resemble that of Carrie’s then you simply haven’t “made it.” Sex and the City is certainly not the only show to have promoted this fictitious lifestyle image nor will it be the last, it’s just an easy comparison to make in this case. The crux of the matter is to take care in how you define ‘making it,’ so that if that elusive day finally comes for you, you will be able to recognize it and feel pride as opposed to disappointment. The bottom line is that for most of us the thing we want most is often right under our noses, we’ve just built up too many false images in our heads of what it’s supposed to look like that we miss it or fail to appreciate it. Katherine may not have a giant apartment in Manhattan, but she’s got something way better: a published book (or as of yesterday, two of them).
For me, the only reliable defining factor of making it is whether or not you are actually creating art and sharing it with people. Sure, you could tighten up that definition and limit it to whether or not you are able to sustain a livelihood by making your art, but that often comes much later and shouldn’t get in the way of how you view yourself. The passion, and production, must come first. If your intentions of creating art are rooted in becoming rich and famous, I’d suggest that you try to make your millions some other way. Mining for gold in form of creative expression is only going to leave you jaded and disappointed. I could go on at length on this topic, but I could never say it as well Charles Bukowski does in his poem “So You Want to Be a Writer”. If you’ve ever experienced the involuntary and overwhelming force that “comes out of your soul like a rocket,” where you have no choice but focus your energy and attention on expressing your inner life in a creative way, I have a feeling this poem will resonate with you.
While I tend to take a softer and more positive approach than Mr. Bukowski, what I take from his sentiments in the poem is that you should only venture to make art simply because you love doing it. If your reasons lie elsewhere, maybe find something else to do that actually spiritually or emotionally invigorates you – I hazard to guess that you’d be happier for it. But if you’re one of the lucky folks that have been blessed and/or cursed with a creative and sensitive mind, then make sure you are giving yourself enough time and energy to appropriately work that muscle. I’ve found that if I go any long period of time without doing anything creative, I become very susceptible to depression and brooding thought patterns. Sometimes my creative efforts are just as much an exercise in warding off unhappiness as they are in fostering joy. Whatever your relationship with art may be, the only thing to be done is to keep doing it. Keep pushing yourself to learn more and challenge yourself to approach your work from different angles – especially for those of us who have yet to produce any sort of meaningful income from it. Yet again, I will rely on refined wisdom of another artistic stalwart. This Ira Glass video has been getting passed around for years now, but is something I revisit often, especially if I’m in need of a pep talk. If you haven’t seen it yet, please do yourself a favor and watch it now.
The problem is, of course, that even though you may LOVE writing, or painting, or playing music, it can be hard to find time in your life to do those things. It has become easier to be completely sedentary than ever before with online delivery services for every product under the sun and the ability to stream videos on damn near every appliance in your home. The deeper we get into our day jobs, you know the ones we thought were going to be temporary and “just to pay the bills for now,” the harder and harder it is to break away. Do whatever you can to get into the habit or foregoing the immediate brainless distraction and engage your brain in a creative way. It may feel clunky at first, but you’ll get there. If you’ve ever dreamed the dream, then you owe it to yourself to develop that part of who are you. There will be time for lounging later; make your life happen now. Keep on keeping on, dear ones, and who knows? You just may have your own book coming out next week. Congratulations again, Katherine, way to stick with it and make it happen!
In case you missed it last time, here is the recipe I made in celebration of the release of Katherine’s first book. Enjoy!