Friday, September 21, 2012

Making It Through The Artistic Night

During my blog haitus, I discovered Dear Sugar. Sugar is the online handle of Cheryl Strayed, a novelist wih a delightful turn of phrase and an alarming ability to make me want to meet and hug her late inspirational mother. As Sugar, Cheryl does not mince her words - she talks openly and powerfully (some might say graphically) about her experiences, from grief, unplanned pregnancy, abortion, death, sex, sexual abuse to waitressing and working for minimum wage.

Sugar is a novelist, and she has fielded many questions from artists who are young, poor, struggling, jealous of the success of others, tired, bored, blocked and everything else in between. Some choice quotes for artists are:

“The useless days will add up to something. The shitty waitressing jobs. The hours writing in your journal. The long meandering walks. The hours reading poetry and story collections and novels and dead people’s diaries and wondering about sex and God and whether you should shave under your arms or not. These things are your becoming.”
You don’t have to get a job that makes others feel comfortable about what they perceive as your success. You don’t have to explain what you plan to do with your life. You don’t have to justify your education by demonstrating its financial rewards."
"I had to struggle to be okay with this, to do what I call trusting the heat, to write what must be written in the way only I can write it. "

I wanted to write to her recently. I wanted to ask her how to go on doing this - working, writing when I have the time and energy, churning out terrible first drafts, trying to revise them even though the problems seem too big to fix. I wanted her to tell me how to keep going with this.

And then I realised, that wasn't what I wanted at all.

I wanted her to tell me when it would all suddenly be worthwhile. I wanted to ask 'Sugar, take a look in your crystal ball and tell me when the good stuff happens.'

Of course, Cheryl Strayed can't tell me that. She doesn't know.

I have a lot of artist friends, and sometimes they come to me with the same question. "When the hell does all this get OK?" "When does it get easier?"

And I don't know either.

But I do know that life is all about choices, and the biggest choice we all make every day is what we are willing to open ourselves to. Are we willing to take a risk that might make us happier, or are we content to stay as we are? Are we willing to embrace happiness? Are we willing to risk sadness? Are we willing to face disappointment or satisfaction when we aim for success, or will we sit back and not aim at all?

And trying seems a lot better than not, even when it isn't much fun.

How do you guys keep yourselves going during the difficult bits?

I'm away until early October, so my responses to comments, tweets and other contacts will be slow to nonexistant. Hope you all have a lovely late September!


  1. Trying to live your dream gives one purpose. I'll keep on trying even if I only end up being a legend in my own head.

    Hugs and chocolate,

    Loved todays post!

  2. I've been checking in all day waiting for your post and this one certainly cheered up and inspired my Friday. I'm intrigued by Sugar/ Cheryl and must definitley look her up. This journey can be daunting, but you are right "...trying seems a lot better than not, even when it isn't much fun". Looking forward as always to your next post x

  3. I shall have to look her up.

    I've had more than my share of rough bits during the writing process, and I think what I do is what I do in general: get up, and keep moving forward.

  4. I didn't know the had dress codes! It's too damn hot in Austin to dress, so most everyone looks like Louie CK, but with ear lobe gaskets. Do you have anything published I could order? I am good for shortish articles online, but anything over a few pages and I get cross-eyed. Also, Do you ever do the fests down here, SXSW or Fantastic Fest?
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