This month, I took over the day to day task of watching Miles, my 20 month old son. The transition has been as smooth as I could have hoped even while continuing to work nights at Trader Joe's. Each Morning, I awake to Miles smacking the bed right near my bed requesting a boost onto the bed and to "wrestle". I have read and reread more children's books in the past week alone than in the previous year and half combined. However, the biggest impact has been on my drive to be "successful" (whatever that means). In an odd role reversal, I am learning as much from Miles as he is from me.
Since quitting my job at Bank of NY Mellon, I have repeated pushed myself to the breaking point to reach the magical point where I could declare I was "successful". The quote above hit like a 2x4 between the eyes. Pride. Arrogance. Ambition . Change 26 to 32 and Cheryl Strayed could have dished this piece of advice to me.
The odd part is that I struggle even describing what "successful" looks like. I only understand "success" in terms of money. More money = successful. Yet my previous job also demonstrated how empty that simplistic definition is. Without a solid definition, the possibility of reaching that "goal" is impossible. Yet, I constantly measure up my results to this fantasy standard. The self flagellation that results only disrupts the work I need to accomplish. All this was laid bared by a combination of Cheryl Strayed's advice and my time with Miles. No being is as present and unencumbered by the future than a child. All he cares about right now is that I act like a T-Rex and chase him around the house. He doesn't care if I sell enough prints each month to reach my profit targets. Or that I never had a solo art show. Or fill in the blank with the resume bullet points from a "successful artist" . In those quiet moments as the little dude caught his breath, I would ask myself why I was rushing my career. The work I am doing right now excites me. I have even bigger projects in the works. A zine. The tent camera. Setting up a permanent darkroom in my house. I can only do what I can and just worry about the present.
It seems such quaint and trite advice. But all I can do is create the best work I can in that moment. Anything else is robbing the joy of creating on the the altar of success. Creating a life from your art is a herculean task as almost every artist has been countless reminded of. What could happen if I was content releasing my art for a couple years? In an episode of "Girl on Guy" with Aisha Tyler, Billy Gardell floored with the simple question, "Are you willing to walk through the silence?", in relation to open mic comics trying to make it. The silence is uncomfortable. It's awkward. We will do almost anything to escape the silence. We race to fill the void with anything even if it doesn't belong. So this is where I am right now. Trying to fight through the silence.