what it means to be an artist


one of my girlfriends gave a standout performance last week for a solo show class she's been taking. i was not in a good mood that night, my creativity at a dismal low. i somewhat dragged myself there expecting to hate it and go home wishing i'd never went, but something split me wide open -- aside from her belly-busting jokes about growing up in a conscious household, her parents rousing her for school by singing get up, stand up/stand up for your rights.

i crossed my arms stiffly as a slightly nondescript, nearing-middle-aged woman started a monologue about her life as a temp worker -- bouncing from agency to agency, drifting from odd job to odd job. she wasn't the worst performer in the bunch, but close enough to it that i started to get a little fidgety and check my watch, calculating how long it would take to get back to the Bronx from 14th Street. when i finally settled down and actually listened to what she was saying, buried in her apprehension and missed cues, i found a kinship so deep it was like watching myself on stage.

the priding herself on officious titles, like publicist and marketing assistant, that carried little significance; the never really asking herself what she wanted out of life and going for it. at the end of it all, i wanted so badly to give her a hug, to shield her vulnerability in some way, to tell her that i understood exactly what she had been through and could relate. that my siblings, like hers, also parade around with their many degrees while i bumble and grasp at a little slice of fulfillment.

i feel so often like i am just bouncing along from job to job, trying to stay employed while pushing my dreams, my art to the forefront. it is a somewhat miserable task. trying to create authenticity in my creative work while going every day to a job i hate, sitting at a desk, checking emails and performing other unnatural activities that God never intended for upright, social beings.

at an interview for a new job this week, my would-be employer asked, "I notice you've had rather short stints of employment. Is this something we're gonna have to worry about?" I lied, of course. how to encapsulate the absolute waste of time 9-to-5 employment has been in my life? the atrophying of my creative brain? as much as i have labored to demonstrate mastery of this profit-driven endeavor of employment, how little i have actually cared for these jobs. i could find no better use for my resume than as toilet paper to rub my ass with. but my yellow composition book, in which i keep my meager writings, means the world to me.

i had forgotten that night, in my funk, the essential gift of art-making and sharing--until this woman had the courage to reveal herself, her life, for us onstage. though never perfect, it is something positive for the good. and i really could identify and relate with her impulse to manifest this shapeless, nameless creative spark buried deep within her. there is nothing quite like reaching someone on the other end of that impulse, moving them, causing them to reflect on their own experience and process.

i think embracing that impulse is what it means to be an artist. and it makes everything else you do an absolute waste of time. perhaps i am saying this more for myself than for you, wise reader.

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  1. Not that I missed the point of the post: It's difficult fitting a square pole into a round hole just as it's difficult (and must be vigorously discouraged) confining an artist to a 9-to-5.
    But I'm curious what "other unnatural activities that God never intended for upright, social beings" you do at work.

  2. @nanasei: lol! i suppose anything involving my computer, which is just about everything. :)


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