Being an artist is hard. Banish the self-doubt and self-sabotage inherent in all of us and you still have subjective judgments that rule the arts. This past month felt like someone holding a giant magnifying glass above me, concentrating the rays of sunlight into a laser beam of backyard destruction on a pitiful and insignificant ant, me. Of course there are reasons for this that I could go into and bore you with the details of.
I could. But I won’t.
That kind of dwelling on the details doesn’t allow for the wide-angle lens of life I glimpsed because of them. Which is the point.
The basics are: I went to a writer’s conference that showed me exactly where I am within the professional realm of writing and publishing. It isn’t where I want to be. I learned a lot. I was mostly happy, but also sad at the end of the trip. Objectively, nothing earth-shattering was uncovered while there. I’m in school still, I have to split what free time I have with my writing, and because of that, my writing is progressing at a fucking snail’s pace. Nothing I can do with that but be patient and persevere, knowing all the time I devote to finishing my degree I will get to spend writing when it’s over. Think of the solid habits I’ll have, too!
Big Sister is a beautiful almost-adult now. She auditioned for a dance company that she wanted so badly. Surviving the first cut – further than she’d come last year – bittersweet when she got cut in the second round. Lots of tears and self-doubt at our place and this mom feeling helpless to take the pain and disappointment from her.
Here’s where that wide-angle lens comes in.
I know exactly how she feels. Putting yourself and your work out in the world. Judges (agents, editors, readers in my case) making assessments on what feels like your personal worth based on your artistic expression and execution. Feeling like you’re not good enough in the face of apparent failure. Wanting to quit.
I found myself telling her she should not quit dance unless she felt in her soul that she didn’t want to dance anymore. Because wanting to dance, and the joy it brings her, is the only thing that matters. Not whether or not she got cut from the company. Not that someone else subjectively didn’t think she fit. Her technique was judged and found wanting, but only in someone else’s opinion. She is still a beautiful dancer. Dance makes her happy. It’s all that matters.
As I talked to her, my own words echoed back at me about my writing. It doesn’t matter that I haven’t got anyone to represent me. Nor that I found holes in my plot the size of Texas. That my technique is different than others does not invalidate it. The ridiculous amount of time it’s taking me to finish this latest novel. In the end, those things are all subjective measures. What matters is the joy writing brings to me when I’m doing it.
That is enough.
It is all that matters.
In life, in love, in dance… in writing… the only thing that matters is the joy it brings you. If it doesn’t then, by all means, quit. But if quitting will kill the joy that set you on the path in the first place, ask yourself why you and that nugget of joy that sings to your soul is not enough to sustain you.
Consider that it IS enough. Everything else is subjective and doesn’t have to define you, or your joy. What you and your situation look like through the lens of society is not the truth for you. Persist. Find and then cling to the joy. Let it sustain you through the darkness and the doubt.
It will always be enough.