What if we work as hard as we can, and then never achieve the recognition that we hope for?
by Loren A. Roberts (guru of multi-hyphenate media)
I haven’t read it yet, but Salon has a quick interview with author Tom Bissell regarding his new collection of essays Magic Hours. In the book (and the interview), he tells the story of Herman Melville -- author of Moby Dick:
Reading about poor Herman Melville was so heartbreaking: to think that the one of the two or three people who invented the modern novelistic form spent the last 25 years of his life thinking he was a total failure, and thinking that no one would ever read his books again. If that doesn’t keep every writer alive up at night, both with a kind of optimism about what is possible, but also with a kind of very stern reality check, I don’t know what could.
Moby Dick wasn’t discovered and popularized until 25 years after Melville’s death. Dickinson only had seven poems published before she died (and those were edited so much that they virtually unrecognizable). Van Gogh painted thousands of pieces of art that never really became popular until half a century after his death.
So what can we take from Bissell’s “reality check,” and how can it help us as artists? I have three recommendations.
LEARNING HOW TO WAIT
My favorite Bible story from my time as a kid in Sunday School was that of Abraham, who waited 100 years before he got the call from God to go start a nation by shagging his hot (but elderly) wife and thereby starting a nation (Israel) with a kid (Isaac). I liked the idea that you didn’t have to be the “ideal candidate” for Biblical stardom -- you could just keep living and loving and working, and God might get around to making something great for you to do -- even late in life. Cool, huh?
So what to do? Do we keep toiling in obscurity?
I have three ideas for what to do in the meantime, whether the big break comes or not:
- WORK HARD, AND HAVE FUN. Honestly, work is fun -- especially when it involves the act of creation. So why not work as hard as you can, and become as good as you possibly can at whatever you are doing? I’m not saying that the recognition for your expertise is going to come; what I am saying is that there is value and enjoyment from doing something well.
- GIVE BACK. Our world needs people who are willing to rescue things. Rescue a stranded driver. Rescue a kid who needs tutoring. Rescue a pet. It’s more work, but go back to #1 and remember that work is good and fun.
- BE READY. One of the things that my wife (a writer) took from her time at the Clarion West writer’s workshop was to be prepared. Be prepared for the possibility that fame and fortune don’t come your way. But also, be ready to win the creative lottery. Being prepared -- either way -- means having your finances in order, working towards right relationships with your friends and loved ones, and having a good work ethic (so that if someone tells you to write your next book in six weeks, you at least know where to start). Being ready also means having the ability to be comfortable working 2 hours out of a day, or 20 hours. It values both producing and relaxing, both time alone and time in community, both periods of massive productivity and times when things are very quiet. Being prepared is a mindset -- that means you are already doing #1, and #2, and are ready for whatever comes next.
So what to take away from this? Bring it around full circle? Let's imagine for a moment: what would Melville have needed to make change his outlook on life? (First, I would argue that alcohol and grief were part of the equation for Melville...) I believe that there is nothing about fame and fortune that is inherently life-giving or happiness-making. Rather, the joy in the work and the relationships that we build with friends and family are ends unto themselves. Work for them, and the fame might or might not come...but you will be ready for it.
ALBUMS YOU PROBABLY HAVE NEVER HEARD
Story-telling time: I was involved with a not-too-successful co-venture between FilmBaby and Warner/Rykodisk, where they were going to distribute a film that we had made. So I was talking to the people at CDBaby and FilmBaby a bit back in 2006. And, after telling them what music I liked, one of the people who worked there pulled out this album and said "you're gonna love this" (kinda like my own personal Amazon recommendations, right?).
And I loved it.
Charlotte Martin has an extremely poetic and passionate way about her. Stromata (the name of the album) is the connective tissue of organs -- not the organs themselves, but the things that hold organs together. So on this album, she dives into relationships -- connective tissue -- and how everything is mixed together, the good and the bad:
Marching ahead to silent beats
Bumping into these dead machines
You can hear everything with me
You can win everyone but me
Gonna feel my way around you
And then you're gonna get
down on your knees
And grow accustomed to the darkness
And see what you're supposed to see
Head up straight
I know what I'm doing
Head up straight
I know what I'm doing
I love how she turns words on themselves, and delivers it all with such passion.
LOREN A. ROBERTS produces films, videos and music, designs magazines and logos, plays and sings in a rock-and-roll tribute band, and is a student of what happens when science, the arts, technology, and culture collide. www.hearkencreative.com
EMAIL HIM | FACEBOOK | TWITTER | OTHER POSTS BY THIS AUTHOR