Janet asked me the other day: Would you believe that this is your life now if someone had told you about it a year ago?
If you had told me a year ago that I would be on my way to paying my (admittedly cheap) rent with my art, I would have been highly dubious. If you told me a year ago that in a year, I would be cast in a TV pilot about singer/songwriters and producers, would extend my group of friends to include a bunch of creatives that inspire me daily, would form an a cappella group alongside an incredibly talented and infectiously ambitious singer/songwriter, and would write the music for a brand-new musical murder mystery dinner theater show that I would act in as well, I might have actually laughed in your face. But here we are in November 2014, and these things and more have happened.
For three and a half years, I felt as if I was trapped in the wrong life. I would wake up each day in New York City, the only place I have called home as an adult, but instead of moving toward pursuing the artistic goals I moved here for at 18, I would ride my bike to an office in a school to sit behind a computer. I became very proficient in Excel. I met lots of amazingly lovely coworkers. I practiced my Spanish. I taught yoga to children and ran workout club with some of my favorite adults, which was probably the best part.
The misery of living the wrong life seems common; I see it all around me now. I am glad to have lived it precisely because it is so common, because I can understand a lot of human beings better now. It is the persistently deflating experience of walking through a life that doesn't fit right, that gives you blisters like too-tight, too-cheap shoes. The feeling that maybe everything you ever dreamed for yourself was very stupid. When I got my school office job, I quit the play that I was in at the time. I decided that I needed to focus on working to support myself financially, so I wouldn't have time for that sort of thing. I kept writing songs, but the songs got sadder. As the months and years went on, I stopped picking up the phone when my mother or my best friends called me, because I didn't want to report the lack of things going on.
Part of me doesn't want to write this post at all because what if I jinx myself? What if as soon as I hit "Save & Publish," all the strides forward get erased?
I started to de-program my misery in November of 2012. The main tool for this process of de-programming was The Artist's Way, a book that outlines a 12-week process for igniting creativity and rehabilitating the artist self. I have since gone through the book's process with three different groups of friends in three separate 12-week spurts. I am now working through Finding Water, another book from Julia Cameron's creativity canon. The books have helped me to self-identify as an artist, a term which I have always felt discomfort with, and they have helped me reframe my idea of what being an artist means. The books helped me move away from my internal critic's voice, a voice that told me I wasn't good, that being an artist is stupid, that I'm not pretty enough to be a singer or actor, that I'm not that great of a musician, that nobody cares so shut up. I can talk back to that voice now.
I was listening to Aisha Tyler's podcast last week and Marc Maron was on. I adore the Girl On Guy podcast because Tyler has incredibly frank conversations with artists of all kinds, and these conversations are like case studies of how people get to where they are. The podcast helps me on my path to try to live the life that fits me properly. I'd never had much exposure to Marc Maron before the podcast, although I did know that he is a successful comedian who has a very successful podcast himself. Right away, Maron reminded me of someone who would be a work acquaintance of my parents; intellectual, snarky, cynical, East Coast liberal vibe. Kind of hard to listen to for me, but maybe in a good way. There is this tension with him between being so incredibly sincere, but then completely shitting on that same sincerity. There was a sense that he is reaching professional fulfillment, but he's still personally miserable.
There was one point in the podcast that really resonated with me and the struggle I've had over the past few years to try to move toward my creativity and away from the wrong life. I guess I felt sort of defensive about it. For some reason, even as he's seen so much success over the past several years and even though he has been doing standup for decades, Maron is still uncomfortable with claiming the title of Artist. Not only that, but his voice dripped with condescension when he talked about people who describe themselves as "positive" or anything to do with "self-help," and these things somehow were grouped under the same stupid umbrella as people who call themselves artists. The word "psychobabble" came up. It was kind of interesting because he had just been dissecting how our parents have an impact on our psychology as adults, but somehow that was the right kind of psychobabble and these "positivity" people had the wrong kind. He went on to say some stuff I've heard from other successful people before about how most people pursuing comedy just have a "hobby." It always seems to be successful people subscribing to that idea...as though their success negates the fact that they struggled for years to get to where they are, and that many outsiders might have called their passion a "hobby" to belittle them earlier in their career.
So yeah, I got kind of defensive! I have been actively trying to cultivate a positive mental state (and just freaking blogged about it) and I owe a lot of my current mental health to The Artist's Way, a book that can be found in the self-help section and which has "artist" in the title. When I first picked up the The Arist's Way, it was 2010, and I had all of the same gut reactions to it that Maron brought up in the podcast. Somehow, though, in November of 2012, even though I still had all of this resistance to the idea of a book helping me because it must be bullshit, I was so FUCKING MISERABLE that I started reading it anyway. And I started to email my friend each week about my progress, and she emailed me hers. And you know what? IT HELPED. Because the thing is, as an adult, very few people really give a fuck about you for the most part. Helping yourself is really your only shot. We secular, intellectual, middle-class liberal folks are so quick to cynically shut down anything that isn't within a narrow realm of approved choices, for mental health or anything else. But that worldview is exactly what led me to trod through the wrong life for more than three years, outwardly numb and inwardly gutted.
I am so grateful that I lived the wrong life for three and a half years. My skin got thicker, my spine got stronger, and I can now proudly embrace the Artist moniker. I can now recognize that being an artist is not some silly fantasy; it is a daily commitment. We are artists, damn it.