back to the Black Table
           
  LIFE AS A LOSER #168: "KEEP GOING."  
   
   
 

t is staggering to see how much artistic talent there it out there, everywhere, really. Wherever you look, someone is out there making something, and they’re good at it.

A friend of mine covers the financial industry. He spends his days pounding out stories about hedge

 
  funds and separately managed accounts. When he leaves, he gets together with a co-worker and practices with his neo-art-rock band, in which they wear three-piece suits and play the keyboards and start the drum machine and sing and dance in front of mostly empty bars. They have a Website where you can download audio clips, and at their shows, his wife passes out a clipboard to get on the mailing list. The next day, he slogs back into work and does it all again. You should check them out. They’re pretty good.  
 

 

Another guy I know temps. He hops from job to job, a nobody, the guy floating around the office that no one knows. At night, he hits the standup comedy circuit, staving off hecklers, constantly trying out new material. Twice a week, he hosts a show on a cable access, where he encourages you to email him to find out about future appearances and takes calls from drunken louts who like to talk to people on the television. He is constantly pushing for that big break, which has to happen, because he’s working so hard. You should check him out. He’s pretty funny.

And don’t get me started on the Web. At the risk of sounding cranky, everybody’s got a goddamned Weblog. It’s their

 
 

place where they can be who they really are, unvarnished, expressing themselves truthfully and with conviction. Odds are, someone you know has an Internet presence, a place where they can produce and enliven themselves, and you have no idea. Some great stuff out there on the Web. You should check them all out.

The most exhilarating part of any creative endeavor is that, essentially, it’s all magic. Whether you’re a tortured artist driven mad by your own genius or just some putz stringing together bad similes about your ex-girlfriend set to awkward acoustical fumblings in an empty coffee shop, you are introducing something new into the world. Before you put pen to paper, or paint to canvas, or fingers to guitar, there was nothing there. You created it. There was emptiness, and you filled it, generating a real tangible thing out of thin air, pulling the rabbit out of your hat. It’s tremendously exciting. And – and here’s where they get you -- addictive. Ruthlessly so.

Because after a while, even if you’re good, you realize it doesn’t pay shit, and it’s a lot of work, and it’s hard and frustrating and totally thankless. You realize that there are a million other kids out there doing the same thing you are, and some of them are better, a lot of them are. And, worst, you realize that you’re growing older, and all the stuff you imagined for yourself, a family, a nice home, Little League with the kids, all that’s creeping up on you. For a while you compromise, and you balance doing what you’re passionate about with what you have to do to survive and lay the groundwork for future happiness. But that line keeps inching up on you, and you find that you’re expressing yourself less and less, that after a full 10-hour workday, which you have to go through to pay your rent and live your life, get out from under your debt, whatever … you’re just too tired to create, which, after all, at its core, is just more work. Next thing you know, you haven’t written, or painted, or performed, in months. The momentum stops, and you’re just another person working in an office, hoping to beat traffic home. And before you know it, you’re the guy telling the upstart intern at work, the one so full of promise and hope and optimism, how you used to write, or paint, or perform, all the time, really, I was quite good, I just didn’t catch my break, you know? Because eventually you do have to stop. As Chris Rock said, no one wants to be the oldest guy in the bar.

This isn’t meant to be depressing. It happens. How could it not? We only have so much time.

Ask your parents. No matter what they do in their lives, whether they’re an electrician or a nurse or a tax collector, I can guarantee you that when they were young, they had some sort of artistic endeavor. Maybe they wrote poems in their diary, maybe maybe they just tore apart cars and put them back together. Do they do it anymore? Is it still a part of their life? Watch their face when they tell you how they used to write. Watch it light up, then crest into a faint sadness. "That was a long time ago," they’ll say.

A smart person said once that the worst thing you can say to someone under the age of 30 in New York City is, "You will never be famous. Let it go." It’s a cold-blooded, cynical, joyless thing to say, even more so because it’s heartbreakingly true. And when you consider that 99 percent of the time, you’d be absolutely right, well, it makes you want to hide in your room and not try to create anything.

But yet, but yet, you do, we do, we all do. It doesn’t have to end in fame, or money, or sex (though, to be fair, it’s always nice when something ends in sex). Nobody starts doing something because they think it will ultimately provide them worldly pleasures; they do it because they love it, because they must do it. Are my friends above, the ones sneaking in gigs after the stock exchange closes, the ones running cable access shows nobody watches, the ones writing poetry , are they wrong? Are they fooling themselves? Are they wasting their time? Should they stop?

No, no, no, never, never. They are creating magic, every one of them, and that’s something a two-car garage and matching linens can never replace. I don’t know what’s going to happen to any of them, or to me, but I love them, I love that they still care, I love that it matters. I hope they never, ever stop. I know I don’t plan to. We all have to keep going, while we can.

 

Want More?

Take the Life as a Loser Experience.

 

*BT*

Life as a Loser runs every week. Join the Life as a Loser discussion group at: http://groups.yahoo.com/group/onecrappycolumnist.