The Invisible Struggle
I just finished this quirky book, The Chairs Are Where The People Go, by Misha Glouberman and Sheila Heti. It’s basically Glouberman’s thoughts on topics he’s interested in. There’s a chapter on spam filters, for instance. There are chapters on monogamy, smoking, how to arrange the chairs at events, and changes in cities and neighborhoods. There’s also a lot about charades (He teaches a class on how to be a successful charades player. Fer real.) But juxtaposed with the sillier chapters, are insightful nuggets on art and living. Here’s a choice quote:
I think a lot of art is about creating the illusion of ease, and I think it’s great to enjoy that illusion, but I think it’s great to know that it’s an illusion, and I suspect—in my experience—the process of creating anything involves quite a lot of fear and difficulty, and it involves covering up quite a lot of that fear and difficulty.
This really resonated with me. I was talking with my friend Mac, (who’s a brilliant, brilliant writer, by the way. You should all buy her book) about the story/strap-on demo I did Thursday for Bawdy Storytelling (video forthcumming..but probably not for a while). She was surprised to hear that pretty much the whole day of the show I was awash in anxiety and stress. “But you do this kind of stuff all the time!” she said. And that’s more or less true. I perform or give a reading about once a month. But here’s the thing. It scares the crap out of me every. single. time. So I think Glouberman is spot on when he talks about creating the illusion of ease. We like to think that artists, musicians, comedians, whomever, are just naturally good at these things, that there’s no struggle involved, or if there is, then it must be minimal because look—they’re so good at it! But really, we’re having mini panic attacks about something as trivial as a strap-on demo.
It’s hard to talk about all the frustration, the revisions, and agonizing about whether you’re really any good at your craft, whatever that may be. Part of that reason is because we don’t want to seem like neurotic assholes, which is something I totally understand. I have a select few that are allowed to see me freak out about public speaking or listen to my frequent, “I’m a fraud! What if they all hate me?!” speeches.
I’m sure there are a few rare people who feel buoyant and light and effortlessly charming all the time, but the freaking out is a deeply ingrained part of my process. So is, for that matter, failure. We don’t like to talk about failure. It makes us feel like disappointments. It reaffirms all those negative feelings lurking inside of us. But failure is necessary. It’s how we learn. If we’re not failing, at least some of the time, then we’ve stopped trying. We’ve given up. We’ve chosen to never again pass go or collect $200. And THAT is the only true failure. Or the only failure that matters, I should say. Think of it in terms of relationships. 99% of relationships in your life won’t work out. They work for a while, sometimes decades, until they don’t anymore. If we believed these failed relationships were indicative of our self-worth, we’d never pursue new love interests, and we’d all be a lot more depressed and celibate. But we don’t. We move on, for the most part. We recover. Because that’s the nature of the game. Pursuing what you love and pursuing who you love are similar in that way.
So don’t be thwarted by failure. Embrace it. And better yet, don’t be thwarted by potential failure. We all play that card. It’s the one that makes excuses, puts things off, and leaves the hair in the shower drain like an asshole even though it damn well saw it there. I have a different brilliant friend who writes amazing erotica. Or rather, she used to. I’m not sure why she doesn’t anymore, except today she said she “just didn’t want to enough.” This saddened me, and not just because I’m a shameless voyeur who wants to read her smut. I think we get stuck this way sometimes because we are waiting for some divine intervention to shake us from our complacency. But that rarely happens. The universe is indifferent to your writer’s block. A creative burst is not gonna be the thing that logs your ass out of Facebook. Nor will you be struck by inspiration from reading one more Awwccupy Wall Street Tumblr.
The excuse I’m most guilty of is pretending that I don’t know how to do something. For instance, like most people, I am a procrastinator. When crunch time comes, do I sit down and do my work? No, I read a blog post on “how to not procrastinate.” I’m doing it right now actually. I’m writing this blog post about excuses as an excuse to not be writing one of my three advice columns due this week.
These are all just ways of avoiding doing the work. There’s the invisible struggle again. If you’ll permit me another yoga metaphor! The very first sun salutation that starts my practice is the ABSOLUTE WORST THING IN THE WORLD to be doing at 6:30 in the morning. It’s dark out! My body’s cold and stiff. I’m probably not even awake. Every day, I start out thinking, I won’t make it through this time. This sucks. I hate yoga. And stretchy pants. But after that first shock to my body goes away, it’s fine, and I can salute the sun all fucking day. Namaste, bitches! Change is like that. There’s no getting around that initial resistance. You will always hate the first sun salutation, the first draft, the first 20 job applications you submit. But once you’re in the thick of it, you’ll be fine. Maybe not till the whole damn thing is over, but some time, you will. The “easy” thing is almost never the right answer. Except Hot Pockets. That shit is delicious.
I will leave you with one of my favorite quotes by Susan Sontag. It’s just two words. I wrote them on the first page of my journal and look at them often. They are: “Do something! Do something! Do something!”
You know what to do.