There are forces in the world which would like you to believe that your value is tied up with you are ability to produce, and that your rate of production should be constant and of consistent quality. Our de-facto fulltime work schedules only barely acknowledge the reality of bodies and the reality of community via sick days and holidays — 2 out of 52 weeks of the year...if you’re lucky and if you take them.
We forget about maintenance work. We forget about sickness.
We forget that there is ebb as well as flow, rest as well as toil, pause as well as work.
We focus on project start-dates and project end-dates and success and failure within those timeframes. This thinking bleeds over into how we evaluate our relationships, how we conceive of our health, how we assess our lives: By outcomes. Instead of surrendering to the idea that we don’t know and that there is great possibility within the certainty that we can’t know.
I'm reading a book called Ongoingness by Sarah Manguso, which is an interrogation into the ongoing nature of time...and into the ongoing nature of relationships.
"Marriage isn't a fixed experience. It's a continuous one. It changes form but is still always there, a rivulet under a frozen stream. Now, when I feel a break in the continuity of till death do us part, I think to myself, Get back in the river."
Being an artist is being in a relationship with art.
Sometimes we take a break, but then that break spirals into a vortex of self-doubt and shame...Maybe not surprisingly, the voices that question the value of art sound oddly similar to the ones touting productivity and demanding constancy. The break looms ever larger, and we don’t know how to get back into the flow of things in a graceful way. We start to doubt we can get back to things at all.
Get back in the river.
There are things we need in order to keep going as artists -- usually reminders of the same messages over and over again.
This week, for me, those messages came during a re-listen to Elizabeth Gilbert and Sarah Jones talking about the creative highway on the Magic Lessons podcast. Here's Elizabeth quoting Sarah back to Sarah:
"If I’m about to go on a creative journey, it’s the highway I have to be driving down. The minute I start asking questions of: will this sell? is this serious enough? is this important enough? will my agent be able to market this? is this what my audience expecting of me next?...All of those are exit ramps off the highway that you need to be on. When I get off those highways on those exit ramps, I end up in really bad neighborhoods.”
Which Sarah thanks her for saying because she needed that reminder today.
Elizabeth Gilbert: "It's amazing how we have to be reminded of what we not only know but teach."
Sarah Jones: "And they say we teach it cuz we need to learn it."
Last week, the reminders came via the Making Your Life as an Artist book from ArtistsU.org. Reading through the first parts of the book is like a much needed, very heartening, and greatly validating pep talk.
"I think of artists like scientists.
Just like scientists, we begin with a question, something we don't know.
We go into our studios and research that question.
Like scientists, at the end of our research, we share the results with the public and with our peers."
"Making art demands a faith beyond each particular project. We don't know exactly how the cultural DNA we are preserving and recombining might be useful in the future. But we do know that diverse ecosystems are more resilient, more able to respond to disturbance. The same is true of culture. Diversity of thought and imagination makes us more culturally resilient, more able to thrive in times of great change. We live in a time of enormous and rapid change, a time that needs the wild thinking and making of artists.”
I'll need these same messages again, in time, along with the ever-accumulating stock of things that I need to hear to keep going, when I encounter doubt, over and over again.
I find that I don't mind writing these messages here, hereby adding redundant messages into the swirling mix...if it helps you get back into the river someday.
Get back in the river.
 Manifesto for Maintenance Art by Mierle Laderman Ukeles
 Sick Woman Theory by Johanna Hedva
 “Hope is not hope for any particular thing, or an attachment to an outcome you desire. It's an openness toward what you don't even have the capacity to think yet because you're still in the present. Hope is a radical openness to what can be. It is a posture that leaves us flexible and adaptable and alive.” -Joanna Macy