Some of you might remember that in mid December of last year I was feeling pretty low.
It was on that day that I wrote the first real article in this space, one in which I began to share the thoughts and feelings that had been building up for a while. I was pretty pissed at theater, pretty pissed with being an artist and pretty unsure about whether I was going to be doing it for much longer. After a rather abortive trip up to New Haven, I had officially decided that Grad school wasn’t something I was interested in either, at least right now. I didn’t have a rehearsal process in sight. I felt far from my art, far from myself, and more than a little out of control.
Three months later, where am I?
Still here, for one thing.
I re-read that post this morning and I asked myself, “Do I still feel the same way?” I tried to think about some of the concrete steps I’ve tried to implement since then – creating more structure in my free time, really requiring myself to leave space for the art making, defining my artistic practices, writing about the kind of work I want to make and asking myself if that’s what I’m doing.
Has any of it helped?
Yeah, in fits and starts. It has. By writing here often it feels like I’ve slowly started to realize that it is in large part up to me to continue re-defining my future in the arts. With each essay or exercise I remember that while no one is coming to save me, there’s also nothing stopping me from doing exactly what I feel like but myself. I realize that I have to look at the ideas and values I had at 22 and reassess. I realize that the idea of the artists we are and want to become has to evolve and change.
You know that play Proof that was super huge a while back?
I also realize that I hate that play.
I hate it because it reinforces this idea of genius and creativity that I think is super toxic. Take for example this passage between a mathematician and his 25-year-old daughter:
Catherine: I haven’t done anything good.
Robert: You’re young. You’ve got time.
Catherine: I do?
Catherine: By the time you were my age you were famous.
Robert: By the time I was your age I’d already done my best work.
In realizing I hate this passage, I see that I hate it because it is an emblem of what so many of us unconsciously internalize as young creators. We as an American people love our youth. We love a prodigy or savant even more. If American Idol and its reality brethren teach us anything, it’s that talent is great, but it’s way greater if it comes from someone young or with no training. As if artistic prowess magically popped into them through sheer force of will.
Fuck that because it’s the ideas like that which causes the mid-career artist to lose faith and despair. Fuck that because it’s that evil kind of thinking worming its way into your mind that says if you haven’t made it as big as a mentor or artistic hero by the time they did, you aren’t going to. Fuck that because it’s a thought process that says your best work is behind you.
It isn’t. Unless you let it be.
Three months is forever and no time at all. It is a blink of an eye if caught up in a rehearsal process or two. It is an eon when one has no place or space to express and make. In three months I went from feeling like I had no creative work to a whole host of projects that demand my active attention right this very minute. I went from feeling alone and small to sharing a deep and persistent feeling with so many in my community. In three months I began to see my creative self in a new way. In three months I began to realize that the difference between my 22-year-old creative self and my 30-year-old one was not a lessening of “I can do it all” energy or a push towards wimping out on the biggest kinds of risk taking. I realized that in fact I had fewer barriers in my way than ever before. And I realized that if I did everything I’ve done so far with the meager resources I had then, I must be capable of so much greater a body of work with the ones I have now.
In three months I realized that sometimes you forget you’re making progress. And that’s ok. But you have to keep at it. Because you are.
The problem with maturing is not that you are less creative. The problem is you have to deal with your success and wisdom. These things give you a wider perspective, and the more you see, the more you realize the potential for failure, for risks not to pay off. Let that second sight help you when it can. But make sure it doesn’t stop you from doing what you know you really want to.
This must be your mantra: My best work is still ahead of me.
Do you have that prickle in your chest? Do you feel that little tug that pulls away from saying such a thing?
That is all the crap that feeds into your life telling you otherwise. All that stuff is wrong. Don’t let it eat you up. You tell that crap inside to shut the hell up. And then you think about the project you always wanted to make but didn’t believe was remotely possible and then you think about it being in the world someday.
Your best work is still ahead of you.
How can it not be? With all that accumulated experience? With all that added knowledge? How can you not continue to make better and deeper and truer stuff as long as you keep making what’s yours and not what you think someone else wants you to make?
Say it right now: My best work is still ahead of me.
It is. It really is.
Three months from now what do you want to be doing? What do you want to have added to your horizon?
Are you brave enough to write it down?
Because once you do you have this to look forward to.