There are two kinds of hard: Easy Hard and Hard Hard.
Easy Hard is something that takes a lot of work. It is effortful. It is a struggle. But it’s something that you genuinely sense that you are capable of. It’s something that feels possible in your body and brain. As if, there is already a neural pathway somewhere in there that says, “Yeah this is close enough to something I know or have done before to assume I have all the faculties to complete it.” Easy Hard is rewarding because you achieve something that you set out to do and you are able to see it come to pass.
Now don’t get me wrong. Easy Hard is most certainly not Easy. Easy Hard takes dedication and motivation and drive. Easy Hard is when you kick yourself in the butt to go out and finish that grant application even though you’re tired. Easy Hard is coming in and banging out a movement sequence or staging transition that still feels clunky. Easy Hard is planning the timeline for your next show or figuring out what the right collaborators will be to give the piece the legs it really needs. These are the tough and daily choices we make between apathy and inaction and getting shit done. They ain’t easy.
But they are, by in large, things we know. Or at least they are things we have a sense of how to do. And they are likely different for each of us. Because now that I write this, I realize that my Easy Hard is probably different than someone else’s. The things that are a slog but I know are doable are likely to a lot on who I am and how I function.
This is related to what I was saying last time I wrote here. That there are some things that seem to me to come with being an artist and it’s a tough thing to know sometimes whether I should adjust these expectations or whether I should try and tackle them in ways that are less comfortable.
The money thing for example.
We all need cash and for those on the path of self-producing rather than pay-for-hire work there are a few ways we get it: foundations, individual donations, ticket sales, etc etc.
I have always had a pretty small portion of my budgets come from donations, especially of the large individual patron-esque kind. This is pretty much because I hate talking to people. Exaggeration, maybe, but the kernel of truth is there. I have a very hard time schmoozing. Not because I am terrible at it. I just absolutely, in the very depth of my soul, seriously writhe around in discomfort because of it. Not because of the people, who are almost always incredibly nice and supportive and wonderful. They give money away to the arts. What better kind of person could I be talking to? But for whatever reason, that goes way further back than just this company, I have something in me that says “You don’t deserve to be talking to these people.”
The scale we’re talking about pretty much doesn’t matter. I’ve almost gone into panic attacks asking for a party platter and I’ve started shaking because someone told me I hadn’t responded to a major donor email fast enough. Don’t even get me started trying to cold approach a presenter at a conference. And though I’ve done it, and still do it, it is inexpressibly uncomfortable to step up to that plate.
This is the Hard Hard. It’s the thing that you do that doesn’t seem at the same rate as other things. It feels a little like trying to sing and knowing that you’re tone deaf – something you might sense is off but can’t figure out how to fix. For me anyway, the effort of doing never seems to lessen. The Hard Hard is the stuff that is likelier to be deeper rooted, stuck in your own stuff from way back, and much harder to get around.
The Hard Hard is usually not logical. Which I think is why it’s Hard Hard. Writing a grant is boring, but for me it’s a pretty routine thing. Though I don’t love doing it, once I get in gear, I can just get it done. With Hard Hard things – like calling an actor and saying that they’ve hurt my feelings or trying to assess the best person to hire for a job I don’t know much about – even once it’s done, even when I know it’s the right thing, I still am just glad it’s over and usually hope I don’t have to do it again.
But I wonder sometimes, can you just work through the Hard Hard? If you just force yourself to stay there will it eventually go away? Or will it get done but just take a ton of effort?
Right now, when it comes to money, I generally circumvent by diverting into an Easy Hard solution. I don’t make dinner parties or fundraisers or modes that require talking to people much any real portion of my income stream. I write a lot instead and thus far, I’ve gotten away with it.
And I am still on the fence about whether this is a victory. Whether I’ve just found a way to game a system that doesn’t play to some of my strengths by exploiting a tiny portion, or whether I’ve painted myself into a corner with way fewer options. Whether I’ve just put myself in a place where more and more I don’t have to tackle the unknown.