Dear Tired Artist

CC image by Tim & Selena Middleton

You’re a creator. A visionary speaking life’s unsayable mysteries. As Lloyd Alexander said, fantasy is a way of understanding reality. It’s a hell of a task, making the intangible tangible.

And you’re tired.

But you soldier on, getting those words on paper, that paint on the canvas, that song recorded. It’s too late to turn back now, and you sometimes feel like you’re sinking with a great ceiling of salty water closing in overhead.

You juggle your real life and your art life—the second life, the strange life—and you’re dropping balls. Not just dropping, they’re flying through windows, hitting that front row audience member in the eye. Dear Lord, the balls. You don’t have enough hands and if you’re honest, maybe you’ve never been coordinated enough for this.

The no’s keep coming in. Your work is good, just not what they were looking for. Try again next time. No real advice is offered. Worse yet, sometimes no response is offered at all. You approached the well of publication, ripped out your heart and dropped it in, and not even the sound of a splash comes back from the dark depths.

Crap finds success everywhere—the radio, TV, the bookstore. Utter swill peddled to a public without standards, people bent on hollow distraction, sucking it in like a milkshake and making that horrid noise when their straw finds the bottom of the cup until it’s refilled with more empty calories. You’re tempted to make some crap—use a formula and then throw it out like chicken feed. They’d gobble it up. But you couldn’t live with yourself if you did that. You’d rather stop creating altogether.

The temptation creeps out from its hidey-hole at the back of your brain—you could just stop.

Why not? The joy’s gone, that inexplicable rush of being in a state of flow. You used to doodle in the margins in class, scribble poetry on your arm because it was faster than getting out paper. The honeymoon phase is over; you’re in a committed relationship with creativity, and doing real life together is far less romantic.

But romance is a wispy thing, isn’t it? Exciting, to be sure, but like a lick of fire, it’s inconstant and disappears at a light breeze. Depth is something else entirely, something that pushes through hard soil and clay to hold on against the tempest. It’s work.

Madeleine L’Engle said it best: “Artistic temperament sometimes seems a battleground, a dark angel of destruction and a bright angel of creativity wrestling.” Wipe the sleep from your eyes. You’re in a struggle, and it’s time to stand firm with your sword drawn. Battles may be lost, but they will also be won.

Will you fight?

By Madeleine Mozley