Yes, it’s a hard way of being: Living as an artist. But then, again, I wouldn’t want to be living — in any other way.
And I’ve tried. In all honesty, I’ve tried to be many things: Anything else but an artist. An administrator, a teaching assistant, and a secretary. A proofreader, an academic, a critic. A manager. An accountant. A librarian.
“Oh, you!” my college comrades used to say. “You and your jobs! You’re always changing jobs.”
They had known me for years, and for years — they had seen me working. They had watched me giving a very fair try to living for the sake of a different profession. A “normal” profession. A job. And they had witnessed me change my mind.
Back then, I wasn’t really sure which profession it would turn out to be, so I would try everything. And instead of entertaining things, I would satisfy my curiosity by leaping into every opportunity. Because I always felt I could be so many things; but I wanted to make sure that I couldn’t be anything else — but an artist.
Being an artist resembled an exotic disease — a dis-ease of the soul — and I wanted to make sure I wasn’t one of its victim.
“So, what’s your major this morning?” my folks teased me during our phone calls. I was prone to changing my mind, and the flexibility of my American education confused the hell out of them.
“Still English, I think,” I’d say. “But with a slight concentration — in journalism.”
“Well, at least, you’re getting an education,” my best friend comforted me. She always comforted me. And it seemed to bother her the least — my proneness to change my mind, because I felt I could be so many things.
Come to think of it: It should have been easier, in my youth. During our college years, that’s exactly what we were meant to do: To seek. To learn. To experiment. To be — so many things!
But somehow, my contemporaries seemed to be more certain about their paths. They would be teachers or administrators. The more city-savvy types were going into investment banking in New York. And I’ve even known one biologist and a chick who went to work for Fox News. But mostly, they would be teachers.
“How can they be so sure?” I wondered.
Because I wasn’t sure. I could foresee the pleasure in having a day job with which I could identify myself for a couple of years; but the romance of its routine would expire as soon as some bureaucrat’s ego would begin dictating procedures to me, on a daily basis. Some of them didn’t like my language, or my dress code. They handed me time sheets and forms, along with the lists of appropriate jewelry. Some wanted me to tame my hair. Others preferred I didn’t call my colleagues “Loves”.
So, I would leave. I would always leave, but with enough notice and plenty of disappointment noticeable on my employers’ faces:
“It’s just that you had so much potential!” they would say.
“Then, why did you break my balls about my headscarves?” I would think in response. Still, I would leave with grace (even if I was leaving over burning bridges).
After college, I would be the only one in my class to leave for an art school.
“But you should teach!” my academic mentors insisted. “Most of your contemporaries teach!”
Everyone had an opinion. Everyone but me. I still felt I could be so many things, but I really wanted to be — just one!
Some seemed to be quite disappointed in my decision to stick to the arts.
“What are you gonna do — with an art degree? You could be so many things, instead!”
And I wasn’t sure. I still wasn’t sure.
“And how can everybody else — be so sure?!” I wondered.
After the first semester in my MFA program, the uncertainty about my profession would remain. However, the overall vision of my life was becoming clearer: I would be an artist. I WAS an artist. And it was starting to be enough — to be that one thing.
And so, there I was: Willing to risk my life’s stability — the stability about which my contemporaries seemed to be so sure — for the sake of seeking daily inspiration. I would take on projects that would fuel my gratitude and curiosity. I would begin spending my nights in companies of others who shared my exotic disease — the dis-ease of the soul; and I would attend their shows and poetry readings, and loom in front of their paintings in tiny New York galleries. And none of us were still certain about our destinations; and yes, we were still filled with angst. But we did share the same vision: Our moments of happiness were simultaneous to the moments of creation — the moments of dis-ease.
Throughout the years, some of my contemporaries have disappeared into their professions: They turned out to be successful administrators and great teachers. Wonderful teachers, as a matter of fact! I would watch them moving with seeming certainty through their honorable daily routines.
“Still: How can you be so sure?” I would interview a few of them, years later.
I had succumbed to my disease fully by then, and I would learn to maneuver the demands of my survival jobs. I had surrendered.
“Are you kidding?! We aren’t sure at all!” some would answer, honestly.
And for the first time, in their tired and good, decent and honorable faces, I would notice a slight glimmer of doubt.
“Oh!” I would wonder. “So, no one really knows, for sure!”
Strangely, I would find no comfort in their doubtfulness.
But I would find great ease in knowing that I myself had fully surrendered to my disease: The dis-ease of my soul — of an artist.