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Being an Artist is Brave
a peek into the mind of a mushy artist...
It’s been a couple of weeks since I received the best news of the year: CLEAR SCANS BABY!! I spent my week of radiation isolating amongst a sea of sunflowers (that will eventually be its own story), sitting in my room pondering what to with my time and what to do with my life after I **hopefully** got clear scans. Well I got the results I wanted and immediately took off to the beach, my most happiest place on earth. I got home on a Sunday and laid awake in bed for hours wondering: NOW WHAT.
What do you do when you’ve been living in survival mode for almost a year? What do you do when you haven’t worked in almost a year? How do you re-enter life? Do you crash back in like an asteroid falling from space? Or do you tip toe back in like sneaking home after a broken curfew? How do you claim your life back when you feel you’ve lost your agency? No, even worse, when you don’t know who you are anymore?
Don’t get me wrong… I think I like this Valheria better. She’s stronger, more capable, has bigger faith, and some pretty cool battle scars to prove it. But wow does it feel like I’m returning home after a very long hiatus (because I wouldn’t dare call it a vacation) and I don’t remember how the lights work, where the doors lead, how the hot water turns on, or where we keep the towels.
I spent most of June and July, feeling physically great, but emotionally confused. My friend asked me the other day, “how do you feel knowing you got clear scans?” And the obvious answer is: “GREAT!” “AMAZING!” “ECSTATIC!” Or some variation of those words. But she knows me better. And she knows I feel my feelings deeeeeply… so the answer is not so simple. The truth is, I haven’t really allowed myself any time to process or think about how I feel being “cancer free”.
There’s a lot of shame and guilt that needs to be released on my end for not having my answer be the obvious reply I think everyone wants to hear. I read a lot about survivor’s guilt, and journal about feeling lost and confused in my own skin. I know, from all the emotional work I’ve been doing in therapy for 4 years, that I can be grateful AND (insert complicated emotion). I mean, I even wrote about these complex marble emotions in my last post. So I’m not surprised this moment is also one of those.
This is a tricky time to be alive. Our world is on fire. Both literally and metaphorically. People are claiming everything has already been done and nothing is original anymore. Robots and AI are taking over the world, countries are at war, somewhere someone is getting diagnosed with something terrifying, and yet some of us are out here trying to fill the world with art. It seems like it shouldn’t be a priority, but OHMYGOD is it necessary!
So not only am I freaking out over the fact that I really just survived having cancer (like, what…?) but also, as I’m trying to get back to the life that I made for myself as an artist, everything feels like it’s going to shit and Hollywood is on strike and people are losing their jobs and nobody is hiring and it has been radio silent in my inbox FOR MONTHS. *cue the existential crisis.
I took a bath at 8:37 am. I sat waiting for my bath bomb to explode, but it never did. It slowly fizzed and then eventually just stopped; sank to the bottom and stayed a solid, hard, round rock.
“WHY IS NOTHING WORKING?”
I laid there, staring at the ceiling in the dark. Feeling the deep and dark nothingness, my thoughts reverberating in my head: “Because you’re not meant to be an artist. You gave it all you had. Don’t you think it’s time you put this dream to rest?”
Not every thought that we think in our heads is true. We cannot believe every thought that we think. This is evidenced by the fact that in the past two days that I have been walking around thinking that I am not meant to be an artist—that I have given everything that I had to give, that this career had run its course and it was time for me to do and be something else because this clearly was NOT working— I have also been emailing brands and artists I want to work with, writing, painting, and brainstorming ideas for future projects. This shows me that even though my brain is telling me that I am not an artist anymore, and that I'm not supposed to continue pursuing being an artist, my body knows better.
My body knows what it wants; my body knows what it needs. And my body has literally been carrying me around and carrying out the actions of being an artist: creating, ideating, and pursuing my ideas, trying to turn them into reality. So no, we cannot believe every thought that pops into our head.
Being an artist is so brave. The world needs artists; the world needs us. And it really may be one of the bravest professions out there because it is one of the professions in which you are the most vulnerable. In few other professions do you put your entire heart and soul and emotions out on the line for the entire world to see, usually for no gain! You literally offer up your deepest ideas, your deepest dreams, your deepest feelings— the stuff that you wouldn't tell anybody. You put it into your art and then you put it out into the world and it's just kind of like, “okay! now the world can do with that whatever they want to!” They can tear it apart if they want to. They can lift it up if they want to. They can make it go viral. They can literally ignore it. But those are your feelings on the line. That is your soul that you are baring, that you're putting on the line. And that is SO brave.
It is brave to show up, and to do that day, after day, after day. Rejection, after rejection, after rejection. Silence, after silence, after silence. It is so brave to continue to show up with the hope that somebody will believe in your ideas as much as you do. Honestly, something that I've learned is that it doesn't matter who you’ve worked for, it doesn't matter what names and companies you have on your resume. You can still go months, years, long periods of time without job opportunities, without job offers, without anyone else believing in your ideas. And as an artist your job is to continue to create, continue to dream, continue to put out your ideas, and your art, and your creations.
We all need support. It is ridiculous to believe that anyone is self made because self made implies that you did it entirely by yourself without the support of anybody else and I do not buy that. I do not subscribe to that mentality because it's not true. Everybody needs connection, encouragement and support. We simply cannot exist without it.
As somebody who, lately, has not felt very encouraged or supported by the industry that I have poured everything into, I can say this feels heartbreaking. And it can eventually lead you to feel like it's not worth it anymore; that it’s not worth putting your heart out on the line anymore; it’s not worth creating magic for the whole world to see, if nobody gives a shit about it, if nobody cares about your livelihood, if nobody cares that it is not cheap to make art.
It costs artists money to create their work. It costs artists energy, time, and oftentimes our own livelihoods to create the things we then gift to the world! Think about all the content we consume on a daily basis (on social media alone!) that brings us joy, or inspires us to keep going, or makes us feel a little less alone. Someone has to make it for us to consume and, for the most part, we aren’t charged to enjoy or benefit from it. There’s not that many professions that do that! CEOs, engineers, doctors don't just show up for free. You can’t just give all your energy and time away for free. It’s simply not sustainable.
In order to keep making things, artists need to feel valued and respected. I think about the SAG and Writer’s Union strikes. There are so many people that are suffering from this because the studios don't want to give good working conditions or fair wages. The effects of this are vast and trickle down and affect more than just the actors and the writers. It affects the camera people, the hair and makeup artists, the stylists, the casting directors, the janitors that work at the studios, the list goes on and on.
When I talk to my friends that are being affected by this, I hear the heartbreak in their words when they tell me how depressed they are; that they lost their spark long before the strikes went into effect at the hands of an industry that never valued them. They tell me they don’t know what to do or where to go. And the world is missing out on their talents and their creativity because they are too hurt to keep showing up.
In my own way, I’m tired of showing up too. I'm tired of showing up with faith in my pockets and my heart in my hands. I’m tired of putting it all out into the world and not getting a response back. And some days, you just kind of reach your limit and you decide that you don't want to be hurt like this anymore. You don't want to keep getting rejected. You don't want to keep sending out emails and not hearing back. You don't want to try to keep convincing people that you're worth their time and that you're worthy of opportunity. That can take a really massive toll on a person and, after enough time, you start to feel like you're a failure.
There's a difference between failing at something and being a failure. I can learn from mistakes that I've made. I can learn from projects that have failed, and in fact, I have; but it's really hard for me to overcome the idea that I am not a failure when I've had massive opportunities and have worked with really big names and companies and yet, I've gone almost a year without getting a single job. The lack of affirmation eventually begins to feel like the universe is telling me that this path is not for me. But this is why we can't believe every thought that pops into our head.
I know that I was meant to be an artist. My body knows that it was meant to be an artist, that it was meant to create and to be a visionary and to make things with my hands and then put them out into the world. I have no choice BUT TO BE AN ARTIST. I have magic in my hands and the real failure would be denying myself the thing that makes me the happiest simply because it felt like nobody else believed in me.
I’m going to keep showing up. I’m not going to let them (who/whatever has hurt me, wronged me, disappointed me) win. I’m going to keep giving myself grace, especially as I process my feelings. I’m going to keep making the art that I want to and eventually I’ll start sharing it again. It has required every ounce of strength I could muster, every crumb of hope I could find in my couch cushions, for me to pull myself out of the darkness I went into.
I always come back to this, because I can’t help but think of it this way: The delays, the challenges, the mayhem… it makes way for us to find the magic. It’s an opportunity, a chance, a pathway to the magic. But we have to choose to see it that way. We have to choose the things we believe carefully. We have to choose the words we tell ourselves. We have to choose if and how we show up for ourselves. And sometimes, bad situations happen to offer us the opportunity to choose hope, or love, or faith, instead of despair, or hate, or fear. It’s all part of the plan, and we are all right on time.
If you are a fellow artist, please know you are not alone in feeling stuck, or lost, or hopeless. It’s really hard to keep going, but I really hope you do. The world needs you.
As always, I wish you all so much love and magic,
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