On the Bad Days and the Days After

Working in Asheville, NC for the day. August 16, 2016.

You’ve overdrawn your checking account three times in less than 24 hours. So your bank charged you $75 you clearly don’t have. You can’t pay rent. Your student loan payments are coming up in a few short weeks. And worst of all, you’re running out of $2.99 wine and don’t have money to buy more.

Work is difficult to find and feels just as difficult to keep. And each day that passes without paying work feels like another nail in your career coffin.

On the bad days, the days when you’re not sure how you’re going to get by, it can feel as if the world is climbing on your shoulders to sit, like a kid who doesn’t yet know they’ve grown out of that sort of thing. And it squirms, leaning one way and then the other. But no matter how much you plead or cry or bargain, they sit there, content to make you miserable.

Welcome to the romantic life of a starving artist.

Not all starving artists are destined for greatness. Starving for an art doesn’t make that art inherently good. And not all artists are starving. Yet, many will starve for a period. Sometimes, this period will stretch into a lifetime.

As an artist, there are days you’ll sit on the couch and cry, wondering if you’ve made the right choices. I’m afraid to say, this tends to become more frequent with age. You’ll feel naive and stupid for trying. You’ll feel terrible for forcing your parents to justify your artistic career (if it could be called that) to their friends and coworkers.

You’ll worry that you’ll die alone and without a retirement plan. Where did you go wrong? Why did you think this was a good idea? Have you ever or will you ever be good enough to justify such a foolhardy endeavor?

You’ll renew your attempts to find a “real” job, but quickly become depressed at the prospect of sitting at a desk all day, doing a job that seems to exist just to deal you death by a 1000 compromises. This is when the real misery begins, because you’ll realize that you’re stuck between a rock and a hard place, with no real way out. Or, at least, no pleasant way out.

You’ll then spend hours coming up with hare-brained money-making schemes in a desperate attempt to make yourself feel better. But no, buying 100 pounds of red meat and constructing a life-size human out of that meat is not the answer to your problems.

And then one day, after weeks of existential crisis, you’ll wake up and you’ll sit in your favorite chair, read a really good book, and lose yourself. You’ll take a sip of coffee and it will taste like pure heaven. And, even though you’re not sure you can pay rent, you don’t recoil from your apartment, but seem to love it all the more.

Is it much? Nah. But it’s yours, at least for the time being. That’s what makes it beautiful. You can hear Brian Molko in the back of your head singing, “There’s nothing here, but what here’s mine.”

You suddenly remember how great you have it, even if it doesn’t seem like it sometimes. Do you have a Lambo? No. But most 9–5 career folk don’t either. Would you be better off with a 401k? Probably. But those are in short supply too, so are you really missing out?

Even though your lack of wine will roll around in the back of your mind, you’ll also appreciate that, as a self-employed starving artist, you have earned the right to drink wine at any point during the day. You have no boss issuing you warnings or telling you to work on this or that. And your hatred for authority, as so many artists exhibit, will no longer get in the way of your daily mental health and capacity to work.

Then you’ll have friends telling you things like, “Don’t give up. Not yet.” Or, “You’re doing what you love. Why would you ever stop?” And the best yet, “You’re great at what you do, so please keep doing it.”

Life is short. Time marches on whether we want it to or not. And a life spent doing something you hate is not life; it’s a slow march to the grave. No one wants to feel regret or failure, but they’re part of the learning and growing process. If we had a choice, everything would be cash stacks and great champagne. But if I had my choice, which I do, I’d sooner try and fail than regret not trying at all.

Sure, there will be days you’ll kick yourself, wondering what could have ever possessed you to think that you’re good enough. But, most days, you’ll go to sleep knowing that you did what you could and that you tried something most people wouldn’t dream of trying. And then you’ll wake up the next day ready to try again.