A Five Year Retrospective

Ryan Essmaker
Aug 29, 2016 · 4 min read

“Rule of thumb: The more important a call or action is to our soul’s evolution, the more Resistance we will feel toward pursuing it.” — Steven Pressfield, The War of Art

Eleven years ago on a summer evening in a sleepy Michigan suburb, the idea for The Great Discontent was born. Tina and I were dating at the time and we often went for long walks to talk about things we loved — mostly creative passions and a desire to travel and experience the world. It was creativity that brought us together and we both longed to work on something creative together. The seed of the idea was a “magazine” about creativity, interviewing artists we looked up to and wanted to emulate. We felt isolated where we were at in Michigan and found solace only in each other and our dreams for the future.

I was a musician starting to focus more time on design and photography. Tina, a writer and artist going to school for her Bachelor of Social Work. The project felt like a grand idea, and one that we were qualified for, but it sat dormant for five years. It was easy to blame it on busyness and life in general, but it was the resistance that Pressfield talks about in The War of Art that held us back. We’ve written about this before so I won’t spend too much time on it here, but suffice to say, in the words of Pressfield, “Resistance is always lying and always full of shit.”

Tina and I made excuses for years until one day we finally woke up and listened to that nagging voice in our hearts that told us we were the only ones holding ourselves back. It was time to stop wishing for change and do something about it. Whether or not it “succeeded” didn’t matter to us. We had to birth this thing that had been growing inside of us. And on August 29th, 2011, about nine months later (no joke), The Great Discontent was launched.

Looking back now, the decision made over five years ago to make a change and do something that we felt deep down inside of us changed our lives. It’s funny how that works. So many of life’s biggest moments all boil down to one decision — one moment of saying yes or no to something in our lives.

And no, it hasn’t been easy over the last five years. This project and our dedication to it opened up a door for us to come to New York, which has been amazing, but publishing and any creative work is still work. It’s a constant hustle and any good artist (or entrepreneur) knows that you must continue to evolve to survive — even if it’s only your own mind that you’re competing against.

With TGD celebrating five years this summer, I’ve been reflecting a lot about why we started the project. I think back on this quote from Kerouac’s On the Road: “[…]the only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars and in the middle you see the blue centerlight pop and everybody goes “Awww!” And something I read more recently from Bukowski, “…the only writers who write well are those must write in order to not go mad.”

I have a soft spot for anyone who has to make art in order to not go crazy , or maybe it’s stay crazy — I’m not sure. The fact of the matter is that there are so many of us who need to create to feel alive. It doesn’t have to be our profession (sometimes it’s much better that way), but it needs to be a big part of our lives in order to fully function. It’s that desire in people that we’re trying to uncover in The Great Discontent. In the closing spread of Issue 4, we attempted to capture that ethos:

“Whether we chase our dreams with wild abandon or diligently pursue them in the evening hours, we all create. We do it because we must — because we’ve asked ourselves what makes us truly come alive, and we’re doing it. That is the great discontent: the desire within that drives us to create and challenges us to make more. The impetus for our grandest adventures and greatest creations, it promises to satisfy our ambitions and drive us mad all at once. It’s a light that sometimes burns brightly and brilliantly, and at other times only faintly glimmers — but it is always there, waiting. It’s up to us to choose what we do with it.”

Through TGD, I hope to take the next several years to dive even deeper into the creative mind and what makes us tick, as well as explore ways that we can overcome our own resistance to pursue our creative passions. The artist is often faced with a lonely road, but I know I’ve found encouragement and inspiration in talking with and reading the 220+ interviews we’ve had the honor of publishing over the past five years — and we hope you have, too.

It’s certainly been a wild ride, but one that I wouldn’t trade. I’ve met my closest friends through this project, created things that I’m incredibly proud of, and moved to a city that actually feels like home. And, honestly, I feel like we’re just getting started.

To creativity and all the work behind it,
Ryan 💃

“Inspiration and creativity, they ride right next to one another… Not everyday are you going to wake up, the clouds are gonna part and the rays are gonna come down… sometimes you gotta just get in there and force yourself to work and maybe something good will come out of it.” — Jack White (from The White Stripes: Under Great White Northern Lights)

Ryan Essmaker

Multidisciplinary designer and photographer living and working Brooklyn. Cofounder and editor in chief of @greatdiscontent.

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