“They show up every day and do the work”

How many times have you heard someone talk about creative, productive, prolific writers, artists, thinkers of the past and say something along the lines of “The thing they all have in common is that they show up every day and do the work”?

No, they fucking don’t. Some days they cry on the kitchen floor. Some days they drink a half a bottle of vodka before noon. Some days they rake leaves and listen to music to get away from “the work”. Some days the overwhelming pain and frustration of not being able to translate the thing inside their head onto the page, the canvas, the keyboard — sometimes it’s so overwhelming that it is literally impossible to show up and do the work.

We’re told these stories about how Faulkner was paraphrased as saying

“I only write when inspiration strikes. Fortunately it strikes at nine every morning,”

or how successful entrepreneurs have a rigid routine every morning and we feel like “I’m wasting my life.” We feel like, “Oh man, I’ve gotta start getting up two hours earlier.” We feel like “Every one is doing it better than I am.”

But it’s bullshit. It’s all utter crap. We are reinforcing these stories with one another as if every single person who has ever been on the planet isn’t “wasting” their lives some days. We are being judgmental asshats, ascribing our beliefs of what a life is supposed to look like onto other people.

I knew a painter. He was a brilliant painter. All moody and broken and influenced by antique medical texts, Francis Bacon and his six years of unemployment because he had to paint, but was too depressed to sell. He couldn’t “get a job” because he had to paint, but was too depressed to talk to anyone about his work. He couldn’t kill himself because he had to paint. His studio was a 15 square meters, half the floor littered with art supplies, the other half covered with beer bottles, set upright, in rows. A thousand empty beer bottles.

For years, I judged him. I used to think that my way of living — cleaning up from time to time, getting out of bed every day, trying to do something meaningful, eating decent food, not drinking obsessively, not allowing myself to feel the stuff that’s in there because it’s scary and weird and they all say “Laura, you’re not right. You should try…”– I used to think, they were right. I need a better morning routine. I should watch less TV. I should do x and y and z so that I’m not depressed because it’s not right. But at least I was better off than him. His life was a disaster. He had no money, no clothes, hardly any friends (and those that he did have judged him like I did). He got kicked out of his apartment, he had to beg for money for paint, he couldn’t sell. He couldn’t work. He couldn’t produce.

But boy did we laugh together. Every once in a while when he came out of his dank, dripping cesspool of a life, and we had a beer together, oh boy did we laugh. And he helped me. Over and over again, he helped me with things, and I judged. I judged because I loved him enough to want a better life for him. I wanted him to be well.

A few years ago, he met a girl. He painted with her. She turned out to be crazy, they had a psychotic breakup and he left her. Then he met another girl, and she’s nice. We laugh together. He sees me. They both see me. He stopped painting. They build furniture together. And his life is nice.

He drinks. I judge too much. He smokes. I judge too much. He now lays flooring for a construction company. He’s smarter than that. I judge too much. He adopted a dialect that sounds funny. I judge too much.

You judge too much. You, yes, YOU. You sit there and you go about your day judging other people’s lives, other people’s actions. Thinking your way is better. You hide your flaws and judge other people’s and then you pretend like you don’t judge them. You try to be understanding, empathetic, a good person, but you judge. You judge, judge, judge all the time.

Did you notice? Do you see yourself judging? Are you taking steps to train your brain how to be less judgmental? Do you realize that no one has the answers, no one gets to be right, not about anything?

Maybe you spend a lot of time judging yourself. I spend a lot of time judging myself. I feel guilty about the person that I used to be (yesterday, five minutes ago, fifteen years ago) and the person I’m about to be (the type of person that actually publishes this kind of neurotic writing).

“They” don’t show up every day, and I don’t have to either. “They” are not better than us, and we don’t have to believe that they are. “They” are individuals, just like I am. “They” have a shit time sometimes, just like you do.