Jun 12, 2013

How do you get to Broadway?

Dear Ask A Punk - 
I'm becoming convinced that I suck at everything and always will. I keep trying various creative things because I feel like I am a creative person, but nothing seems to work out. I play some bass but I've been thrown out of all three bands that I've been in or tried to be in. I sit in my room and try to paint and it all looks like all I've done is SPILL paint. I have started blogs and then abandoned them because even I don't like re-reading what I write. I feel like I'm a big joke and I'm not even trying to be funny - because that is one thing I know I'm not, meaning I know I'm not all that funny, but I still think I need to express myself somehow. I just don't know why everything I try is always a mess. I guess I do know why. It is because I seem to suck at everything I'm attracted to trying. I'm 19 and at least I get decent grades at my college - which isn't a fancy college, I couldn't get in to one of those. I guess my question is: Should I give up on this wrong-headed idea that I'm "creative" and just become an accountant or just get married and be a housewife or something? -- Miss Awful.

Dear Ms. A
I am SO glad you included your age, otherwise I would have had to answer this question a couple of different ways. Here's the deal...

"Creativity" for most of us, is a long, slow and difficult slog that includes an ass-ton of failures, misfires and deadends while we figure out who we are, what we want to say and how we're going to say it. Seriously. Sure, there are a few people who pick a up paintbrush for the first time and create something spectacular, and there are "natural" musicians who are born with nimble fingers and perfect pitch... but they're rare, annoying as hell, but super rare. The rest of us have to rely on tenacity, repetition and a willingness to suuuuuuck and suck badly until, finally, we come to some kind of understanding with ourselves. 

You have to cut yourself some slack. Actually, at 19, you have to cut yourself a lot of slack and learn to be more patient and less judgemental of yourself. You couldn't possibly have been working long enough at any of the creative endeavors you mentioned to abandon them yet. Mastery of some of those skills: music, painting, writing can take years (or decades.) 

Maybe your problem isn't a lack of creativity as much as it is a lack of patience. I say this because I know that (willing) bass players are usually very hard to find, and if a band, or three, are willing to cut you loose, you're probably not ready to play out yet. Patience! ...and practice! How about you spend a year practicing and learning more about your instrument before you toss that bass on a bonfire? If money is an issue, you don't need to pay for lessons, just search on youtube and/or try vanderbilly (although they're mostly about guitar lessons, not bass, I think.)

I'll admit I don't know much of anything about painting, but I did recently listen to an interview with a visual artist. He described his art school experience as having to draw, literally, a thousand hands, a thousand heads and a thousand feet by the end of his first school year... and that was just to pass one class. How many hands, heads and feet have you drawn so far? If this stuff was easy (for everyone) then everyone would be doing it. 

As far as writing goes, you reeeeally have to give it more time, measured in years, before deciding you can't write. Most writers have to fill up a few dozen notebooks or hard drives with a few million words before they really find their voice. Heck, I've been writing this blog since you were about 14 - and I'm still feeling my way through it. ...and believe me, this isn't the only thing I've been writing ...and I've been writing, in various ways, since my teens too.

On the good side, I didn't get the feeling that you were complaining about a lack of material success, just a lack of artistic success. Keep THAT in focus too because material success is never guaranteed for anyone. You had better enjoy the process itself, and see it (and your incremental improvements) as the only "reward" that really matters, because in the end it really is the only thing that matters. Most true artists are really on a journey to figure themselves out... and that sort of journey rarely comes with a lot of fat paychecks, especially in a society that doesn't really value "art" all that much.

And finally, you really really have to dispense with the negative self-talk. This is one thing I know I'm 100% right about, because it also happens to be one of my biggest challenges. If you manage to convince yourself that you suck and that you'll always suck, guess what: You'll be right. Why do some of us beat ourselves up so often and so readily? I'm not quite sure either. I just know it is a common issue, and I know I've got it in spades. Don't be afraid to tell your inner critic to go fuck herself. 

So what is the answer to the headline/old joke? "Practice. Practice. Practice."

And finally: I know some accountants & housewives who are very creative & talented people, it doesn't have to be an either/or choice. 

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