Bruce Meyer is an author (poet) living in Barrie, ON, Canada, who was previously featured on Reading Recommndations. He recently posted to his status update on Facebook, and I found what he had to say about being an artist so interesting that I asked his permission to share this with all my blog readers. Thanks, Bruce, for your insight and the advice! smt)
I had a very startling experience on the weekend. I had to move my computer desk to reset my modem and get a new power cord for it. I found an old address book — about 30 or more years old. In it were the names and contact info for people in the literary world. At one time the book was a kind of who’s who of publishers, publicists, authors, reading venues, and cultural administrators (some of who were really lousy to a young poet). What I found startling was that there are only a handful of survivors of those days. Some people left the world and I’m sorry for that. Others, just drifted away from writing. Those who survived (and you know who you are because I’m in touch with you all frequently these days) are survivors because you paid the price for your passion. Joseph Campbell says we should find our bliss, but what he forgot is the fact that we have to pay for it in so many ways. An artist’s longevity is based on several things:
1) Don’t let people put you down for what you are doing. If they put you down for what you are doing without expressing a note of compassion or creative suggestion for how you can develop what you do, tell them to f— off. They’re idiots.
2) Be prepared to pay the price for what you do. My first book of poems was rejected by over 1000 publishers. Einstein said that insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. That might be true for physics, Albert, but life doesn’t work according to equations. Keep doing what you are doing.
3) Sticky by your guns. You know what you can do. For years I carried a quote from the jazz great, Thelonius Monk, in my wallet. He said “Play your own way. Don’t play the way people tell you to play. Play your own way. Eventually people will catch on even if it takes them twenty or thirty years.” I agree.
4) Failure is not a negative thing: it is a chance to learn more. I am paraphrasing my Victoria College compadre, Malcolm Gladwell here, but that was a mantra that some of the finer profs slipped to us during our undergrad days. Those who got jobs right out of their PhDs stopped at that particular point in time. Many of those (and I’m not talking about everyone but a number of folks) didn’t have the pressure to constantly learn and reinvent their thinking. Reinvent yourself continually. Learn as much as you can. When you bomb, that’s just a chance to push the reset button.
5) If you fail one place, just pack up your act and move it somewhere else. The place where you fail is just a stop on a longer journey. I know. I got shot down here and there over the years. I take great solace in the story of Snoopy and the Red Baron: up 99 times, shot down 99 times.You are a road act. Be prepared to play Peoria every now and then. And remember if they don’t appreciate you here and now then just wait. You will show them.
6) Never, ever give up believing in yourself. You are your own investment. There are always going to be people who behave like pests at a picnic. They hover. They can sting. They will be annoying. Their presence is short. Your presence is long term. You live with yourself. Live your life with a vision that you will keep pursuing what you know you can do, and the better you get at it, the more you learn from failure, the stronger and more accomplished you will become at what you do.
7) And make sure what you do is the best you can do. To my survivor friends out there (God bless you — we’re old troopers and I’m sure you know this), those who endure are those who always strive to do their best. They are their own harshest critics. They are never satisfied with themselves. Yes, a person can be hurt by criticism but you have to ask yourself (after you put aside the bastard’s ego and blah blah prejudice that always comes with criticism) what the criticism really contains because even when it is meant to sting there is an ounce of usefulness in that. Find that usefulness and you will overcome the moment.
8) Keats had one major review of his poetry during his life. It was a horrible, negative review. No one reads the review (except Keats scholars and literary bloodhounds such as me). People read Keats though. The world is full of crap. Don’t pay any attention to it and don’t let the bastards get you down because the world is full of wonders that are trying to speak to you if you listen to them. Negativity from others shuts down the ears of our souls and blunts the whispers that the world is trying to share with us. Be aware that the naysayers vanish (poof!) like magic. They are soon replaced by more naysayers. There will always be naysayers because there will always be people who feel insecure and threatened by what you do and how well you do it. They are even worse when you make it look easy (and it isn’t easy — it is hard, long-fought for work and they bloody well don’t know it and they don’t need to because hard work counts for nothing). The only measure of what you accomplish is whether it stands the test of time. The moment is nothing. The accolade is meaningless.
The real reward is when someone you hardly knew, someone who was standing just out of the corner of your eye whose name you failed to record in that address book thirty years ago writes to you out the blue and says “what you did had meaning, what you said has stayed with me, and what you dreamed has pointed the way for me.” That is when you know it was all worth it.