Art: It’s Just Not That Into Me (Or Most of Us)

I talk a good game about writing because you want to and to make your peace as early as possible with the fact all you have control over is your own willingness to work and work as hard and honestly as you can at whatever you’re trying to create, and your doggedness in trying to get your work seen/heard/produced, etc (if you even want that).

I still believe in that. And I still believe if you’re expecting the Art Gods to act is if they have any interest in fairness, let alone thinking all your toil and hours of sacrifice somehow obligates them in any way to give you a helping hand, you haven’t been paying attention.

It’s Hard to Follow My Advice Because I’ve Seen Myself Attempt Things Like Try to Set Up a Universal Remote or Be Overly Liberal on the Five Second Rule Re: Dropped Food

And yet, I am less than a perfect adherent of my own maxims. I’ve reached a unique moment in my life as a writer. I’ve had moments of utter despair, shattering almosts and nearlys that have made me want to take my ball and go home. That they’ve increased over the last few years makes sense; between 2007-2013, I had a four full length plays produced about seven times regionally, and two of them had very well-received runs Off-Broadway. I had a fifth play optioned play optioned and set to open on Broadway the falling October. If this sounds like distasteful bragging to you, the next paragraph will make you feel a lot better.

Between 2014-and July 11th, EDT, 2022, I have failed to land another agent, which may have something to do the fact that in that eight year-stretch I had my option dropped, and have had a total of two new plays produced once each.

If my career were a pet, it likely would have been euthanized.

Eight Years Isn’t a Slump, It’s a Brand

The thing is, it’s not like I wrote only two plays in that period. I’ve written well..a lot of stuff. Tons. Something like eight full length plays, a web series, two screenplays, and two one act plays, in addition to two complete seasons of tv series. I believe firmly, and people whom I respect tend to concur, it is some of the best writing I’ve done. So based on my philosophy, I should take solace in that.

But to my embarrassment, these days I find can’t. Not even a quantum of solace*, which is a phrase I’m shoehorning into this sentence because it was actually the name of a James Bond film (which I still can’t fully accept this somehow got green-lighted) and maybe the the most absurd and stupid three words ever strung together. Anyway.

Don’t misunderstand me: it’s not that I’m feeling discouraged. It’s more than that. For the first time ever, the thought of writing, until now among the few things that has always allowed me sniff out some sense of who I am, fills me with physical and metaphysical revulsion.

All I seem to feel when I think of rolling a fresh sheet of paper in to start a new work is humiliating foolishness. Partly because I don’t have a typewriter, and I keep forgetting laptops don’t need paper. But mostly because I am living out the famous definition of insanity: doing the same thing over and over and over again and expecting a different result.

Obligatory Rhetorical Question

If a play is performed in a forest – or a theater – or a forest/theater and no one comes to see it, does it exist?

And it’s not like it’s been read by bunch of professionals and deemed unworthy. That would be disappointing and frustrating, but something I’d have to be willing to hear. I can’t get anyone (in a position to produce it) to read it. Not in theater or tv. And it’s not just my bank account and ego who feels this sting of rejection, although sure, that’s in there. It’s that it starts to feel like a delusional act. It stops being nourishing and gratifying and starts to seem a little embarrassing to myself.

Many Believe the Universe is Indifferent to Our Lives. Perhaps. But I Know for a Fact Art Is.

This when to remember Art has made it quite clear it isn’t obliged to you in the least. Art doesn’t owe me (or anyone) any favors. It didn’t sell on becoming an artist like it was talking me into a time share. Art says, “You want to be an artist? Great. Best of luck,” and then it walks (more likely, know Art, saunters) away, probably on its way to a gallery opening in the West Village, and leaves you to do the rest.

I’m not arguing what I’m feeling is right from an aesthetic, philosophical, or emotional stand point. If a friend approached me with the same dilemma, I know just what I’d say. I’d be encouraging and mean it.

I admit chasing fame and fortune are poor goals for an artist. I’m not. Just wanting to be a playwright is proof of that. If I’d hoped to achieve fame and future as a playwright in America, it’d a little like moving to Kenya hoping to achieve adulation as a figure skater.

Usually, I somehow just trudge forward, not out of some heroic dedication but because I’ve unlearned how not to. And who knows? Scarlett O’Hara famously said, “After all, tomorrow is another day!” Thing is, she’s not the fictional character you’d look to for solid life advice.

So, What Now?

Will I try to write again? Sigh. Probably. Did writing that jut now depress me? Very much so. Will the fact few if any may ever see it or care gnaw at me a lot more than it used to? It seems to be trending in that direction. Certainly more than I’d hoped from myself.

Art owes artists nothing.

And again, no one put a gun to my head, forcing to become an “artist” (I’m a bit self-conscious about this term. I worry it’s too self-regarding). But if you feel this is something people can just walk away from or stop emotionally attaching to once they’ve realized how disappointing it can be, I have to tell, this isn’t like the last season of Game if Thrones. Sure, you likely got pissed at the lazy writing and oddly unsatisfactory ending, but then you started binging something else. God, what bliss it would be to simply stop caring like that.

Let’s Open Up the Floor

How do you deal with these moments as writers/painters/actors/musicians, etc?

I’m curious about how others have dealt with such moments: please let me know your experiences and philosophies.

*It’s hard not to believe that the name “Quantum of Solace” wasn’t the result of some drunken party (read:orgy) at the producer’s home, in which hundreds of words were clipped out of magazines by interns, placed in a hat, and then picked at random. And when the guests dared the producer to name a film that, he (“he” is accurate here, because a woman wouldn’t be this idiotically obstinate), fueled on drunken bravado, shouted, “You bet your ass I’m gonna use this title!” and the next day, hungover, when he tries to back peddle, his buddies won’t let him off the hook. I’m pretty sure that’s how Hollywood works. Or at least, how it worked HERE.

12 thoughts on “Art: It’s Just Not That Into Me (Or Most of Us)

  1. Hmm, that’s tough. I’m still laughing about rolling in the fresh sheet of paper but not in a way that doesn’t feel the point.

    I haven’t put enough toil into Art to having anything meaningful to say about that. But I can say that I feel similarly about the computer consulting work I do professionally. I am good at it, know how to get it done but almost every time I start a new project I am filled with that physical revulsion you describe. Which is why I started writing and get paid nothing to do it but bounce around in happiness anytime anyone ever reads anything I’ve written. And then I appreciate my paying work for letting me do this other stuff.

    Perhaps there’s something in the flow of life that is pushing a different direction than what we’ve known before and takes a while to make the point?

  2. Jack. Hang in there. All of us who’ve done creative things and tried to get a bit of notoriety or (heaven forbid) make a little money from art have been where you are.

    I feel like I can speak about this because I’ve have moments where it seemed I was going to break through. I’ve even won an award or two, got paid a few bucks, had some people I respect look at my work and tell me they see real talent there. (I think having the last name Trump or somehow been related to someone like Tiger Woods or LeBron James probably would have gotten me over the hump, but, alas, I’m a nobody in a word that seems to adore somebodies.

    So I know what you’re saying; I feel what you’re saying.

    Jack, I’m going to throw an idea out there. The idea likely sucks (but maybe not). Are you a performer as well as a writer of comedy and dramas and such?

    Have you ever thought of doing stand-up? You could write your own stuff and think of your stand-up as a kind of “one-man” play.

    I’ve even thought of doing stand-up myself from time to time. I can write really good comedy–some real off the wall shit that some have laughed at–but I’m not sure I can do the performance part well enough. I see those who do stand-up as some of the greatest creative minds. In fact, if I had to put art in categories of a sort, I’d call stand-up “high art.” Because such folks have to be writers AND performers. To use a football metaphor, stand-ups have to be sort who can both run great pass routes and catch the ball and be able to kick really long field goals.

    I’m just feeling like I’d like to spend a bit of time outside the box this morning.

    1. Thanks so much, Troy. It’s funny you mention that, as I started out as an actor, yet the notion of doing stand up has always felt a like a bridge too far for me. It may be worth rethinking a bit, of course. Also, I’m an adherent of the 10,000 hour thing and at 53, it seems a bit late to start a new craft. But I may be overthinking it. Pointlessly, one might argue.

  3. I am always trying to turn my own creativity inside out in order to figure out how I can use it in different ways. My initial leads tend towards two dimensional visual art, but the themes and concepts which keep coming up have also pushed me to write blog posts, think about starting a community center or lecture series, or an art competition or gallery. I try to see what the core of my creativity is so that I don’t get stuck engaging with it from only one angle. *Caveat, very few of these angles have turned into anything other than experiments, and I am still actively looking for a new way in…

    When I think about your work it strikes me that you talk about writing but certainly have a niche which requires a gatekeeper: scripts for production. Is the best part of the creativity to see your work on stage or screen, acted out? Is there a way for you to be the gatekeeper: crowdfund your own production, or work with other independent artists to pilot your own series for youtube? Or is it about having other enjoy the characters at all? What about novels, or self-publishing, or working with an illustrator to turn your screenplays into webcomics? There are many unique and interesting ways of getting stories out in front of an audience that don’t require the traditional gatekeepers, though they certainly have other hoops to jump through (and often don’t pay off on the same scale).

    I guess the question is, is it the writing the disgusts you, or the fact that you are not able to control where it goes? If you still love the content, then perhaps there other ways to get it out there.

    Interestingly, you also don’t mention your work on this blog. I have enjoyed reading your work here and find it to be some of the only work which asks interesting questions while also eliciting audible laughter. Surely there is something here. Have you thought about teaching others or focusing on the non-fiction writing interests that you clearly have?

    All the best with your work.

  4. Yes, you’re right – it requires a few level of gatekeepers and that is the heart of my frustration. I feel I’m writing about as well as I’m capable of, but am unable to get past any gate. I think it’s a confluence of things at the moment that’s got me beyond frustrated. It’s no harder for me than it is for most other writers, but my increasing age is absolutely contributing to the rapidly closing window. As for writing novels, etc., I’ve thought a bit about that, but I do believe in the 10,000 hour rule to learn a craft thoroughly, and while there is some overlap between the two skill sets, there are many difference, too.

    I am deeply appreciative of your kind words about my writing here. I am trying to branch into teaching writing, but am having a hard time getting that off the ground. Hopefully, eventually I can get something going there.

  5. Jaaaaaaaaaaaaaack! 53? A teenager! Hot cha cha! 😀 And like an angsty teenager, you seem to be turning yourself inside-out and being disappointed that your guts are everywhere. Charming image, no? I urge you to journal the crap out of this every day, then do something physical like take long walks, in the rain, on the beach, off a short pier…:-) Yes, stereotypical non-solution, and not practical probably during a red hot NY summer. Swimming maybe, or playing in the sprinklers. I just worry that you’ve let your idea of having an agent be your solution. These last 2 years have broken all the norms, and this has less to do with Art giving you the cold shoulder, and more to do with Art being under duress in general. People are leery as can be with anything new, so taking chances? Difficult. I loved your recent play that you shared with us, so keep doing that and whatever you want to do. If you need a side hustle, then get a side hustle. Gotta keep Baby in pizza, right? My side hustle right now is an usher at a performing arts center. The pay is utter crap, but it allows a lot of extra time, and has no pressure (unless someone is on their damn phone during a performance, yeah). Also, you terrified me with the Scarlett O’Horror quote (Confederacy of Dunces ref. Yes, I have read the Consolation of Philosophy!)
    Cheer up, Chickenchops! <3

    1. Oh, having an agent guarantees nothing. I’m well aware. I’ve had more success without one than when I did have one. It’s just, for reasons I couldn’t tell you, the knowledge that the last nine years have been fairly fallow, coupled with how weird everything in the industry is, has gotten me particularly downhearted recently. But as I said, the art owe me – and everyone – nothing. Theater has been around in the West twice as long as Christianity and has been consistently disappointing its faithful ever since.

      1. Ahhhh, I hate to see you so bummed. If you want, send me a message via the contact form on my webpage, and I will give you contact info if you want to yabber. When funny people get depressed, it’s really raw, and I worry about you. There it is. I worry.

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