Another Choice

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I worked with a client recently who had always loved to write, had a novel she wanted to finish, but couldn’t seem to make the time to work on it. She was busy with a career and a marriage and was haunted by the thought that this whole writing thing might be a waste of time. For several months we met and talked about getting into The Flow, and not worrying about what people think of our stuff, and not thinking about the future. She was hungry for this perspective, and absorbed it all quickly, and soon found herself with a regular and productive writing practice. One day she announced that she hardly ever thought about writing being a waste of time.

“But now I have a new problem,” she said. “I don’t want to go to my job anymore.”

My first thought was, “Success!” She had found the true, immediate, connected pleasure that is writing. When you get a taste of it unsullied by worry and self-doubt there is little that compares to it. My second thought was, “We must be careful.” The first challenge for most artists is making this connection. The second challenge is living our whole lives, even when we’re not creating.

I thought of this recently when I heard about Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain’s suicides. While I do not know the particulars of their lives, what specific form their torment took, the artist’s suicide has always made sense to me. There is nothing like doing work you love. While doing it, you feel connected to what you always want connection. Life makes sense also. The anarchy of the street or the newsfeed fades as you find meaningful order on the page, the canvas, or in the kitchen. The deeper the connection, the better you feel. It is like a drug in that it instantly relieves pain, but instead of draining you, it gives you life.

Unfortunately, the more connected you are, the more acutely you experience the pain of disconnection. What you could endure when you were younger and still searching for your own path can become intolerable. You know you can’t work every single moment of the day – then your work would be an addiction. If you are not careful, by some weird turn the thing you love most can merely remind you of what seems like the pain inherent in life.

It needn’t be this way. The artist must understand that what speaks to him in his workroom does not go silent at the dinner table or the grocery store. It cannot go silent, but we can forget how to hear it, believing perhaps that the workroom is some special, holy place, and that our work is a special, holy activity. I do not think the Muse cares where we are or what we’re doing. The Muse doesn’t care if we call ourselves writers or designers or chefs. She will not leave you, abandon you, or ignore you. She can’t. She has but one function in this world, and she will do it tirelessly and continuously forever. But I must practice listening to her no matter where I am or what I’m doing. That is my only function.

The only pain I have known in my life stemmed from the belief that love and inspiration are capricious companions whose next visit might be their last. It is an intolerable thought with which I simply cannot live, though I have tried. So I think I understand Spade’s and Bourdain’s choice, but I also know another. They made their choice only once, but we must make the other every single day we choose to live.

If you like the ideas and perspectives expressed here, feel free to contact me about individual coaching and group workshops.