The Ship Is Turning
The Ship Is Turning
There was a week when a lot of good things happened at once. It felt so strange and I realized that I had grown very used to things going either badly or just sort of going. It felt like I’d been on a giant ship and it had, for years, been headed toward desolation. I’m not sure I was fully aware I was on a ship headed toward desolation. If you’d asked me, “Are you on a big ship?” I’m not sure I’d have said yes. It’s a metaphor I was not conscious of at all until it started to shift.
Now, the ship becomes visible to me as it is starting to turn. It’s a big ship, so it can’t turn quickly. I can still see the shores of desolation off in the distance but the ship is turning. It is turning slowly and (hopefully) surely.
I’m not sure when I got on this big ship. It could have been when I went to grad school, which took an enormous amount of wind out of my sails. It could have been when I realized I’d have to leave London and give up a series of hopes and dreams. Or maybe I just found myself on board one day after one too many rejections and disappointments. All I know is, I am glad this boat is turning around.
I wonder, too, if this ship’s route is related to the U curve. Apparently, most people’s life satisfaction takes a major dip in their mid 40s — but it starts to head back up at a certain point — which is why it’s called a U curve. You hit the cul de sac of the U and then things start to get better.
Maybe the ship’s sailing plan is a U curve. It dips down close to the shores of desolation, makes you think you are definitely ending up there no matter how many dance parties you have on board, and then at the last moment, the ship starts to turn.
The thing about being a struggling artist™ for this long is that it starts to feel like you have a stink on you. It can feel like everyone sees that your ship is headed to the shores of desolation and most people prefer to look away. Everyone loves a winner and everyone wonders what’s wrong with the ones that aren’t actively winning. That is, it’s fine to choose to be an artist, as long as you can show everyone that you are actively winning — stop winning for a bit and folks are going to start asking why you keep doing this. The wins don’t have to be big to keep your sails billowing but they do have to be recognizable to the average person as a win.
That is, I could write a book — but until that book is published and in stores, the accomplishment does not register to most people. It can feel like you’re carrying that book on a big ship headed to the shores of desolation where you might as well throw it into the sea and watch the pages scatter through the waves. Get someone to agree to publish it, though, that ship starts to turn around. (No one’s publishing my books by the way. My ship would probably be turning around a lot faster if that were the case.)
Most people won’t read ( or listen to) your book until it’s published and reviewed and vetted by all the major news outlets. They won’t go see your play until it’s on Broadway. They won’t listen to your albums until they’re on the radio. They won’t buy your paintings until they’re on sale at the Biennial. I don’t know why people need their art to be approved of by the mainstream but apparently they do.
I guess what I’m saying is that there’s a U curve for artistic work, too — and it probably magnifies the U curves of age. The relentlessness of indifference, of failing to make an artistic mark in a way regular people recognize, of just pushing forward with so little encouragement can make for a pretty brutal U curve for artists. I know too many who didn’t make it up the other side. They saw where that ship was headed and they couldn’t imagine it would ever turn around.
Frankly, I didn’t have any reason to believe mine would turn around either. I just figured I’d dance on deck until we hit the shore.
But this ship is turning. It’s going slow. It’s creaking. It’ll take some time and effort and it’s probably going to displace a lot of water. But it is turning.
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Originally published at http://artiststruggle.wordpress.com on May 27, 2022.