It’s early morning stirrings here in Irvine. The birds are just starting to sing, the early workers starting their cars and heading out in a parade, the small round woman who wears flip flops to walk her standard poodle makes her first pass down the street in front of my apartment; she’ll make one more in a minute, followed by the white sedan that scrapes its front bumper on a dip in the pavement every morning. Mustard is hiding in “his bush,” the box shrub at the bottom of the stairs where he, concealed, can watch the birds, lizards, and tiny dogs that can smell but can’t see him. Kyle is at his desk, checking off work tasks he left for himself last night. And I’m on the front porch, next to the plumeria that won’t bloom and the tiny potted succulents that sometimes do, drinking a pumpkin mocha coffee, enjoying the crisp weather that doesn’t last past 9am. Here comes the woman and her poodle; you hear her flip flops before you see her.
There have been a few instances in the last weeks where I've said “I should write about that in a blog post,” but didn’t, and now can’t remember what it was I remarked upon. My own personality traits, surely. Fear, likely. Fear that every creative person, perhaps every person, feels. That nagging question: what if it’s not enough? What if I’ve been chipping away at a cement wall, and if I’d only turn my head to the left or the right, I’d see that I could just walk around? What if I’m also on the other side, building it?
Kyle reminds me that there is no set path to success as an artist, that it’s about carrying on until you hit the tipping point. But during all that carrying on, it’s hard not to look at the body of work I’ve created and think, “Is this really any good?” Certainly people have pursued unachievable dreams before, buoyed by the misguided support of their families and friends. And then, of course, there is the constant comparison which left unchecked turns to resentment. I find that even when I do achieve some success, I automatically disqualify it. It is said that the qualities you find irksome in others are really the qualities you hate in yourself. We’ve been watching The Great British Baking Show recently, and the contestants who constantly doubt themselves are so irritating to me. The irony is not lost.
I spent last week applying. Applying to shows and residencies and exhibitions and markets, and one or two part-time jobs (same as it ever was, plenty of companies posting vacancies, no companies reaching out to fill them). I took photos of all of my paintings, edited those photos, wrote a project proposal for a residency, wrote a new artist statement, updated my CV and my website, spent somewhere in the ballpark of $200 on entry fees… (me listing all of this is an endeavor for your (or, more likely, my own) validation; I am doing the work!).
In my artist statement I write about being inspired by nature and spending my free time searching for inspiration in natural landscapes. This past Saturday morning, that statement flitted through my mind as I sat on the couch playing games on my phone.
I suppose it’s important to zone out sometimes; for the majority of these last 3.5 years I’d have rather been comatose anyway. Nevertheless, it feels wasted. Each minute I’m not doing something productive is a minute of waste and shamefulness. There’s so much commentary packed into this. The whole “live like you’ll die tomorrow,” and “fear of missing out,” and hustle culture that is ingrained in my generation; and which, when broken down, is more like “keep yourself in bondage,” and “your worth is based on your capital,” and “you’ll never be quite good enough.” Especially now, especially with everything in the balance, at a standstill, without prognosis.
I don’t know, folks. In your 20s you expect to have it figured out in your 30s, just like you expected that your teenage acne would’ve gone away by now. But nope, there it still is all down your jawline; maybe a little more resigned than it once was, easier to conceal.
I was hoping that by the time I finished typing this, it would’ve taken a positive, even hopeful, turn. But there goes the white sedan, scraping its bumper as always.