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To thine own self be true

SnowmanThe last few weeks have been less than stellar.  While I find winter tough to take most years, a cold snap hits my mood especially hard.  When the temperature drops to -20C and below, I’m about the unhappiest camper you’re going to find.  Vitamin D, sunlamps, and other home remedies, I’ve tried ’em all.  Short of moving away to a warmer climate for 6 months of the year, I’ve just learned I have to ride it out.  Add to that the holiday season, of which I am not a fan, and a nasty cold that knocked me down hard on my one slow week of the year, and the last few weeks have felt like I’ve been living at the bottom of a deep dark hole.  Don’t get me going again on the fact that I’m supposed to be in Vegas this week.

There seems to be this ridiculous belief that if you are fortunate enough to love what you do for a living, you’re happy and upbeat all the time, and everything is right in the world, every minute of the day.  Trust me, that’s not the case.  While I’d much rather chart my own course than have somebody else tell me where to go and how to do it,  there will always be bad days and bad weeks, just like at any job, even one you enjoy.  Think of it this way, if somebody offered you your favourite food for dinner tonight, you’d jump at the chance.  If they offered it to you tomorrow, you might still be happy.  Now, imagine you have to eat it every night for the next year.  Would it still be your favourite, or would you be willing to pay anything for a rice cake?

It is not only in an artist’s nature to keep trying new things and new ways of being creative, it’s an absolute necessity.  If new challenges don’t present themselves, you have to go looking for them, otherwise what used to be exciting just becomes routine.  Creativity doesn’t do well with routine.  It withers and ends up on life support.

There is an elusive state of being that we all seem to be looking for called ‘balance.’  Parents try to find the balance between a fulfilling work and home life, workaholics need to balance their schedule and time off, creatives look for a balance between inspired work and selling out.  I’ve come to the conclusion that this balance is an illusion, it doesn’t exist, and that to try to find it leads to a futility that only makes  a person feel even worse about their situation.  This is largely because your perception of balance is fluid.  Find that extra hour in a week to read a book, and you’ll be looking for two next week.  Manage that, and you’ll be wanting a whole day off, then two, then three and pretty soon you’re running out of money because you’re never working.  Balance is the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.  The closer you move toward it, the further it moves away.

Perhaps you’ve heard the fable about the scorpion and the frog.  The scorpion needs a ride across the river and asks the frog for a lift.  The frog declines saying the scorpion will just sting him.  The scorpion argues that it if he did that, he’d sink, too, so the frog gives in to a logical argument.  The scorpion climbs up on the frog’s back and they start off across the river.  Before too long, the scorpion stings the frog, and the frog says, “Why did you do that?  Now we’ll both drown!”

The scorpion says, “I can’t help it.  It’s just my nature.”

Rather than listen to all of the people that tell me I should relax more and take time off and try to find some balance, I’ve decided to make peace with the fact that I’m only content when I’m working.  Even when I’m not working, I’m thinking about work.  With that in mind, I’ve packed my next few months, and most of it will be quite challenging, because a lot of it will be new ground.  I’ll be recording a new DVD on painting portraits, something I’ve been talking about for months but haven’t actually gotten around to doing.  I’ve been commissioned to paint a couple of cat portraits and have received inquiries about two more pet portraits this week.  Another Totem is being prepped to paint as is another portrait, a painting of one of my absolute favorite characters in film.  The last one, I’ll be trying to paint in Corel Painter.  I haven’t used the Painter software since Painter Classic many years ago, and I’ve been wanting to try Painter 12, bought this past week.  The best way to do so is to just throw myself into a painting and learn as I go.  I have no desire to stop painting in Photoshop, but I also don’t want to be restricted to it, either.

There are a couple of online courses I’ve wanted to take for awhile, and there’s no time like the present.  Waiting for my schedule to slow down is just another way of saying that it’s never going to happen.

And finally, I’m well into the planning for my booth at the Calgary Expo in April.  There’s a lot to think about and organize, everything from which prints to sell and how many of each, banner design, and all of the other logistics involved with having my own booth and selling my own work at the event.  It’s very intimidating, I’m likely going to be stressed about it, but at least it’s not routine.

Some of the work will be fulfilling, some won’t.  Some of the deadlines will be ridiculously short, others will give me far too much time, which inevitably leads to procrastination and working at it last minute, anyway.  There will be up days, low days, but mostly just middle of the road days where it feels just like punching a clock, just like any other job.  That’s the cold hard truth of it and anybody who is thinking about being creative for a living should know that.

Motivation and inspiration, these are wonderful things.  Sometimes it’s the kick in the ass that will get you moving when you feel like you’ve got cinder block boots on.  But when everybody is telling you to be Polly Anna, optimistic, happy go lucky, and you-can-do-it, it can also wear on you.  Chasing that high will eventually lead to an overdose.  From time to time, you just need to turn off all of that noise and just get the work done, regardless of how you feel about it.  That’s all anybody does, no matter what they do for a living.

So what’s the point of this melodramatic post?  Simply put, sometimes it’s OK to feel bad even when things are good.  Don’t beat yourself up about it.  The pressure as a freelancer to be ‘up’ all the time is maddening and I’d bet that a lot of folks out there, the ones you think are riding high all the time, are either faking it as a marketing tool or they’re heavily medicated.  Even the most optimistic of personalities has down days, too, and you’re entitled to yours.  I’d rather share with you the reality of being a self-employed creative than be a complete hypocrite and sell you a bill of goods.  In my experience, it can do a lot more harm than good.

But this too shall pass.  For while I’m having a few down days lately,  I know that two weeks from now, you’ll see me giddy with excitement when I pick up a certain painting from the printer.  Bet on it.  After that, there will be something else exciting, and before too long, it’ll be Spring again, my favourite time of the year.  Enjoy the highs, resent the lows, but be who you are and stop trying to please everybody all the time.  It’s exhausting!

You may not be happy all the time, but at least you’ll be sane.