My friend Ernie and I had our Newsie hats on and a broken umbrella. We vaulted up Hilhurst to his nearby Starbucks avoiding the running water squeezing the narrow roads of Los Feliz like clogged veins: two men braving the rain in search of the pinnacle of story emboldened by the fact that it was negative-f–k back in the middle west.
We got caffeinated and started talking fast. I’m not sure much of it made sense, but one thing stood out above the fray. It was after the rains let up.
“Yeah, I mean, if a chair gets built and no one sits in it, is it still a chair?”Ernie queried.
We had been dialoguing the nuance of an artist’s life. It felt like a reincarnation of My Dinner With Andre as our talks often devolve into or from. I was playing the role of Wallace Shaun, languishing– from having lost a gig that was a sure thing, folowed by a rejection from one of the top agencies that thought I was too much a playwright and some feedback from a manager named D. who took the time to tell me “yeah, I read your work. And there wasn’t anything there to turn heads.” A perfect trifecta.
I laughed about being unfit for the century I find my feet in because I didn’t know how to bake in search engine optimization into my hash-tagging. “Maybe we’re out of touch.”
“Maybe that’s not such a bad thing,” he countered.
I had even confessed to Ernie that I didn’t want to pick up the guitar too much after completing the record even. But allowing myself to feel it. There was a mourning going on. For something inside. I’ll call that thing: an agenda.
See, we can’t escape it. The allure of … well, I’ll let Ernie describe it. “Yeah, we build a thing, like a chair, and we hope people will sit in it. Maybe we put it up on Etsy so people will buy it, but, you know –
I jumped in as I often do, especially on caffeine. It’s a bad trait. My friends mostly tolerate.
“No one can afford the custom rate. No one will ever pay us enough for what we put in. The years. Or the materials, if they want a chair that’s not some xerox hand-me-down-”
It was Ernie’s time to jump in:
“Nor should they.” The reward is in the doing. Ernie’s a zen dude. But he would probably laugh at being labeled as such and rip off the label. He likes to think of what we do as the way, the means, by which, we steadily perfect ourselves. Not perfect as in that whole mirage of perfection bull shit – but perfect ourselves in the image of what we wish to become. To aim toward that which we will never quite hit. It’s the only thing that can sustain a true creative life. At least one that is lived authentically. Great works take great effort. And great effort takes great sacrifice. And I am learning that one can sacrifice without suffering. But do so with joy and complete acceptance.
Maybe that’s why Chehkov always returned to the theme of life as a let down but we must work. In this human comedy, Uncle Vanya, we must work.
Sometimes no one wants what you are selling. No matter how hard you try. And the great gift from that, for me… is I get to learn about who I am in those moments. What motivates me. And make adjustments. And those adjustments almost always involve me getting that diving bell out and digging in. And chipping away at what I am not, at what no longer serves me… till only the chair is left. Till there is simply the chair and me. And then, only the chair. Of itself. Whole and complete.
I think whenever I have been motivated by anything outside – either trying to predict what others will respond to, or what might have MARKET APPEAL, I end up with something that isn’t me. And I pay a price. Every time, I have paid a price. Sometimes that price is steep. And it needs to be so in order to, like a Zen slap, correct my course.
In contrast, whenever I involve my heart, and lean toward truth, it always seems to create beauty. And there can never be enough beauty in this world.
“So what do you do after you finish the chair?” I asked Ernie.
“What do you think? Build another.”