Nothing about creative work is sexy. Contrary to popular belief or what pops up in a news feed. So, don’t believe it. It’s fake news.
Pro-Soccer players grind it out all week, balancing conditioning with weight training, team exercises, strategy sessions, and recovery time for the chance to let it flow for two 45 minute halves once a week, or so. The match is the reward. Anyone who’s ever played a sport knows that. The rest is what it takes– what famed coach, Pep Guadiola, calls “the privilege of the pressure.”
Fetch wood and carry water. Rinse repeat. That’s how you get to Carnegie Hall or Yankee Stadium. If that matters to ya. The grace comes from balancing all of that with a job-job that pays for those eight or nine minutes of playing. That five-minute open mike. Or a meeting with junior executives where we can soft pitch, knowing it’s a pass before we walk in the door. Point is, it doesn’t add up and it never will. So, that can’t be why we do it.
But there comes that moment. When you have to push all your chips in. Because to do otherwise would be to live a lie, and that’s when you know. Or rather when I knew. Why the root of what we call sacred is the same as sacrifice. Like I said, nothing is sexy about the true creative life. It’s actually pretty boring. And consistent. And involves a studio in Van Nuys when friends have families and kids and dogs and yards and trips to the Bahamas and more kids and ski trips and… And you’re forced to dig even deeper till you crack through that last layer and all that is left is this.
It will never be enough. And expectation is a sneaky thing. As is entitlement. And any unfortunate event that we can be tempted to translate into victim-ese. But when I finally stopped digging, ran out of people to blame, and finally didn’t need any outside validation to support my claim as a professional, I found the most surprising thing. I didn’t need it. I felt like a prisoner freed. I could finally play the game. Cause that’s all it is, a silly game. Kids can play. Children play baseball. Soccer. And dress up. And the same things give the select few 300 million. But that doesn’t mean the rest of us can’t play; even if none of the “in- between” is fair, governed more by chance than anything, and is always a game of inches and subject to the trends of subjectivity. And timing.
The fact that somebody wants to consider paying you or me for it every once in a while, I mean… ridiculous. And when they don’t…? Well, that’s when I get to grow. Return to fundamentals. Do the real. Where it really matters.
I don’t have any advice, but, if you want to be famous, maybe consider asking yourself why. I’ve been famous. It doesn’t change anything. In fact, it can make things a lot worse. I’d do something else if I could, but I can’t. I’ve tried. There’s a lot better ways to make a living, but for some reason, I’m good at this. So, I guess I’ll stick to it till the universe decides to tell me I should drive a truck.
Lately, I’ve been hearing that I’m level-headed and grounded because of my response to certain things. And I want to turn around and check who these people might be referring to, because it sure can’t be me. Grace is a gift. And it don’t belong to us. It’s granted on loan. For ours to use for a time. What we can control is effort. And there’s nothing more beautiful and poetic than an effortless foul shot or the way a Nylon string player plucks a Bach etude. Easy. As if it is a natural thing. A natural thing that results from sustained effort.
I had a mentor in college, who just retired to the big black box theater in the sky to critique the angels on their sense of truth and scope, who liked to say, “never let them see the work.”
Which was a bit of a trick. And a straight up mind-fuck, because he liked to only give us things that involved… you guessed it- a lot of work. None of that work was sexy. Especially in a one piece, dance belt and in ballet shoes at 8.00 in the morning and you were sweating out the drinking from the night before.
His name was Bud Beyer. And no one ever handed anything to him either. Everything about Bud was unlikely and a contradiction. He was The Master Builder incarnate. Down to the little church tower he couldn’t reach to complete. And subsequently, never rang.
He taught us, before we knew it, the subtle art of … endurance. What it takes to make it- whatever the fuck that means, is, and always be, one thing– endurance. That simple. And none of it is sexy.
So, if you’re waiting for someone to hand out TV shows on the street; you might get lucky, yes, but, you also might get run over. All great reckonings occur in little rooms. In garages. When no one is there to see them. The shift it takes happens long before anyone notices. That’s the secret to an overnight success, or, in my case, a “Come back.”
“The art of showing up,” as my friend who’s named after Mark Twain liked to say. Or … simply – outlasting the motherfuckers. O.T.M. That same friend would add. Problem is, there’s a lot of motherfuckers. Peddling hype. Clogging up the 405. Who can pitch and are good in a room but crumble when it comes to doing the thing. So learn to do the thing first. Whatever your thing is. It takes longer than you can possibly imagine – a day longer than you can stomach it – but it is worth it in the end. Learn to dope-a-rope like The Champ. To lean on your edges like coach White taught me. So you could fall. Because when you fall, you learn. Hence my nickname when I was a Duck. The Grinder. Like Keith Magnuson of Chicago Blackhawk fame. Sadly, I sold his jersey a few years back when I was hard up for money and in between gigs. But it kept me going, and I think The Original Grinder would have approved.
So all that’s to say, that Steven Pressfield is right. Julie Cameron is right. Natalie Goldberg is right. Robert McKee is right. Jack White was right. Susan Peretz was right. Martin Landau was right. Candace Justice was right. Jason Gansauer was right. And Bud Beyer was right. When that many people say the same thing, it is prudent to pay attention. And put that into action. That’s what I did. Still do.
A couple of months back I was waiting to cash a check for a job I completed which ran into some kind of financial hic-cup and then it stalled out and drifted off. It stung. I threw myself a pity party for a minute or two. Then, dusted myself off and you know what I did. Almost got sued for another job and then lost a third. All after I somehow climbed in through the window and had the privilege of being a Greenhorn after twenty years of apprenticeship.
The world felt upside down. Groundlessness can be very fertile with the right perspective though. Because I didn’t know what else to do, I just went back to work. Even if no one was paying me. I rewrote one thing in my catalogue. Then since I did one, I figured why not do the others. Then, since I was sweated like an old horse – I started in on two other scripts I had been meaning to write. Finished a series pilot that had been nagging me- simply to make room upstairs and unclog the old chute. Followed by a bluegrass musical. Because three or four colleagues said – “hey, why haven’t you written one yet, you play music, you write, you know?” And then when I finished that, I set it aside and did a half hour pilot. Drafted up a pitch for a series bible. Two more episodes for my anthology series. An outline. And a note or two on a modern western set in the Grand Escalante Staircase centered around a B.L.A. employee. One at a time. Page by page. Day by day. Then, when my pitch dried up at the one yard line, right when I asked for what I believed I was worth and take it on the chin, I retooled it and wrote another. Outlined a third. And now wrote one to a show I couldn’t sell on the pitch. All for fun and for free. I must be crazy, right? Maybe I am. But it’s what I know how to do. Keep moving, inch by inch. Grinding. It ain’t sexy, but it sure is satisfying.