I came across this interview today with writer Cheryl Strayed, author of Tiny Beautiful Things. She spoke about the pressures of the outside world on the artist, paraphrasing something F. Scott Fitzgerald said: “Nobody wants a soldier that is only a little brave.”
She went on to say this:
And if you’re gonna be a writer, you just truly have to be a writer. You have to throw yourself into it and deal with the negative consequences of that. And there are negative consequences. I mean, there are. But, it’s also true that you wouldn’t be interviewing me right now if I had worked at the post office. You wouldn’t. I would be still writing, but I wouldn’t have gotten as far as I’ve gotten, because I wouldn’t have had the time. I just wouldn’t have, I have two little kids. You do have to take those risks that other people are not going to think are reasonable or good risks to take. And the advice that your mom gave you, to say you don’t have to justify your life, it’s all about that. Every artist at some point had to decide that they didn’t have to justify themselves to the people around them. It did feel frivolous to me, to be a writer. But I had to always say, but trust me, this is important work.
It is a very difficult thing to resist all that pressure. The most difficult thing is thinking that you are resisting the pressure and being brave, when you are actually caving in some other, subtle way. Not doing your own work. Chasing after approval.
Joseph Campbell said “You enter the forest at the darkest point, where there is no path. Where there is a way or path, it is someone else’s path… If you follow someone else’s way, you are not going to realize your potential.”
These days, I do feel like I’m in a dark area of the forest because I am skeptical of all the measures I’ve ever held up in my life, which isn’t to say that they cease to haunt me. Having worked almost nonstop since the age of 16, I still struggle with feelings of uselessness without a conventional job. But then I shake myself out of that, comforted by the feeling that I wouldn’t have it any other way.
However, lately, I am even suspicious of the idea of the successful artist. Not even the potential definition of what that looks like, but the question itself.
Yes, the forest is dark, indeed. I’ve lost the path. I’m distancing myself from what people might want my art to be. What I imagine they want it to be… what I imagine strangers want my art to be…. what I assume my art teachers would have wanted to see. It’s a voice in my head that has been there since I was in art school. It will always be there but, more and more, I recognize it for what it is.
I feel like I am in a state of unknowing. I settle into the darkness and the silence and wait for things to reveal themselves. I don’t know what will come of it – probably a bunch of half-baked ideas in the short run… maybe something good. I will keep working and see what happens… and try to be more than just “a little brave.”