I think the reason I’m “self made” is because I’m impatient. While everything I do is long-term process oriented (developing a studio, creating a brand as a teacher, improving as a cellist, publishing, learning to work on bows) and takes time to germinate, I’ve never felt like I could trust someone else to act on behalf of my very specific and urgent compulsion to be productive.
Of course, self-made also means self-failed or self-mediocre as well as self-prolific or self-bankrupt. I have the most difficult time discerning the line between what my business is worth and what I’m worth. It has to be this way to a certain extent, but it can be a lonely day combing through one’s sent mailbox, searching for the words that have so gravely offended the recipient as to not merit a reply.
All of this is preface to a conversation I had the other day. Mustering up the courage to cold-call (or email) contractors, schools, and other relevant parties is a ritual for people like me. While my me-ness is absolutely impossible to disguise, there are certain abatement measures available should I decide appearing not entirely weird will further my cause.
I’d emailed this man over the holidays and gotten no response. This was especially troublesome, as an acquaintance of mine who has done nothing except advocate for me in the DC scene had made this introduction. The combing of the sent mail, the agonizing over my offense and foolish appearance. Artists always have this inner debate: how to appear competent and relevant while looking for work.
Finally, I decided that if I looked like an idiot, I’d go all the way and look really stupid. I sent another email asking if he’d gotten my first. Not 60 seconds later did I have a response. “Never got it, not in my spam folder. I’m at my desk, please call me.”
Well, at least there’s that. I gave him a call and he wanted to know all about me. We established that we knew some of the same people and got talking shop a little bit. When it came down to seriously talking business, he started with this:
“First off, business sucks. Nobody’s working.”
In that instant, and for a few hours afterward, I felt a little less alone.
Moments like that give me the improbable optimism to cast my net each day. Most times I get “no”, no response, or my personal favorite: a brusque email from someone drunk on the comforts of their current position. But there have been times when I’ve cantilevered myself over the abyss and ended up doing things like living in London, traveling the country teaching my heart out, or moving 2500 miles to chase the small yet insistent instinct that it was just what I needed to do.
If there’s anything I’ve gotten from writing this blog over the past 5 years- and anything I hope you get from it- it’s that going after the stuff that feels right in your bones, the stuff that is authentically, inconveniently, uneasily rumbling around your brains and keeping you from good sleep…is what makes life worth living. It’s where art comes from. Inspiration. Curiosity and surprise. Second chances. Third and fourth ones, too.
As many chances as you need. And though I’m closing on a typically lofty rainbows and unicorns note, know this, too: this is practicum. A thing you do. Swashbuckling doesn’t always attract a lot of attention, but you’ll know it by the quality of your sleep.
Not only is it good advice to go “after the stuff that feels right in your bones”, it also makes for a great setup line for a euphemism joke. But seriously, I’m trying to follow this line of thinking in my life right now. It DOES help my sleep. I hope your sleep is excellent, too.
Swashbuckling in London, eh? Not a bad way to go.
trying and failing is not death, it’s life. Even the best hitters in baseball are only successful 3 times in 10. Not trying is stagnation, and for anything or anyone, stagnation is death. You can’t not try. At least, I can’t.
During my career as a freelance writer, I didn’t mind the fluctuating income so much as the mood swings. When nobody returned my calls for a week I worried about the mortgage. Then I’d land a big project and find myself perusing sports-car ads.
Jim: you’re one of my favorites. 🙂