I found out about Joe Loya, a local writer, through a librarian who sent a link to his website a while back. I was poking around, reading his essays, and I stumbled across one called Life After Hard Time.
First off, wonderful essay. Well-written, passionate and to the point. Why I bring it up right now is because the topic of monotony is one that I am curious about when it comes to artists.
I’m not sure how to really address this topic, because I know that different circles cope with monotony in different ways. Let’s just say that I am not a fan of monotony, and that is one of the problems I have struggled with through out my life. I crave excitement. I love to be the center of attention, or part of some big outdoor adventure, or to be handed cake at a party while everyone talks about how great I am. I love expressing myself (I’m extremely chatty sometimes…)
Having a propensity for wanting to feel good got me into trouble in my youth, and kind of set the stage for the struggles I’ve had throughout my life. The past number of years, I’ve been attempting to cope with monotony in healthy ways, and have become much more of an adult about it, but I still find myself backed into a corner, often, when nothing seems to be happening.
Loya talks about how before he went to prison, his life was thrill-seeking, excitement, danger, getting what he wanted, when he wanted, escaping the law, buying expensive toys. He robbed banks. He got away with all of the robberies, until he was snitched on by his girlfriend and ended up serving seven years of hard time.
When he got out, he was used to the predictable routine of jail, and even his monk friend’s super fast driving weirded him out. This coming from a guy was anything but staid before prison.
Now, I haven’t been to prison, and I was never a bank robber, but I feel like Loya’s story speaks to me for a number of reasons. I spent most of my teens and my early twenties seeking adventure, whether it was the call of the open road or some other instantaneously stimulating activity. I was reformed, institutionalized and spit back out into the world, told to be a good little girl and mind my p’s and q’s.
Not that I really listen that much, but I do like to stay out of trouble these days. A lot of it is learning to cope with life after the party is over, when it’s time to pay the piper for all the good times you had (even if you don’t ever feel like you had enough to begin with).
How does this relate to art?
Part of being a writer involves routine–getting up every day, writing, promoting yourself, being reliable and steady.
That’s fine. But what about those stretches where there are no acceptances, no performances, no readings. What about the endless days where you barely scrape by, trying to pay the bills, waiting for your next gig to magically appear and take away the stress, hoping that you’re not useless, that you actually have something to say?
And what do you do in those times when you suddenly doubt your abilities because you’ve been keeping too much company with yourself and you’re apparently living in a vacuum, seems like all you do is walk the dog, buy groceries, try to come up with good ideas, but the salad needs to be made and the meat cooked and the bills paid.
Everyone else seems better than you, your stories are taking so. Much. Time. You can’t even see your work anymore, it’s so much endless writing and editing and drafting and generating and speculating and hoping.
Artist prison = limbo.
“Norm life, baby. We’re rehabbed and we’re ready for our fifteen minutes of shame…”
Monotony and hard work are a part of most normal people’s lives. And for most of my life, I tried to avoid having most normal people’s lives. But now, I’m wanting excitement and stability at once. Thrill, but also peace and quiet. Friends and good company, but time alone to wander and reflect.
Monotony. Some days it seems that nothing is ever going to change, and the clock keeps ticking and ticking away your life, but nobody’s knocking on your door, nobody has realized how fabulous you are yet. Maybe no one ever will.
It’s times like these that I wonder how I can get outside of myself, give something to other people, stop focusing on my needs and maybe worry more about the needs of the whole. But how do you tune into the needs of the whole when there’s so much spam everywhere, ads and articles and opinions. How do you not get caught up? How do you live a simple life, working every day, when there may never be a reward, when you may never have anything more than the act itself?
Monotony seems a fact of life, but yet, I deny that it has to be a fact of my life. I always think I am different somehow, that I can avoid it. I’ve tried it on a few times, always got tired of the thing and tossed it over my shoulder, trying to incite excitement by pushing my skills to the limit, pushing boundaries, breaking normal senses of structure, maybe stirring the pot a bit.
How do you cope with life when it wants to be so many wheat fields running by the side of your window for miles and miles and miles? How do you go on, knowing that Oz is not real, that you have to create your excitement, get excited by the little things maybe, by yoga and every day activities and walking the freaking dog over and over again.
Often, I adopt a zen perspective on this and try to go into the discomfort, sit still, meditate. Or I jump in my car and drive around idly, roaming. I’ve got a built in wanderlust, I want to be on the move all of the time, whether through my pen, my music or physically, by running, climbing, driving.
I fear endless sameness.
But maybe there is something in this endless sameness. Maybe going into the unease, the every day view of the same sunrise through the same window, maybe that part is the part that matters.
Like in Victor Frankl’s book, Man’s Search For Meaning, when he got out of the Holocaust and he went into the field of wildflowers and was simply mesmerized by all of the boundless space, the freedom to be out in that open space. That’s a freedom we take for granted, don’t we? All we have?
Sometimes, when I get all bummed out and down, like today, I look through my old journals. It either helps or hurts, but it often offers perspective. I’m an endless list writer. I write lists on scraps of paper and in my notebooks and day planner. Looking at old lists gives me a bit of a look on how far I’ve come, how many struggles I’ve overcome.
I think when you go through darkness, you’re always waiting for the other shoe to drop. You don’t want to settle into routine and happiness, because someone, someday, might take it away from you. And when they do, you learn to appreciate what you had, even though you may not have realized what you had.
On the flip side, I think once you develop that thrill seeking side of yourself, that rush, it’s hard to ever let go. You have to simply accept that it’s gone and appreciate what comes to you as it comes.
I don’t have any answers. I wish I had some great wisdom I could share. My perspective changes daily.