I was in LA this weekend helping a friend look for apartments and doing some freelance work.
It’s always odd for me to come down to LA, because it has a lot of memories of a very different time in my life. I was 19 when I first came down here on my own, with a friend who was dating a musician whose music I admired a whole lot. That’s putting it mildly. He had created the music I heard in my head that I didn’t know was out there, the music I wanted to make. Through a sketchy chain of events, he ended up dating me, with a whole lot of subversive drama in between that I can’t even begin to explain other than to use two vague metaphors: spiderweb and rubix cube.
I’d actually met the musician previous to the first LA trip, through some random fluke of events I won’t get into here. Fast forward a couple months and there I was: Young and in luuurve (or so I thought). The musician was hot and semi-famous, born and raised not far from my home town area. He offered access to the secrets of a musical fantasy I’d been harboring since I was 13. Carrot on a stick and all, wrapped up in a fascinating package. How could I not move in with him looking for my real life to begin? He was my soul mate. Or one of them. I believed.
We were staying in a hotel next to a Mexican food restaurant this weekend that on first pass seemed extremely familiar to me. When we went in, I realized that’s because I used to eat there with this ex, in fact, the last time I was in there, I ran up my credit card trying to buy us all dinner, because I was tired of other people paying for me. I had no job, no cash. I was completely dependent on this dude, but didn’t want to accept it. Thus the credit card as an illusion of control.
It was nice to sit there the night before last and actually be able to pay for my own meal without putting it on a credit card that would soon go into collections.
Down the street from the hotel was the creepy Bob’s Big Boy we also used to eat at, complete with the giant statue of creepy Bob with the swooshy hair. We drove by the 7-11 and the Trader Joe’s I used to go to all the time, near the Park LaBrea Towers where we lived. LA was full of promise and dreams back then. I knew I’d figure it out, finally be heard, find the answers to the music and love life piece of my destiny. It had all arrived unexpectedly, so I moved down, sat back and waited for it to happen.
I’ve been reading a book called “Art & Fear: Observations on the Perils (and Rewards) of Artmaking,” by David Bayles. He talks about the process of making art and how most artists are ordinary people and most of the art ordinary people make doesn’t get seen. It boils it down to the nitty gritty—the fears in our way, our need for connection with other artists and people to get us through, and the idea that we are not just our art, but that our art reveals ourselves to ourselves, something I said a while back. It’s about the process, and it’s about connection. Also, it’s about the mistakes you make along the way with your art that show you the path to better versions of your art.
“The important point here is not that you have—or don’t have—what other artists have, but rather that it doesn’t matter. Whatever they have is something needed to do their work—it wouldn’t help you in your work even if you had it. Their magic is theirs. You don’t lack it. You don’t need it. It has nothing to do with you. Period.” – Art & Fear
This sums up what I’ve learned about looking to other musicians for the answers. When I moved in with my ex, I thought he had the answers because he was on a major label, living in a swanky apartment, was touring all over the place. Thing is, he had the answers for himself. But not for me. I had to find my own answers in my music—am still finding them, over years and years past that date. I had to grow up and learn to put in more time believing in myself and my work, separate the fantasy from the reality that it is hard work, and move forward in progress on my own personal scale. He couldn’t give me a short cut.
“To you, and you alone, what matters is the process: The experience of shaping the art work. The viewer’s concerns are not your concerns (although it’s dangerously easy to adopt their attitudes.) Their job is whatever it is: To be moved by art, to be entertained by it, to make a killing off it, whatever. Your job is to learn to work on your work…the sobering truth is that the disinterest of others hardly every reflects a gulf in vision. In fact, there’s no good reason why others should care about most of any one artists work. The function of the overwhelming majority of your artwork is simply to teach you how to make the small fraction of artwork that soars.” -Art & Fear
It’s like Stephen King said once, and I’m sure I’m paraphrasing: Always have a body of paper by your feet. The work gives you the work, and the sheer volume of subpar or merely OK work creates the small portion of work that is your best work. The work itself, the process of making it, is your own personal journey. No one else can take you there. You have to do it. People can help, if you ask, but you can’t expect them to solve the puzzle of how to get from A to B for you, whatever your goals. And I’ve learned this only through falling deep into the fantasy that I would be “discovered,” that others would recognize my awesomeness and shortcut my path to the end goal, only to discover the end goal changes every time I reach it, and the path is my own to carve. There is no there, there.