A lot of students have come to me – I have taught on and off for a long time – and asked "what do I want to do?" Others come to me or write to me and say "how can I do what I want to do?" They are the ones who succeed. So many people, especially younger ones, quote parents, spouses, friends, or "wise" aunts and uncles who tell them they can pursue their dreams, but make sure they have a day job. Make sure they take promotions, think about money, worry about being secure.
Parents and spouses kill far more books and works of art than critics or recessions. It is almost impossible to choose a creative life without encouragement from someone close, without being believed in. A loving parent or nervous husband can kill a lifetime of dreams in a single sentence.
In all honesty, there must have been hundreds of people, students and creatives, the young and the old, who have taken that day job, I believe almost every parent in the world is conditioned to urge it upon them. I often hear of their regrets. I don't believe a single one of them has fulfilled their dreams, they all have more money than I do, or than the writers and artists and dancers do.
If you stay with your dreams, I always told every single one of them, then something will happen. I often referred them to a quote by Joseph Campbell about pursuing your dreams: "you may not have a job," he wrote, "but you will have a life, and it will be interesting."
The creative life is almost always difficult, the lives of writers, artists, dancers, singers are often heartbreaking. In our world, these lives are tougher than ever. There are rarely any jobs in their fields, so people need to get a job to live and pay the rent. It may or may not be connected to their art, your dreams. They might teach writing or dance, their art might be their work, their employment might be their job.
At some point, they will be asked to choose between your art and their job, they might be offered a promotion, or a raise, or a transfer to a different city, or a challenging new assignment with a former boss. Campbell warned his students not to take the promotion. So did I. Don't accept anything, he said, that piles more on you more than what you must do to keep a roof over your head or food on the table. It will be the unraveling of their dreams. When asked, I tell parents never to suggest a day job, it is the end of learning how to do what one really wants to do.
That is hard advice, easy to give, especially for somebody who has made that choice, who is secure, who has a home and food on the table. Life intervenes in so many ways – marriage, relationships, kids. Campbell could not have foreseen a New York City where one-bedroom apartments can cost $4,000 a month, and where a third of the condominiums in many neighborhoods are bought by billionaires and millionaires from all over the world who never set foot in them.
But I know what Campbell means, he speaks a kind of truth. Life is sacred, creativity for artists is sacred space. If you follow the creative spark, follow your bliss, you may not have a job, you may not have money or security, but you will have a life.
"The artist must build a structure, not in the way of being of service to society," he wrote, "but in the way of discovering the dynamism of the interior."
I would rather die and leave the world than give up my writing and photography to make all of the money I wish I had and could leave to Maria. I am comforted by the certainty that she feels the same way. We both lost our lives in a certain way, we both know there are far worse things than having little money in the bank, than not being as secure as we are all told every single day we must be to live in a fearful America.
An artist (a writer, any creative) is one who finishes his or her work, rather than simply says they wish to do it. Artists finish their paintings, writers finish their pieces, blogs or books.
The creative adventure is always reckless, always a risk, often a sacrifice, always fraught with peril and uncertainty. Any writer, any artist, begins with the same questions: Will I Make Money? Am I Wasting Time? Is My Work Good? Will Anyone Care What I Write Or Create?
At some point, I put those questions aside, I get the writing done, I push the critic a side, I just write and write. This is my work, my life, I know now that the day job is almost always fatal to dreams, the day job is a job, it is not a life.