The artist, that selfish asshole

“I know how hard it is to learn a new craft — it takes many a sore ride in the saddle. You get thrown around and beat up and get back on that animal. It was never a matter of making myself write. It was a matter of being terribly irritated when anything else got in the way.”

Sally Field

It’s a beautiful quote, and I wish I’d always felt the same way. Perhaps I did, except that in my case what got in the way of my writing was always my big fat head.

I put myself under a lot of stress, trying to reconcile living a good life with living my art. And it’s causing me many a problem.

I am by nature outgoing. To extremes sometimes. I am also by nature helpful. I see a problem, or a friend going through a rough patch, and I feel compelled to act. To intervene and fix it. That need consumes me and I occasionally lose sleep over it.

More often than not, my help is of the helpful kind. Or so I like to think. Not that I fix everything. But you know, when I set my mind to it, I give and give well.

I constantly find myself in situations where my helpful and fix-it nature leave me drained. That’s a feature of being an all-or-nothing kind of person. I don’t half-ass anything. When I had kids, I had three of them inside four years (including one lost pregnancy between my first and second babies; second baby was born 22 months after her big sister regardless). Then I homeschooled them full time. Because I thought it would be better for them. I wasn’t wrong about that, and don’t regret doing it. But it wasn’t the best for me, as far as work-life balance goes.

When I bought a house it was a fixer-upper I was going to renovate nicely then flip. When I bought a cottage it was another renovation project. When I joined karate I went to train every day. When I joined the competitive karate team, I trained even harder, coached the kids on the team, took pictures of everyone, and spent a great deal of time managing team members and mentoring young athletes and sometimes their parents. It’s been a great deal of fun, and I want to keep in shape. But…

It’s not wrong to push yourself past your limits, or outside your comfort zone. The danger is to lose your inner self in the process when all you do is push yourself harder and harder… at things that aren’t what you are truly meant to be. And after many years of giving of myself without counting, I’m at a bit of a crossroads. I am constantly tempted to devote too much of my energy to others, at the expense of my writing. I too often find myself putting other people’s needs ahead of time spent refining my craft, and then I’m too tired, too drained, to focus on anything else. Hence the stress; that metaphysical bitch. And I feel guilty for not putting my self, my core, my art first.

There is nothing that matters more than the art. Which means I can’t afford to dissipate my energies in 22 different directions. All those activities I used to do (though to be fair I enjoyed them mightily) need to go or be pared down. All this time and energy I devoted to cultivating friendships and helping people in need… it needs to be reviewed. Continue to give quality time and love to a select few. Having friends is important, and I cherish mine. But maybe it’s even more important to make sure I don’t wind up depleting my precious resources by spreading myself too thin.

Being an artist is solitary work. And I must be prepared to stand alone much of the time.

I have to learn to be a selfish asshole. Or at least look like one. Because I can’t afford to live for anyone else. I can’t even live for myself: putting my own selfish needs first would not resolve the metaphysical stress problem. It would only make it worse; if I decided to relax and watch movies or go out or travel just for the hell of it, I would also find my creative energy sapped.

The only thing I can live for is the art, pure and simple. That is my joy and my burden, my chore and my privilege.

Writer | Ottawa. Books include Épître aux tartempions, Le national-syndicalisme, Down the Road Never Travelled, Not Just for Kicks, Le livre Uber (upcoming).

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