As someone with an office job - albeit one where the office is in my house - Friday mornings are important to me. Like most of the workforce, I've been slogging through the week, trying to make it until today without screwing up too much and hopefully with some actual progress to show for it. Today is the last day, the penultimate, the point where I can put a pin in it - actually a number of 'it's these days - and take a break for a couple of days while I focus on family and friends and house.
So as long as there's no frantic deadline looming, Friday mornings are a little easier. I take a bit more time and have a couple of email subscriptions I especially enjoy to kick off the almost-weekend. One of the them is Austin Kleon's weekly newsletter. He's a writer and artist in Austin who not only makes clever 'blackout' art - taking a page from a newspaper and blacking out all the words except for a few scattered ones that together form a poem - but he also writes a lot about the artistic process and how to survive and thrive as an artist in the 21st Century (at least emotionally). Every Friday he sends an email listing 10 interesting things of the week - which is always a treat to rummage through. He's an eclectic fellow so his topics range from books to music to movies and way beyond.
In today's missive, he links to an older post of this called "Want to be an artist? Watch Groundhog's Day" which I LOVE because I LOVE that movie and his correlation between the artist's path and Phil Connor's fateful, never-ending day is spot on. But what especially caught my eye was this quote he pulled from a book I've been meaning to read - Supernatural Strategies for Making a Rock ‘n’ Roll Group:
“If one becomes a lawyer, scholar, mechanist, typist, scientist, production assistant, or what-have-you, the world will commend your decision. Each day at lunch, on vacation, or at whatever party you attend, your choice will be applauded, upheld, and affirmed. And you will know what is expected of you. Even if your job is difficult — if you are a brain chemist, international death merchant, or rocket designer — your responsibilities will be obvious and your goals concrete. If you achieve them, you may be rewarded by promotion. If you fail, you might be fired or demoted, but nonetheless — unless your boss is insane — the job will have tangible parameters. [Art], however, is different. You will never know exactly what you must do, it will never be enough… no matter what change you achieve, you will most likely see no dividend from it. And even after you have achieved greatness, the [tiny number of people] who even noticed will ask, ‘What next?’”
So many assume that being an artist is all fun and games - such a great lark and you get to be a non-productive member of society forever. And for some artists, that may be true. But it's more likely a Sisyphean task we feel compelled to do against all reason. Keep making - or trying to make - That Thing We Do with no guarantees of its outcome or reception. Sometimes you're blindly groping through a desert or running franticly through dark woods. And when you finally finish and (gasp!) publish or release something - there might be a fleeting sense of accomplishment before the near panic of "What's next?" kicks in.
But the alternative - not doing It at all - is despair and depression. Or anxiety and mania. Being eaten alive by the gnawing knowing that we're not doing what we're supposed to be doing. Basically, it's Not Good.
So on we go up the hill, shoulder to boulder.
But as Austin points out via Groundhog Day - the point may not be the recognition and measures of excellence. It may not be the final resting of the boulder on the mountain top. The point is the doing, the climbing itself. Doing That Thing We Do as best and fully as we can in the life we have left.
And that in itself is something beautiful indeed.
Photo of Sisyphus Peak in New Zealand by Andrew Purdam