Why Do You Even Bother?

sidewalk art 2

“Why do you even bother,” I hear her say to my husband as I walk back into the room.  Internally, I let out an exasperated sigh and since my Mother in Law is not facing me I give my husband a look that says at once, “Seriously? What the F- and I love you.”

Why do you even bother?  This is an attitude that really gets under my skin. There are many different ways to say it or convey it and if you have ever been the recipient of the “why do you even bother” attitude so prevalent in our culture- you also know how annoying it is.

Do you have a talent or a skill or a craft that you enjoy? Are you of a certain age? Perhaps you are no longer in your twenties? Are you making money from your art? No? Really- then why do you even bother?

My husband is a musician.  He started playing the drums when he was ten years old.  Shortly after that he started playing in bands.  Punk bands, metal bands, hip hop bands, art pop bands.  Think of a genre of rock and roll and he has probably spent years playing that style of music in a band. This means he has been practicing, performing and creating music for forty-one years.  It is a part of him. It is a form of self- expression, discipline, physical release, it is community and connection.  But, honestly, I really don’t know why he even bothers…

The idea that if you are talented enough you will eventually “make it to the big time” is, unfortunately, not true and too simplistic.  On top of a lot of dedication and hard work, there are many other factors that influence whether you become wildly successful in an art- including perfect timing and luck. Van Gogh died penniless and largely unknown. And I could list countless other now famous artists from all genres who did the same.  I am sure there are plenty more who lived, worked and died without discovery or fame- EVER- even after they were dead.

The belief that if financial success or fame doesn’t happen for you –you are wasting your time by creating art is both ridiculous and offensive.

You can think I am biased if you want- it is your right- but my husband is a great drummer.  And both of the bands he plays in are also good and have achieved a decent level of local respect and popularity.  But without question there are less talented musicians out there who are making more money from their music.  You can hear some of them on the radio. Have you ever heard Nickelback? I am guessing they make a lot of money putting the suck on like they do….

And, actually – good for them- I don’t begrudge Nickelback a single penny. I don’t even really care that they are making average music.  In my opinion more people should get out there and try to do and make new things- even if they suck at it.  Maybe they’ll be lucky and make a living doing so.  Maybe they won’t. However, I believe this socially acceptable insistence that making money or becoming famous as the only “point” of ALL your activities is a type of mental lobotomy.  Essentially it is a form of partial personality suicide- “oh hi, this part of you that you have devoted so many years to- it has to die now. Go ahead- didn’t you hear me- I said KILL IT.”

What people who express this view are saying is that pure creative struggle is for the young only.  Anyone else involved in such activity that is not getting money or accolades as a result should just stop and sit on their couches.

According to them, being a sensible adult means squashing that part of yourself who likes to learn new things and play.

I have a friend who is a painter and also a mother.  She recently dismantled her studio to make a playroom for her kids.  She made a sacrifice of something she loves for people she loves even more.  It is sad but this I understand. This- I get. I don’t judge her negatively.  Someday she may rebuild her studio- or maybe she will find a way to paint again in less space with less time.  Sometimes life pulls us away from activities that we love.  Sometimes we just lose interest or we are too afraid to take risks and so we block ourselves-and then we are forced to deal with those consequences in our own private ways.  But ceasing to do something you still enjoy, that you still feel compelled to do, that you still have the time and energy to do simply because you are no longer young and aren’t making money from it- is one of the dumbest and most life limiting ideas currently prevalent in our culture.

Have you ever noticed the very same people who make comments like “why do you even bother” have no qualms about spending hours and hours watching OTHER PEOPLE do things and make things.  The most important thing seems to be that they make no effort without a tangible monetary reward.  All of their experiences must be paid for and then fed to them by others.  But are these people any happier?  Are they any wealthier? Not usually.

And can we be REALLY honest?  Getting paid for something complicates your relationship to that thing. How many of the “why do you even bother” people even like their jobs?  I would venture-very few.  Because most people that are lucky enough to enjoy their jobs wouldn’t ask this question.  It has been my experience that those who know pleasure acquired through work (paid or not) don’t tend to negate other peoples.

If most people don’t like their jobs then what is so great about getting paid? I can think of a million things great about getting paid. Sure money can complicate things….  But I am not one of those anti-money people who thinks money spoils everything.  And I don’t think taking money for your art makes you a “sell out.” I would be incredibly happy for my husband if his band blew up and started making real money. I just believe that some things have inherent value.  Creation has value, trying and failing has value, pushing your mind and body has value, making new connections internally or with others has value.  Not spending all of your free time as a passive consumer has value.

It is nice for me that I actually enjoy my husband’s music.  It makes it much more fun to get a sitter and go to a show and watch him shine (sexy!), and dance my face off.  But even if he sucked I would still encourage him to play- because to quote the great Kurt Vonnegut, “Practicing an art, no matter how well or badly, is a way to make your soul grow.”

I hope you enjoyed my rant- I got paid lots and lots of money for it.

“If you want to really hurt you parents, and you don’t have the nerve to be gay, the least you can do is go into the arts. I’m not kidding. The arts are not a way to make a living. They are a very human way of making life more bearable. Practicing an art, no matter how well or badly, is a way to make your soul grow, for heaven’s sake. Sing in the shower. Dance to the radio. Tell stories. Write a poem to a friend, even a lousy poem. Do it as well as you possible can. You will get an enormous reward. You will have created something.” ― Kurt Vonnegut, A Man Without a Country

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