Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Day 66: Balancing act

Once again I find myself in a place where my life is out of balance.  I have been so caught up in my own world, with my own stresses of my work/teaching schedule and my self-imposed creative deadlines that I haven't been giving the people I love in my life what they need.  I've been here before.  It scares me.  I don't want to drive people away because they feel like I don't have time for them.  I want to be the partner/friend/family to the people in my life that they are to me.  And not out of some sense of fairness: I like being good to the people I love. 

But I honestly wonder if it is possible to live a balanced life when one of the pieces you are trying to balance is as unwieldy as Sisyphus' boulder  - the never-ending (and impossible) attempt to "do enough" to become a successful artist.  No matter how much you get done, there is always more.  Every day, you push the boulder up the hill.  And for most of us, the boulder just rolls back down and you start again.  Even when you're lucky enough to get a gig, as soon as that one is over, there you are, pushing that boulder back up that hill again.  Or maybe you get really, really lucky and the boulder doesn't roll back down, but instead you discover there is now a giant mountain in front of you you have to push it up if you want to keep going.  Very, very few of us ever get to rest at the peak.  Many of us just keep pushing that boulder up that damn hill, determined and forever hopeful; many others of us decide that maybe we'll just leave that boulder at the bottom and go hang out at nearby stream instead.

How do you balance other things in your life when you are compelled to pursue such a sisyphean task?  Do successful artists have good relationships?  Wait, I'm not sure I want you to answer that.

I know I can be a selfish person (and I have been accused of it before).  But I can also be very giving.  And I really, really try to balance my personal needs/desires with those of the people in my life.  I think being a artist requires a degree of selfishness, though.   It takes a lot of time to study, to train, to create.  And, when you are so deeply passionate about something, when there is something that defines you more than anything (or any person) in your life, that is as much a part of you as your arm, and as much a need for your survival as breath, that is the thing you will choose.   Not in every individual moment, but in the balance.

I cannot choose between being an artist and the people I love in my life.  As my marriage counselor said at the last therapy session my ex and I had, that is like asking me to choose between killing my mother and killing my father.  So how do I balance the two?

There are times I wonder if maybe the word I need to examine here is not the word "artist" but the word "successful".  Successful, which really means money-making.  And, I'll admit it, famous.  Not famous for fame's sake - the kind of fame reality shows and the like offer has no appeal to me - but famous in the sense of having my talent recognized.  For how else do we consider an artist to be successful?  Van Gogh was a brilliant artist long before he was ever famous (one might argue more brilliant since he was, well, alive), but he never got to know anyone else felt that way.  Did he feel successful, looking at his own paintings? (I'm guessing not, with the whole suicide and all).  Mozart was buried in a pauper's grave, never to know his music would still be revered the world over almost 250 years later.  The most glorious tenor voice I have ever heard is on an obscure recording of a masterclass taught by Maria Callas - and no one knows that man's name and he never had an opera career.  I'm guessing he didn't feel terribly successful as an artist either.

What would it mean for me to just be an artist and forget trying to be "successful"?  Can I be satisfied with reading the comments I get on this blog about what an inspiration I am, about how much people relate to and enjoy what I'm writing?  Can I be satisfied with the occasional singing performance in a bar with Opera on Tap?  With producing my own little no-budget productions of plays I write?  With the incredible growth I see and hear in my voice students?  Can I give up the ghost of trying to be famous, damn it?

I don't know.  But if I don't want to short-change my relationships any more than I want to stop being an artist, maybe that is the secret to the balance: just be an artist in whatever capacity I can, live my life, enjoy it, take the pressure off myself to try to be "successful".  I wonder if I can be happy with that.
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