Moose in the Kitchen just posted an entry about how she just quit her day job as associate editor of a theater magazine in San Francisco. This entry actually could've been written by me several years ago—I was the one she replaced, and she describes working there just like I would describe it, in remarkable detail and echoing my sentiments.
Yes, it was in early 2001 that I officially quit regular employment. Since then, I have been able to live by alternating between grants and fellowships and commissions and royalties with some necessary stretches of temp work or freelance PR or occasional half-year gigs at magazines and in web maintenance/design positions.
Here in Los Angeles, there have been financial ups and downs. The ups have been way up, and the downs have been way down. And people tell me that the life of an artist in Hollywood doesn't have to see-saw for a writer as talented as myself if I just schmooze more, hang out with powerful people no matter how much I hate them, and kowtow to the wishes and whims of those in positions of authority because these things will somehow skyrocket me to the magical "next level."
But here are some things I have learned during my time in Hollywood:
I've done the schmoozing, I've fraternized with people I hate, and I have kowtowed to those in authority who don't have a genuine creative bone in their body—and I truly believe that I am pretty much in the same place that I would be in if I didn't do all those things. Well, if I knew that the destination was going to be the same, then I wouldn't have wasted all that time stepping outside myself and compromising my authenticity.
I don't play "the game" anymore because I realized that I don't have to. I said to someone recently, "I would rather suffer for the rest of my life than submit to the supposed demands of Hollywood."
Not that I'm suffering. And I make it a point to acknowledge and appreciate where I am. I live in a kick-ass apartment in a great part of town; go to the movies or arcade whenever I want; wake up at noon if I so desire; eat lunch while watching The People's Court; enjoy concerts, plays, DVDs, and dinner with friends regularly; have the best cat in the world, Pork Chop; own a car that can take me to San Francisco on a moment's notice; have a well-trafficked blog that I can post in as much or as little as I want; prepare material for my upcoming featured-performer slot at this year's APAture festival; hold some pull and notoriety in the theater world; and am writing a screenplay for a movie that has a far better chance of being made than the scripts I have optioned or that have lived and died in development departments at film studios.
I know that I am in a far better place than many artists down here, who struggle at day jobs they hate (I see them at my local Blockbuster) and give their artistic career everything they've got (emotionally and financially) and deal with repeated rejection on a regular basis (actors, can I get a "hell yeah?"). It can break their spirit. And watching them, it can break my heart.
Since I'm doing relatively well, people ask me for advice all the time. And, as you may imagine, I have a shitload to say, a lot of it contrary to what the so-called experts believe.
The one major thing that I will impart upon you today is that there is no "next level." If you try to measure your artistic life by arbitrary means, by societal ideas of success, by how much power you hold over others, by how much sway you have upon people in "authority," by critical response, or by the size of your audiences, you are expending a tremendous amount of energy that will fatigue you physically and sap your creative heart because the soul of an artist is untouched by these things. Now there's nothing wrong with caring about these things because they can give you direction and focus and help you in goal-setting. But they shouldn't define you.
What defines you is the art itself. What I mean by "there is no 'next level'" is that whether you're putting on a performance in a bar or a pizza parlor or a college or a comedy club or a cafe or a theater in Los Angeles or a huge performance venue in Singapore (I've been in all of them), the art remains untouched by those circumstances. And that's all venues and audience sizes are—circumstances. That's all that forms of writing are too—whether they're "plays" or "screenplays" or "novels" or "blogs" or "essays" or "articles" doesn't matter because, again, they are just circumstances.
I recently told someone that Marshall McLuhan was wrong. The medium is not the message. The medium does not matter. Say that sentence again, and mull it over. It may very well change your life. When I fully understood the meaning of that, it sure changed mine.