How do I build something that is where I want to be?
I ask myself that a lot. Art is hard, especially in a society that wishes to consume it without paying for it, without assigning it value. Media–high-end, well produced media–has become so attainable and cheap that our expectations have shifted. We want ninety-nine cent books and movies streaming to our televisions. We want people to use their skill for the exposure of it to our benefit.
And it’s not just that. Part, too, is a flooded market. Barrier to entry has become relatively low, be that good or bad. You can be a YouTube star with your iPhone or GoPro. You can publish your own books, your own comics, your own…dare I go there…blog, I say, typing up a blog post.
Maybe there were always this many people trying to create. Maybe, without the internet, so many just toiled on their own, held back without a means to launch their stuff into the world.
Maybe that means the cream floated to the top. Maybe it means a lot of worthwhile voices with world-changing stories to tell were silenced before they could even speak. I’m afraid it’s the latter and we tell ourselves it was the former just to feel more comfortable with our history and tradition of exclusionary opportunities.
The problem now, however, is how to succeed. And I don’t know the answer.
At what, you ask, and I say, At everything. But Shaun tells me I can’t do everything, so we’ll stick to what we’re working on. The movies. The books. The acting and the scripts.
I don’t want to disparage my current profession. The business has served us very well and provided us with amazing opportunities. It’s how we bought a house. It’s how we were able to travel. It’s how we were able to see friends and make donations to charities we care about. And truly, it still is. Though we’ve slowed down about 50% of last year’s income and expect to drop even farther, it still pays the bills and buys milk and bread.
I’m proud of it, the work we’ve done and hours I’ve put in. No matter what, as long as I keep answering the phone, we’ll still be in business.
I will admit, however, that it’s suited for a much different person than who I’ve become. It’s suited for somebody more content than I am, somebody not constantly reaching with one hand to build something bigger while holding onto the steering wheel of current matters with the other.
Stepping out of the business has been the real conundrum. There are a couple of places for books, movies and acting, and it definitely isn’t Northern California. If I were 18 again, would I pack up and head to LA, ready to fail at everything but waitressing? Damn right I would.
The picture at 30, however, is much different than 18. I have a child. I have a mortgage. I have pets and furniture and life insurance. How can I ask my family, in good faith, to give it all up, step away from the life we’ve built, and leap back into penny-pinching and apartment living?
I can’t and, to be honest, I don’t want to do that myself. I like hot showers and paying my bills. I also know the odds. The amount of people who never succeed in artistic endeavors is so staggeringly large, it’s almost impossible to pick out those that do make it. There’s no way I’d get rid of a comfortable home and life on such a crapshoot. It’d be the worst idea.
Not to say those that do exactly that are in the wrong, but they’re braver than me, and may they wildly succeed.
So then what? Well, that’s kind of the beauty of that lowered barrier to entry. The “traditional” means of doing something doesn’t really matter that much anymore. Plenty of people have paved their own route to success in these various fields. Andy Weir only published The Martian on Amazon so his fans could easily access it. Scott Sigler released his books for free on Podiobooks. Countless YouTube stars have been made merely by daring to give it a shot.
I can’t walk away from stability. Maybe it’s worthwhile to do so to chase dreams, but that’s not something I can do. That doesn’t mean I can’t reach, though. It doesn’t mean I can’t build a company, accumulate experience, and make a list of things to point to while shouting, “I made that!”
It’s the slow route, I’ll admit that. But it’s the one I can comfortably pursue. I can write videos. I can shoot them, act in them. I can keep paving my own road and, hopefully, that road will lead to me sticking my foot in the door of someplace important someday.
And if not, at least I’ve made a sound decision for my family.
It’s hard to push at these things, to feel like I’m trying to do something bigger than myself. It’s tempting to settle, to accept contentment, to buy a nice car and a bigger TV and go, “Well, this is my lot in life.”
But that’s not me. And the only me I’ll accept is the one who’s still reaching.