Farther back than I can remember, probably as far back as my mother can remember, I’ve felt compelled to express myself creatively. Whether it was sitting with pencil and paper after watching the late Saturday night monster movies, to sketch my designs for the next mammoth foe Godzilla should face, or attempting to create a new fiend to terrorize some future AD&D campaign, or listening to – subsequently learning – and then mutating a Geezer Butler bass line to make it my own, this compulsion has never waned.
As people tend to gravitate towards others with similar interests, in the course of years I’ve had to good fortune to meet a lot of very talented individuals. It’s humbling when I think of all the truly gifted musicians, artists, and writers I’ve had the opportunity to meet and, in some cases, work with. And this doesn’t even take into account the great deep thinkers with whom I’ve discussed and debated ideas until the candles burned low.
And yet I don’t know anyone personally who’s “made it.”
Despite knowing musicians who have had major label record deals, preformed with bands that had gold record sales numbers, or recorded albums that inspired future generations of musicians, and knowing award-winning writers and writers with multiple mass market paperbacks in print available in every major bookstore chain, I personally don’t know any who’ve been able to quit their day jobs and create – on their own terms – full-time.
This isn’t to say that I don’t know writers who earn their living writing; writers who teach creative writing or English classes, writers who write for the local newspaper, or who work as technical writers during the day so they can knock down a few precious words of fiction at night. I can only assume that most of them still hope to one day land the major book or movie deal that would free up their time and allow them to put their imaginings to paper day in and day out.
I can say the same for musicians, as I know many who earn a full-time living by giving lessons during the day, and playing a variety of music styles (generally to whoever pays the most) at night, working as studio engineers, or manning soundboards at concert venues. This is a far cry from signing tits with a sharpie and taking a limo to the Lear jet.
It’s not for lack of talent. And it’s not for lack of work ethic, as many of these individuals are tireless. And I would hate to think that it all comes down to luck. As I age, I tend to think that maybe it’s about skewed expectations.
When I was younger, I just assumed that anyone who had a major label record deal, or sold a book to a publishing giant, was set for life. As I study it more closely, I find time and time again these individuals returned from the experience and settled into a life more ordinary, usually never reaching the summit of the mountain, but finding a niche somewhere on the slope before descending again: writers who penned one great novel, or one unforgettable short story, and then disappeared never to be heard from again; musical groups who created one masterful recording and then disbanded, or were never again able to capture the perfect blend of rhythm and melody to keep them relevant. Or even more often, artists who were inspirational to me but were somehow overlooked by the rest of the world, the ones who made such a small ripple in the pool that if you weren’t in the right place at the right time you would have missed it entirely.
The bottom line is that, though it would be nice to see some money trickling in, I don’t expect to retire early. And maybe I’ll never be able to quit my day job. Maybe I’ll never “make it” as an artist, a writer, or a musician.
But that’s okay, I’m in good company.
David Benton 2/12/11