Everything Happens. And Then We Make Reasons
I am conscious this morning, that as I read more intelligent and philosophical books and articles, that I can’t force anything. I cannot write above my pay grade. I know I’m smart. I’ve always been smart. I tested smart as a child and even skipped a grade. But I’m not wicked smart. I’m not Joseph Campbell, Carl Sagan, Naomi Klein smart. And that used to hold me back from expressing my own voice. I don’t mean that I was shy in any conceivable way, but that I didn’t think I had anything original to say or an original voice with which to say it - even the good stuff that bears repeating. I didn’t understand that mediocre books and films are made and released and make money, every day. In fact, if we’re gauging success by money made, mediocrity is the way to go. But of course I’m not. I’ve never measured the success of art, or my love of art, in any fiduciary way. And yet, I hate to admit, I have judged the artists. Not consciously, mind you, but there you have it. A rift in my logic.
This is a distinction I learned many years ago, at a leadership retreat I was invited to by a dedicated change agent who saw more leadership in me than I saw in myself. The idea, as I remember it, was to follow a personally held belief through to its logical conclusion. In this case, the success of art is not measured monetarily therefore the artist’s success cannot be measured monetarily therefore an artist can be successful without making money. But I think of successful artists as those who do make money. Therefore, there is a rift in my logic and so the logic collapses. I must, inevitably, discard my belief that artists who don’t make money are not successful. This opens up the scary notion that I might, after all, be successful.
Of course, there’s still the definition of success to clarify. (Which we each must do for ourselves.) If it’s not bound to money, what exactly is it? I found several definitions (because defining success is as elusive to dictionary writers as it is to the rest of us) but this seemed the most full and succinct: “An accomplishment of an aim or purpose.” I like it because art doesn’t often hit its aim, but can still be successful in the creation inside its purpose. Now to address the scary bit. Am I willing to consider myself successful? In the world of it never looks the way you think it’s going to look, and in light of what I’ve just uncovered, I would have to say, to my own surprise, yes.
I have barely scraped by as an actor in a country where the average annual income for an ACTRA member is just over $6000. I have created a one-woman stage show and two short films, none of which made me any money. But I was fulfilling on something, some purpose. And just as I was moving towards more of my own creations, I got sick. I was stopped in both aim and purpose. And yet. When I turned to my journal to work through my deepest and most difficult feelings about this, I gave birth to a blog. A new form of expression. Perhaps my most authentic to date, and certainly the most therapeutic part of my healing.
It’s popular today to conclude that everything happens for a reason. But I don’t believe that. I believe that diminishes the indomitable and profound creativity of the human spirit. As if we’re just pawns in a cosmic game that we’re too simple or too lazy to figure out. It would be arrogant to say that I’m not awed by the vast mysteriousness of the universe, or delusional to think we have control over all circumstances, but it would be equally disdainful to negate the innate enigma that we humans are. So complex, so vulnerable, so resilient, so inspiring. I believe that everything happens. And then we marvelous creatures create reasons. Some good, some bad, some indifferent. Most created unconsciously, but many deliberately. I didn’t begin this particular creative outlet with an intentional outcome. But I can now consciously identify my writing and recognize it for what it means to me, regardless of any external measure: success.