I’m a week over deadline on this blog entry. Stephanie Vegh is likely pissed at me, but is probably too polite to let me have it. It doesn’t prevent an imaginary version of Stephanie Vegh in my head looking at me and telling me I am a disappointment. Every night this week, after poorly serving all of my other languishing obligations, be they creative, professional, familial, or otherwise, I sit at the computer hoping to chip away at this blog. More often than not, nothing happens. The pressure of the deadline, combined with my mental fatigue, combined with mounting feelings of embarrassment makes it impossible to extract the good idea from my head and lay it out on the page. It’s maddening.
I mention all of this because the topic I want to write about is exactly what I’m going through: the frequency by which work conditions for artists become stressed, pressured, sloppy, and toxic to one’s self esteem. I’ve written in the past how deadlines and stress can often lead to career changing moments of inspiration, and God-given moments of grace and flow. If this balance is off however, those same pressures just grind you into a pulp.
I think this past week has been that kind of nightmare for lots of Hamiltonians in the creative arts. There was a deadline for the Canada Council’s New Chapter Program that offers one-time funding for projects to help celebrate our nation’s upcoming Sesquicentennial. There was a deadline for the City Enrichment Fund, which has done a good job in encouraging new artists and organizations to enter the municipal funding stream. I know a few people who were trying to submit to both.
Awesome, right? Money for projects, and an invitation for artists to think and dream big about who they are and what they can do. So why was it a nightmare? Why did so many artists stave off that dreaming until the final four days before deadline? Why did a portion of the arts community seem to drown in suffering?
I talked to a few of my artist friends this past week. Many complained that carving out a space in a working schedule already thick with multiple jobs and daily hustling put them in the same bleary-eyed late-night working haze that I’ve been in this week. Some told me horror stories about taking what they knew was a worthy creative project and then twisting it and contorting it in order to adhere to the terms of the grant, ending up with something so unrecognizable they worried they no longer had any attachment to it. Some were overcome by the futility of trying to communicate an idea to a finicky online grant portal governed by tight word limits and budget templates that seemed borrowed from an armament procurement competition. Some merely hated the gamble of investing work hours in an activity that inevitably behaved like a lottery.
Regardless of whether they submitted a grant or not, many of my friends had a week of furious work, followed by some kind of psychological crash. They submitted a grant only to feel compromised and bureaucratically assaulted. They wrote part of a grant but abandoned it because they couldn’t wrangle all the details and then succumbed to a wave of regret. They failed to pursue a grant and now feel like they have missed an opportunity that was sure to catapult them.
One of the realizations that I’ve had this year is that we now live in a city where opportunities are abundant, but many of us are still wired in our heads to think that opportunities are rare. Therefore we have a knee jerk reactions to bite at every opportunity that comes our way, to feel bad at every opportunity that we don’t bite at, and to frequently get put into overload and fatigue on account of our constant biting.
I know that I have taken on five too many endeavors right now, and that the sensible thing to do would be to cut them out and give the right amount of space to just a select few. I know that I should not get swept up in the possibility of new ventures when they come along. But I usually always do.
Another metaphor that occurs to me is this. My creative life is like a marathon, one I know will take a lifetime to run. But instead of trying to pace myself over the long distance, instead I run as fast as I possibly can until I collapse. Then I sob on the ground in a crumpled heap for a few minutes, before picking myself up and running as fast as I possibly can again.