Earlier last week I started rereading Austin Kleon’s book Keep Going. I first read it towards the end of last year when I was in a deep creative slump. Creatively speaking, I was really struggling to find and maintain the energy and motivation to “keep going” and the book was helpful. This year, I feel like I’ve gained some ground artistically. I still wrestle amidst the endeavor to make art and to keep my creative practice alive, but that fight never really ends.
In fact, Kleon is sure to point out that “No matter how successful you get, no matter what level of achievement you reach, you will never really ‘arrive'”.
I’m still trying to find my way but, even more so, now I find myself struggling to simply “keep going”. I am emotionally, psychologically, and physically exhausted. It seemed as good a time as any to revisit Kleon’s book.
In the opening pages of the book he writes that after “writing and making art” for years “it didn’t seem to be getting any easier” and he asks himself “Isn’t it supposed to get easier?” I’ve been asking myself that same question, not only in terms of art but, also in terms of coping with the dramatic changes my life has undergone this year.
Everyday I find myself wondering when the words will simply flow, when the art will become second nature, and when I’ll start to feel…better.
I’ve been working on one creative endeavor or another for almost as long as I can remember and it’s never gotten easier. It’s almost been six months now since my ex-wife and I separated and started working towards divorce, and that too, has certainly not gotten any easier. In fact, it feels like its gotten and continues to get, harder. I am suffuse with questions, and more and more I am asking “Isn’t it supposed to get easier?”
John O’Donohue says that “Suffering always brings a myriad of questions we cannot answer: Why me? What did I do to deserve this? Why was what was so precious in my life so abruptly taken from me? Will I be able to survive this at all? How will I live from now on? When you are standing in the place of pain, none of these questions can be answered.” I am searching for the comfort of coherence and understanding, the consolation of an explanation, but, as the writer of Ecclesiastes says, it is a “grasping for the wind”.
Buddhist thought suggests that part of the reason for why we suffer is because of three defilements: greed, hatred, and delusion. We desperately clutch at what we crave, we kick against what we desire to avoid, and we delude ourselves into thinking both are possible. Maybe the Buddhists are right, I want to make art without obstruction or constraint. I want to be mended without difficulty or pain. And, the fact that I am “suffering” seems to be proof that I am too delusional to accept that it just doesn’t work that way. Perhaps, the struggle lies not in the making of art, nor in the pursuit of healing, but in the struggle to accept that both are hard.
Kleon explains that, for him, “Everything got better…when [he] made peace with the fact that it might not ever get easier”. Even as I type out his words I can feel myself struggling to accept their veracity. I am so not as peace with the thought of perpetual difficulty, and maybe that’s the problem.
O’Donohue writes that “When lonely suffering is courageously embraced and integrated, it brings new light and shelter to our world and to the human family.” But,”embracing and integrating” that lonely suffering is a real motherfucker. I’m not sure I know how to do it yet.
I’m honest enough to admit that I don’t yet have the serenity to accept the things I cannot change. I don’t know if I have the courage to change the things I can, and I’m not sure I have the wisdom to know the difference.
Perhaps, for now at least, the best I can do is to be a conversation devoted to something difficult….