When I was a kid, I was not competitive whatsoever. I was ecstatic playing youth soccer not because of the sport, but because it gave me an excuse to run around. For some reason, it isn’t a big deal if you run around with a bunch of other kids on a field, but it is a big deal if you run at top speed down a grocery aisle dodging shopping carts and old ladies. Wednesday evening was soccer evening and my time to run. And run I did.
As time passes, and I’m considering what I want to be when I grow up (after the ubiquitous fireman, astronaut, and paleontologist phase) I ask myself, “what can I do so I never have to compete with anyone ever and can just revel in excitement and awesomeness? Of course! (my naive, prepubescent brain divines) The arts!
I held on to that dream for a long time.
But now, in graduate school for theatre, among so many talented, well-connected, entrepreneurial colleagues, the veneer of idealism has dissolved, leaving me with a…well, rather undesirable quality. I have resentment.
Perhaps it was my naive upbringing or my not-so-subtle inferiority complex (call it little-brother syndrome) that now puts my resentment so harshly into focus. There are times, my worst times, when I am mad that anything cool in the world is happening without me. Even some hypothetical artist who I’ve never met, with their hypothetical good art and their hypothetical praise making some hypothetical money just makes me want to kick their hypothetical ass. Even a slight comment about someone else’s work going well can set me on a full existential tailspin.
Am I that self-centered? Am I that thin-skinned? Do I not annoying preach to anyone who will listen that self-confidence, daring and enthusiasm are the life-blood of creation? So when I get angry about others’ success, I get angry at myself too. At my hypocrisy and egotism.
Now, this anger is not who I am. I’m not an angry person. I’m a terribly happy person. So why does this happen?
Um, I really don’t know. That’s too hard to answer.
But I can imagine my ideal:
Ideally, I genuinely celebrate every artist’s success. Art is a really, really hard field to get paid in. It’s fraught with pitfalls, tension, depression and self-doubt. The creation of art is a celebration of human achievement and connection – an act of impossible communication – a desperate shout into the abyss of the human condition and a thin echo reverberating back through the void.
So why does it have to come with jealousy and resentment? Has my craft been commodified? Am I a business competing with other businesses? Is this what being an artist is really about?
Asking that feels like a kid asking his parents about death.
For every ten critiques, we only remember one compliment. For every ten beautiful pieces of art we create, it only takes someone else’s better one to make us forget them.
I don’t want to live in that narrative.
I want to be running on the soccer field. Kids score goals, teams win and lose…but all that’s grown-up stuff. I just want to grab all my friends, look across the field and run headlong into the wind.