As an artist, I have faced failure. This morning I woke up and anxiously made coffee, feeling failure hanging over me like a cloud. Momentum is an underrated trait in the arts. I have stumbled over a difficult phase doing some contract teaching work and lost momentum on a couple projects that I need to rebuild energy to pursue. I also let the house go, a bit. The living room is covered in papers graded, papers that failed to return to rightful owners. The kitchen table is covered in unopened mail – junk mail, all of it. There are contractors to hire. Appointments to schedule. And, there are books to write. Each moment builds momentum for the next moment. Each day builds to the next day. If I fall behind, lose momentum, on books or on the housework or at any other large task that requires such maintenance, then I must rebuild that momentum.
There is good momentum and bad. The energy spent chasing a failed project, doomed to fail no matter what I do to try and fix it, is lost energy. Not every idea is worth pursuing. At the house, I installed magnetic strips to hold the knives up and away. It took only moments, and, at first, it seemed like such a good idea. Then, I noticed how easily knives fall off the strips, and how the cupboards open and close occasionally quite hard in that area. If they fell, where would they fall? They were just over the stove, where I would be standing below them, barefoot, with a dog at my heels after carrot scraps. The energy to fix the problem, then, grows greater. I have to get the power tools out again, take another trip to the hardware store and use a ladder and and figure out how to mount the thing to drywall. None of this is hard, but it requires energy, time, and is easily allowed to slip into the back of the day, an afterthought, a thing I will get to eventually. Moment momentum falls lost. I feel guilty, then, every time I see the thing I don’t finish hanging over my head. The knives will fall. I tell myself they will fall and hurt someone and I need to fix it. Not today, though. Today, I have other things that need to be done.
The energy I spend builds momentum. Failure is constant. Every day I choose where to put the energy I have, some other critical thing falters. Ergo, I feel terrible about myself, like a failure. The thing about momentum is that it is always lost. It always requires a messy combination of guilt, fear, anxiety, desire, and will to overcome the lost momentum, by pushing, moment-by-moment into the wall of the project that hangs over head.
When it is done, there is a momentary sense of accomplishment, truly. There is also an echo of energy, where the momentum is still pushing inside of me, but the stone is up the hill and I float a little bit higher, disoriented. The momentum evaporates. The moment feels like a hole. If I am lucky, and I did a good job, the hole will be a happy feeling, of wonder passing through like waking up from a beautiful dream.
This is a career in the arts.