A long, long time ago, in a previous century far away, I wrote a song called “Doing Without”.
Yes, believe it or leave it, I used to “write lyrics”, although I never had much aptitude for it, and I preferred repetitive chants over sophisticated poetry. Plus, I was the vocalist out of necessity and proprietary right; I don’t have the greatest singing voice, I confess. I can carry a tune about as well as I can carry a Volkswagen bus. Not well, would be my point here.
In the span of a few minutes we went from giddy at the prospect of performing it, to disheartened by the fact that we could never perform it. The crux was this:
[vocals] Doing without bass,
Doing without bass
Doing without bass.
[vocalist pulls out revolver and shoots bass player dead]
Doing without drums,
Doing without drums
Doing without drums.
[vocalist shoots drummer dead]
This would continue, each musician mock-executed, until the vocalist (me) would shoot himself, ending the set. George and I realized, even pre-9/11, that this idea would barely work as a comedy sketch, let alone a live musical performance. Back into deep-freeze it went, among all the other concepts that didn’t quite cut the proverbial mustard.
The reason I brought up this ancient dirge is simple. Do you know what you can do without?
I’m not talking about aspects of life that annoy or bother you. I’m talking about things you think you need. Can you function without them?
What’s your inspiration for getting out of bed in the morning? Think hard. Now ask yourself this:
What would happen if you had to do without that inspiration? Would you get out of bed at all?
I used to joke that I was powered by the twin engines of resentment and contempt. For decades I’ve used my natural anger and frustration to light the fuse in creating new work. So what do I do when those devices cease to function? What do I do when the fuel begins to poison me?
If your inspiration for creating is that you saw someone do something you think you can do better, then quit now. You’re acting out of spite and envy, not creating. What’s gonna happen when you top that person, and no one cares, because you weren’t the first? What then?
Even more presciently; what happens when you create something demonstrably valuable, and you’re socially un-personed because of your politics or religious beliefs? Do you fight even harder, or do you give up? Serious question.
Can you do without promotion on social media? Can you do without using social media, at all?
If you’ll permit me to be presumptuous, I’ll wager that almost nothing you enjoy in life is brought to you by social media; in fact, it’s quite the opposite. You, me, and billions of other people toss ideas and things we love into the digital abyss, every hour of every day, in the faint hope that we’ll be publicly associated with those things, and thereby affirmed.
If you have all the time in the world to do something, you’ll never do it. You need pressure. Pressure makes diamonds… in time. All the greatest books, albums, and films required more time and pressure than anyone on-line allows themselves. Creators prostitute their half-finished inventions for the most “clicks”. People delude themselves into thinking a day’s worth of attention on social media is tantamount to a lifetime of practice.
Nothing but practice makes perfect, and perfection does not exist in humanity. If you practice a skill to the point that you become proficient at it, then that is what you do. That’s what they will write on your tombstone if you are successful, after you are dead. So let it be written, so let it be done.
Unless your family is rich and you graduated with honors from a major college, you will never, ever have a fruitful career in literature, film or television (which is almost dead, by the way). You will never be anything but a ticket-buyer for the latest blockbuster, no matter what they tell you. No one will ever be “discovered” after a clever tweet or a thoughtful riposte on Facebook. You and I are nothing but numbers to “celebrities”. Naught but the reeking herd. To be avoided. Shunned.
If and when the true inspiration hits you, you’ll know. It’s different for everyone, and it might greet you later today, or weeks before you depart this mortal coil. If you respect your true inspiration in life, then respect will come to you, naturally. You’ll see at last that those who disrespect you only do so because they don’t know what you know, and they can’t do what you do. They can only lash out at your consistency, in vain. They can only attack what has been done.
That’s literally all they have.
Hopefully, I’ve helped you understand the crucial difference between those who build, and those who tear down; institutions, statues, ideas, and so on. If your “cause” inspires you to tear down what others have built, your cause is lost. It’s impossible to earn respect through destruction.
And respect is the sole concept that none of us can truly do without.