Back when I was a teenager I had a Spanish teacher who told us every day to “get out of the box.” “Sala de la caja!” he would demand of us when we responded with an answer that was a near replica of the question he just asked.
If he saw us parking in the same spot day after day, eating the same lunch, living by rote and mimicry, Sr. Martinez would always confront us with one demand. Sala de la caja. Everybody else lived automatically, his students should never do the same.
Years have gone by and I've found that, as an artist, my life looks nothing like the average person. Many of you reading will know what it’s like to be so far out of the box, you can’t even remember where the box was. You find it more interesting to pursue the creation of good work than material comforts. Relationships no longer fit into simple classifications and single word explanations. Someone asks “What do you do for a living” and your mind goes blank. Often you dread tax season, not because you hate maths, but because your self-employed, PAYE, student status is so complicated that even your uncle, the family accountant, has given up on helping you fill out your self-assessment online.
Here’s what Sr. Martinez never mentioned: having a life that doesn’t follow the norm, where everything requires explanation, clarification, and creative thinking, gets exhausting from time to time. After a while, I just want to flop down on my bed and ask “Can’t something in my life just be straightforward for once?” Suddenly, a life that looks like everyone else’s is highly tempting in its ease and predictability. Perhaps it would be wise to reevaluate your values and even shift your goals around somewhat to make your life a bit more sane.
While reflection and reevaluation are activities that everyone needs to participate in every once in a while, let me say this: nobody has that simple life that we fantasize about.
The fact is even the thirtysomething banker has probably made as many sacrifices as you and me. He might wish for days of sitting in a garage at an easel, or wonder what it would be like to translate your thoughts to words on a page. He remembers a time when he didn’t have the financial pressures of a mortgage and misses that lack of stress. There are days where he can’t help but look longingly at those of us who create and wish his life looked like ours.
We all made sacrifices and choices to get to where we are. For creative people such sacrifices may mean having a living situation which is difficult to explain, or figuring out a particularly unique tax bracket. It can mean getting blank stares at dinner parties and realising that life is not about what other people think you should be doing.
The artistic life is about what you are doing, the work that you are creating, and the choices you are making in this life to live intentionally. Yes, there will be days when it all seems like it’s more trouble than it’s worth, but ultimately living well outside of the norm, making life choices which are uniquely your own, guarantees your life to be unlike anyone else’s, and that will be your greatest creation.
Image: Cat in the Box by Jenny P under a Creative Commons licence.
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