Notes on How To Make or Break an Artistic Life

Tilikum Crossing in Portland, Oregon.
These days, I try to check myself when good news happens, as far as announcing it publicly or anything like that.
After learning first-hand how frustrating it can feel to watch someone else win the proverbial jackpot while we’re stuck wondering how the hell we’re going to buy groceries. It’s not a feeling I’d wish on anyone (except maybe the wealthiest of people — they’re generally soulless for their lack of that experience).
The process I went through in the past few years included: Burning out at work, going on tour, burning out on touring, getting robbed of my recording studio/personal belongings, feeling trapped, losing hope, etc.
It took every ounce of energy I could muster, with generous help from supportive friends, family, and fans who truly appreciate what I’m trying to do with my life, for me to lift myself out of a dark and pessimistic view of the world. It wasn’t easy to fix the problem, either. This gave me a big insight into life for the lower-class in America, and the alarms are going off. That’s now how the world should work if we want to thrive as a species. Our artists need support and our poor need pathways to independence, not punishments for poverty.
By the 2018 Winter Solstice, these hard lessons seemed to come to a peak. A combination of elements have coalesced to give me a clear vision of my future, with realistic steps leading to the reality I had almost given up on. I feel like I can now return to my roots in a way that makes sense in the core of my purpose, having learned all the valuable lessons about materialism, consumerism, pollution, and personal responsibility that are lost on most Americans. I say this knowing that there is lots more to learn… About everything.
Long exposure with my niece and nephew "painting light" at Christmas. Photo by Shane Cotee.
Long exposure with my niece and nephew “painting light” at Christmas. Photo by Shane Cotee.
If you find yourself struggling and losing hope in your purpose, there is an option to succumb or overcome. It may not feel like an option at all, but in most cases, it absolutely is. It’s a common mistake for us to grab the quick fix, the instant gratification, the superficial. These will not get us where we want to go, and are more likely to slow us down or even stop us completely. For example: Alcohol, junk food, Netflix binges, laying around instead of working out, etc. I’ve been there, I know all about these. But I also know the opposite.
If you want to accomplish anything big, anything of significance in your life, you have to overcome the superficial and work on building a framework for your own success from the ground up. This sounds like a sales pitch, but it’s not. I’m not selling anything in this post. This is where the “woo-woo” hippies talk about high vibrations, or raising your frequency. Well, that’s a bit of a metaphor for “keep going, stay active.”
Sunset at Portland International Airport. Photo by Shane Cotee.
Sunset at Portland International Airport. Photo by Shane Cotee.
The framework I mentioned above consists of all of the things that you know you need to do with your life. If it’s cleaning your room or your house (and there’s a very high chance that this is true), then you need to actually take the time to clean your room or your house. Novel idea, I know, but take note how quickly you’ll change the subject after this supposed realization occurs. The messier your house is, the more time you need to spend on it, because it will absolutely block you from any of the steps that you imagine doing beyond that. This is the framework I’m talking about, a thorough cleaning of your life’s slate, a tabula rasa, on a continuous basis.
After cleaning your house, for example, the next step could be something like organizing the files on your computer. After that, it may be studying new knowledge by checking out books from the library, or watching YouTube videos about ANYTHING you really know you want to learn. But it’s critical that you do so with a clean, clear mind, and the little things like piles of clothes or messes will not give you an optimal environment for that.
To learn how to keep your “slate” clean is an absolute artform in itself. Nature leans towards chaos, as we know from the somewhat-famous second law of thermodynamics. Life falls into entropy if we’re not there to keep it clean.
I hope this rambling offers some guidance for anyone struggling as much as I did in the recent past. Our capacity to survive is well beyond our capacity to feel uncomfortable, so you can think of discomfort as a long warning before true danger. Deal with it early, deal with it now. Acknowledge the bottomless pit of entertainment/distraction/laziness, and look beyond all of it if you have plans to lead a significant life at all. Good luck!

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