Yesterday I was worrying I needed praise from an audience in order to keep me going. But today I think there might be another way of looking at it: that maybe the work we’re doing is useful and valuable to at least a few people, and therefore the situation is not so much about me, but mainly about them. It feels presumptuous for me to assume this, and also like there’s no real way for me to know. I can listen to what people tell me about the work but, for some reason, in the end, I feel there might be no way for me to know.
So this past weekend we premiered our new show. And the audience reaction was very, very positive. People said it inspired them to think about their own work, to keep going with their own work when they were thinking of quitting. I was surprised how positive the audience was about it. And it makes me wonder if that kind of praise is the main thing that keeps me going. And if there’s anything wrong with that.
As I get older I’m pretty sure I’m becoming more isolated, more socially isolated. Which is strange because, in a way what I really want from art, what I need for it to be meaningful, has a lot to do with interconnectedness, in culture, in society, in life, with feeling we’re all connected or that everything is connected. In a way what I’m looking for is the opposite of being isolated. And still somehow I’m going in the wrong direction.
So when I travel the jet lag often triggers my insomnia. And last night I was lying awake and I had something almost like an epiphany about what I’ve been trying to say here. And it was so simple and stupid, in a way I almost find it embarrassing, but it was something like: what I have to do is focus on why I’m making the work, and what makes it meaningful for me, and stop worrying about how many people are going to see it and what they’re going to think.
So now I’m in Malmö, Sweden. We arrived here today. I’m completely jetlagged, completely exhausted. We premier a new show on Friday, a show we’ve been working on for two years. And… it’s very strange… I’m still making shows. All I do is question it, but at the same time I’m doing it anyway.
And then there’s this song title I remember from being a teenager. It’s a song by Deja Voodoo and the song was called: How Can I Miss You If You Don’t Go Away. And I’ve been doing project after project, one after another, for the past thirty years. Always projects on the go. Yeah and if I stop I wonder… I guess I fear that no one will miss me at all. Maybe that’s what it’s about.
I feel the kind of regrets I’ve been talking about here, suggest that I think I should have made more progress, that I think there was something to get. And yet I keep telling myself, I don’t think there’s anything to get. I don’t think money or success or praise were going to make me any happier. But still, I want to find some positive way to keep on being an artist. Something that feels more generous. Something where I’m not actually trying to move forward.
A few years ago I wrote a story called Past, Present, Future, Etc. And I sometimes think about that “etcetera.” As in, I mean, what comes after the future? I feel this might be one kind of solution: a different way of thinking about time. Thinking about time without progress, without growth. There’s nowhere to get to, and therefore there’s nothing to leave behind.
“I took some time off in my forties to try to get better at what I do.” Why am I so obsessed with this quote, why do I find it so hard to imagine myself taking time off, trying to get better? Why can’t I even imagine what better is? Maybe the thing I imagine most is quitting art to become an activist. That seems what we really need today: less artists, more activists. But I don’t think I can do it.
I often say that all my work is about the relationship between art and politics. But now that I’m looking back, that I’m really looking back at what I’ve done, I actually wonder if it’s more about how little art can do in the face of overwhelming political problems. And that also makes me realize how much I want art to do, how much desire I have for art to change things.
Of course, while I’m worried about being “washed up,” the rest of the world seems to be going to hell in a handbasket. I mean we all know the list: fascism, environmental degradation, the continuing violence of patriarchy, white supremacy, homophobia, transphobia, so much more. And when I say I’m feeling “washed up,” I mean, I also mean I feel like I’m in mourning for my life. But I wonder: am I in mourning for my life or am I actually in mourning for the world?
And then there was another quote, it was apparently something Dr. Dre said to Eminem – I guess I spend a lot of time reading and thinking about Hip Hop, I don’t know if that’s okay – but apparently what Dr. Dre said to Eminem is: “You have to work really hard to get it, and they you have to work even harder to maintain it.” And I’ve been thinking a lot about this, I mean, is that really what I want to do? Am I really interested in trying to maintain something?
There was a quote I heard about a year ago. It’s a quote from the Hip Hop producer NO I.D. But actually he’s quoting Quincy Jones. And the quote is: “I took some time off in my forties to try to get better at what I do.” And I really tried to imagine what that would be like, if I were to take some time off in my forties to try to get better at what I do. I mean, I can’t even imagine it. What would that feel like?
So lately what I’ve been feeling, ah, is quite “washed up.” And I don’t talk about it very much, I feel a lot of shame around this feeling, I feel perhaps feeling “washed up” is a kind of privilege. And also, I mean, no one really wants to hear about it. But… I thought maybe if I only talk about it for thirty seconds every day, I mean, you can talk about anything for thirty seconds a day. So I thought I would try that.