It’s interesting to have opportunities to give advice to young artists. Each time, I learn something about myself, something about the way I may appear in others’ eyes—and something about the gap between them too.
I suppose the easiest way to explain that gap is that to those several decades my junior, my life—or at least its trail in print and online—evidently appears to follow a “career path.” They want to know who mentored me, or how I crafted my ambitions and what helped me actualize them. But it’s been more of a stumble than a blueprint. If you’re close to my age cohort, you know what I mean, because your life has already taught you the truth of that old saying: “We plan and God laughs.”
The thing is, I get asked variations on that question a lot: What needs doing now? What is most important, most effective? I want to do X but my (parent, professor, pastor, etc.) says I should do Y; what do you think? I understand the deep caring behind the question, the wanting to make a difference in the world, the wish to be practical, the yearning toward beauty, and all the other conflicted desires and hesitations. I understand that in today’s world, some young people are never encouraged to allow who they really are and what they really want to shape their life-choices.
I’ve heard the arguments, of course: I often run into people who believe that choice is an attribute of privilege. Some people do have more of a cushion, enabling the freedom to choose without risking consequences others would find dire. But I did not come up in privilege, and from a milieu without wealth, formal education, or much of a sense of belonging, I have managed more than a modicum of free choice, repeatedly taking the step that rhymed most closely with my essence. I think anyone with desire and determination can do the same.
I have only one answer. You do what gives you the most pleasure, and makes you feel the most alive. Because that will be what’s sustainable for you, and because you’ll be living in a prefigurative way—you’ll be living as an integral person, whose body, emotions, mind, and spirit are all aligned in the same way—you will inspire other people. Just the experience of encountering a person whose life is organized around that kind of integration in intrinsically enlarging, especially to a young person….
You have to be willing to give stuff up to do that, you know? You don’t get job security with that. But you get something else. You get a life without regrets, which I think is fairly important.
If it speaks to you, please feel free to share it.
This extended live version of Van Morrison’s “Beside You” may seem like a non sequitur, but with this particular song it isn’t so much message as sound. I’ve been listening to “Beside You” for decades. The feeling it creates in me is a beautiful reverie, a waking dream of desire and fulfillment that offers a glimpse of the alignment of worlds I describe in the clip. I hope you enjoy it.