I saw this quote the other day and it struck a chord with me. It was attributed to Vonnegut and I couldn’t get it out of my head.
Go into the arts. I’m not kidding. The arts are not a way to make a living. They are a very human way of making life more bearable. Practicing an art, no matter how well or badly, is a way to make your soul grow, for heaven’s sake. Sing in the shower. Dance to the radio. Tell stories. Write a poem to a friend, even a lousy poem. Do it as well as you possibly can. You will get an enormous reward. You will have created something.
I loved it. I’m not a big quote guy – I don’t need motivational posters with high-flying eagles and majestic mountains in the background. Although I have been told I am quite quotable (a person wants me to trademark: “Seek out mountains to climb; otherwise you are just taking up space.”) quotes haven’t really resonated with me.
But this one did.
And I think it’s because my almost three-year-old daughter is very artsy. She is smart, speaks in full sentences, doesn’t babble, sings songs, colors, paints, and is super creative. She plays guitar – rather, with a guitar – and only wanted “hearts and paint” for Christmas from Santa.
If asking for hearts for Christmas doesn’t prove she has an enormous one, I don’t know what else could. It’s that creativity and sensitivity that I feel artsy people have. Even the ones who only view art as misery still have a large heart – it’s what they are expressing that has the heart. It may not be vibrant, but it’s far better than creating spreadsheets. It’s still art, even if it’s far more modern than romantic.
When my child was born, like any parent, I envisioned a great life ahead for her. My sister is a professional bean counter and makes terrific money, lives in San Francisco, eats at snobby restaurants and drives a BMW. It’s that kind of lifestyle I wanted my child to enjoy.
Mainly it’s because I’ve had to eke my way through life. Writers don’t make a lot of money. That’s how my career began. It has evolved and I am perfectly happy with my job and the career I have now – as well as what’s in front of me. Sure, I don’t drive a beamer and some of the snobbiest restaurants I enjoy usually have paper napkins.
My sister got the professional smarts. I got the professional heart.
So I only wished my kiddo would want the latest Texas Instruments calculator rather than a paint set. That she’d prefer working on her child iPad than her easel; or imagining what to make in her mini kitchen.
Those are the kinds of things I enjoy – but in real life. I love expressing my feelings, having robust conversations, reading, cooking, listening to music and just wanting color of all kinds to surround me.
This is how my daughter is growing up.
Of course, she’s three. I know things may change. She will probably play sports like I did and maybe she’ll find a career there. Or, perhaps she’ll really learn to play guitar and take up a life in music; which is totally artsy.
Something where you can show parts of your soul in your work.
But what I like most about that Vonnegut quote is how it ends: You’ll have created something.
In a sense, having her as a creation is my artwork. And she is beautiful.
Watching her paint, and seeing her color and grow and enjoy the world is art spoken through life. It has opened my eyes.
I ask my wife to save every activity that my daughter comes home from daycare with. Over 95 percent of it is pure crap. But there is something about it that I don’t want to throw away. Whether it was the day they painted with forks, or rolled marbles through paint, or put cotton balls on a paper to make a snowman – I don’t want to lose any of it.
Recently I was delivered a box that my mom had hung on to for years. It contained years of junk from my childhood – papers I had written in third grade, artwork from Kindergarten, report cards, pictures I drew (apparently in fourth grade I was really into guns) and I knew where I got it from.
My mother had held on to years of crumbling construction paper and sifting through that box brought back memories I didn’t know I had. It was my artwork. It was things I had created.
Now I really wanted to save handfuls of these things my daughter creates so that if she follows an artsy path, she may have memories of using only silver glitter paint to color Goofy with.
So, I sought out that Vonnegut quote again.
And I found that it came from a book, “A Man Without a County.”
What I read, in fact, wasn’t the whole quote at all.
The reference begins: “If you want to really hurt your parents, and you don’t have the nerve to be gay, the least you can do is go into the arts.”
While the rest was the same, I hated how the piece got bastardized and took out the humor he wrote about being gay.
That’s when I realized that I didn’t care what my daughter did – so long as she was happy. You can still create something and make a living, unlike what Vonnegut believes. Hell, if you make a lot of money, you can build something. That’s creating something.
You think Donald Trump doesn’t think he’s an artist? His name is on massive buildings, golf courses, whatever. He has created something: wealth.
Now, what I really want is for my kid to find the truth. Seek out the whole quote. It may in fact change what you’re really looking for.