Etch-a-Sketch: One Life Creative, One Static

The model’s gaze centered across the room, off at a wall, lips pursed to silence the pain throbbing in her left shoe. Indie music rocked the background as men and women of all ages hunched over clipboards and sketchpads capturing the model in quick gestures of line, with some works created in 20-minute spans much more detailed than others.

This was a typical Thursday night at drink & draw at the Society of Illustrators in Manhattan. A college friend, I’ll call her Lisa, invited me to meet up to sketch after too many posts regarding my lacking of creativity in my life.

Seeing Lisa was like seeing the very other version of myself I could have become, you know, the person who is the you that you might have been if you just said “fuck it world I just want to do what I want to do, and I’m going to do it.” Lisa started college with me at the same time (I can’t recall how or when we met), apparently dropped out, went to another school for film, dropped out of that, then finally returned to my alma mater to finish her degree.

Despite being Chicago-bred, she is so New York. She is the New York I’ll never be.

Lisa lives in Brooklyn with roommates, has very little or nothing saved in the bank, and works as a freelancer building random things like light displays and puppets and artist installations. She works fairly regularly, but still has periods of unemployment. She’s not a trust fund baby. She goes to figure drawing hours frequently and creates regularly. She works from home and clubs and people’s apartments. She’s not in any particularly serious relationship and her life is agile, free flowing, and she isn’t worried about her biological clock because she doesn’t want kids. She just wants freedom and creativity.

I could have been that. I still can, I guess, but I’m terrified about not having money. I don’t want things, I want a sizable bank account. I want security. Laura said she doesn’t really think about saving. She’d rather be happy now over later, if she had to pick one. She also doesn’t see herself stopping work at any point, because she loves her work. She’s such the stereotype of the person who I’d be most terrified to be — constantly looking for new work, new projects all to pay rent next month. But she doesn’t seem too worried.

I sat and sketched the model, my proportion skills a bit rusty, my hand got to work frenetically scribbling lines across the page. Hands sore from pushing so hard bringing back memories of summer art classes during high school in the city, back when I thought art was something to do later in life when one had more time. Ha. Ha. Ha.

The reality is I’m chasing something. I am. There is an endgame here. I want to work for a startup that does well enough where I can make at least $1M post tax from my stock (or make up for that with savings and investing along the way.) $5M would be brilliant because then I could dedicate the rest of my life to creating. But even $1M would be great. I don’t need a big house. I don’t need fancy clothes. I don’t need The Glamorous Life. Sure, I’d love to splurge on a Broadway show or overpriced art class every now and again, but I wouldn’t exactly blow through capital.

So my dream isn’t quite so far from Lisa’s dream. The only exception is she’s living it now, getting better at her own art, she’s living that dream today. I’m waiting for my ticket to freedom. I want to earn it. I want to appreciate it. I want to know what the world is for everyone else out there so I can relate. Then I can make art that speaks to everyone. Maybe. The best artists can get inside anyone’s head, but I’d rather be a little bit of everyone for a little bit of time until I understand what drives us all.

It seems then it’s not really money that drives me. It’s the journey. It’s the frustrations and victories and the stories I live and breathe in a world far removed from art and music and theatrics (yet smack in the center of innovation in order to optimize productivity and reduce the need for manual labor, the opposite of art.) I live in a word of robots. Of data scientists teaching computers to think, to act, to free us from these mundane repetitive activities to be free. I promote products that do this. I spend my life, from 8am to 6pm, and often longer, everyday, convincing others that they need robot brains to be better at doing what they do.

What am I going to be, 50, 60, 70 years from now, on my death bed — what am I going to think of a life where I promoted robots for a living? Is my tombstone going to say RIP, to the woman who made sure people bought products that optimized process? These are needed, important, and relevant products, all of them, any that I’ve ever sold, and as I become more mature in my career I make sure I am on teams building products that really work, that really offer value, and I scream that value from the rooftops. I’m a broken record of value.

So that one day, one day, someday, I can take all of that life, all of those years working with people driven by completely different things that I am, and make something that addresses human nature across the fourth wall. Out in the “real” world.

But what if I die tomorrow? What then? It’s not like I have so much brilliance to share with the world. I’m just a person. I’m just like everyone else. I have no particular talents other than blathering on when I shouldn’t and making awkward situations somehow further awkward. I have a talent for being anxious and ill prepared in the most unfortunate of situations. I am a genius, IQ off the charts, at not knowing how to connect with people, at trying so hard to find a happy balance between small talk and pretentious hipster conversation, and haven’t quite found my niche. I am great at being silly and making people laugh one-on-one if they have a dark sense of humor where “JDate BJs” as subject matter earns a chuckle or two. It’s my crazy stories which earn me a rite of passage into anyone’s radar. Those are my art too, I guess, as I long to show others that you can indeed be honest, be yourself, your primal pitted self, afraid, hungry, lustful, longingly, empty, full, alive and not, as that was always my goal from day one.

Instead, for now, I promote robots. They pay me well. I really like the people I work with. I like working towards clear goals. I’m terrified of being just another one of everyone else. But why do I have to be a somebody? And, by somebody I don’t mean CEO of a public company, but somebody who wrote a musical or painted a series featured on the cover of The New York Times arts section, or somebody who wrote a bestseller. I no longer even care about being a somebody in many ways, which is how I know I’ve grown, I’ve matured, I jus want to say something. You know? To say something meaningful that will stay around after I’m gone. To maybe inspire people. To connect with people through my art because the lawd knows I can’t any other way.

New York, New York, the city of creation, of creative people, of creativity, of anonymity, where nobody knows your name. You can show up at a figure drawing hour, sit down, stare at people, draw them, stare at people around you drawing, no one cares, everyone is doing their own thing.

Sitting and sketching away with a glass of pinot to my side, I tried to figure out how on earth the model’s arm was twisted under her garment as I tried to figure out how I’ve gone so so far away from where I was, and wonder if I’ve been running in the wrong direction all along.

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