The Artist’s Dilemma: When The Music’s Over

Photo of Jim Morrison

You know the feeling. You had a great night. You got the job done. You closed the deal and now you’re lying next to someone you thought you could never get.

You experience emotional clarity, the narcotic that gives you a simulation of what things could be. You feel confident, congruent, respected, appreciated. Everybody saw what you did and now the circuits in your brain are firing wildly and you can’t sleep. For once reality is better than fantasy. You’re in love with life again and you’re back in the green peace, granola lifestyle listening to Jim Morrison sing,

Waiting around with our heads to the ground

I hear a very gentle sound.

We want the world and we want it…

Then tomorrow comes and you don’t feel the same. Like a clawing memory, the feeling of certainty is now but a vague and fleeting sensation. You try to get it back but you can’t. After a while you realize that you’ve hit a plateau, that you’re in a purgatorial state of mind again and you acknowledge that you may have to stay there for a while. Time passes and nothing changes. You bullshit yourself that this is all temporary, that things will eventually turn around. But you know there is no such thing as maintenance. If you are not getting better, you must be getting worse. Then the questions begin to come: How long will I be like this? Is this the beginning of the end? Is this all I could ever hope to be? The weeks pass and you perform routine extracurricular activities to distract yourself, but nothing happens. Going out, buying things, getting wasted and show-bingeing don’t work anymore. Not the meditation, not the workouts, not the vitamins, not the giving up meat, and not the motivational books. Something is wrong. You feel nervous, angry and twitchy; you feel obligated, self-conscious and excluded from the social narrative of things. Slowly, with a complete disinfecting realization, you come to accept that you are permanently losing status.


But what is this feeling, this taste of inadequacy that’s eating you inside out?

Well, it’s called stagnation. This happens to a lot of us deluded and conceited enough to call ourselves that cringe-worthy word: “artist.” Yes, as a word it is snobbish and insolent. Because in reality, words are not enough. To be an artist you can’t just say or think you’re an artist; you actually have to be one and live like one.

Whether you’re the soft or savage kind, our species belong to the human-predator class. This means we only eat what we kill. And since good art is relevant art, you’re only as good as your last piece or performance. Just like in the movie, Fight Club, you are not who you are outside your craft. Once you stop doing and start thinking—or talking, or posturing, or pretending—you stop becoming. Then eventually you turn into what you’ve spent all your life running away from: guarantees. A guarantee of a salary that others will envy; a guarantee of an occupation others can be proud of; a guarantee of a life others have chosen for you.

No. There are no guarantees. The only guarantee we get is not becoming what we hate. But time is running out. This is why we can’t wait for the perfect moment or the right feelings to come. This is why we show up and accept the uncelebrated minor successes, the depreciation of destitution, the feelings of futility we will all must bear.

But that’s alright. We need to accept that we are different animals, and that self-acceptance doesn’t end self-improvement. We are all in the Icarus path, mad in our insistence and need for chaos. We may live as estranged shadows from our families and friends, but we are willing to give what our dreams will take. This is our calling, our craving, our exclusive-next-level drug. We can’t believe the bullshit of being satisfied, of being content, because we know that once we stop we will die many horrible, quiet deaths.

The only time is now, and the only way is forward.


David Milch





  1. I was drawn to this one by the title – this is one of my few favorite songs…I wasn’t surprised to see Jim sprawled out on the stage…why oh why is that the usual perception of this great poet? Anyway enjoyed reading! Thanks for liking my little poem! Visit again! DiAnne

  2. Hahah, wow, what a great reminder to not accept the mundane, to always pursue your passions. You’re so right in that we try to seek out guarantees of what we consider to be a good life. Part of it, I think, is that we’re so afraid to fail at what we love that it’s easier to be content with just existing instead of actually living.

    Keep writing awesome stuff!

    — Arianna.

    1. Thank you for the kind words. Failing is part of growing up. If you eliminate the risk of failure then you eliminate the chance for success. As they say, “If you’ve never failed then you’ve never tried.” Keep trying! 🙂

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