Art: It’s Just Not That Into Me (Or a Lot of Us)

I talk a good game about writing because you want to and to make your peace as early as possible with the fact all you have control over is your own willingness to work and work as hard and honestly as you can at whatever you’re trying to create, and your doggedness in trying to get your work seen/heard/produced, etc (if you even want that).

I still believe in that. And I still believe if you’re expecting the Art Gods to act is if they have any interest in fairness, let alone thinking that all of your toil and hours you’ve sacrificed somehow obligates them in any way to give you a helping hand, you haven’t been paying attention.

And yet, I am less than a perfect adherent of my own maxims. I’ve reached a unique moment in my life as a writer. I’ve had moments of utter despair, shattering almosts and nearlys that have made me want to take my ball and go home. That they’ve increased over the last few years makes sense; between 2007-2013, I had a four full length plays produced about seven times regionally, and two of them had very well-received runs Off-Broadway. I had a fifth play optioned play optioned and set to open on Broadway the falling October. If this sounds like distasteful bragging to you, the next paragraph will make you feel a lot better.

Between 2014-and July 11th, EDT, 2022, I have failed to land another agent, which may have something to do the fact that in that eight year-stretch I had my option dropped, and have had a total of two new plays produced once each.

It’s Hard to Follow My Advice Because I’ve Seen Myself Attempt Things Like Try to Set Up a Universal Remote or Be Overly Liberal on the Five Second Rule Re: Dropped Food

If my career were a pet, it likely would have been euthanized.

Eight Years Isn’t a Slump, It’s a Brand

The thing is, it’s not like I wrote only two plays in that period. I’ve written well..a lot of stuff. Tons. Something like eight full length plays, a web series, two screenplays, and two one act plays, in addition to two complete seasons of tv series. I believe firmly, and people whom I respect tend to concur, it is some of the best writing I’ve done. So based on my philosophy, I should take solace in that.

But to my embarrassment, these days I find can’t. Not even a quantum of solace*, which is a phrase I’m shoehorning into this sentence because it was actually the name of a James Bond film (which I still can’t fully accept this somehow got green-lighted) and maybe the the most absurd and stupid three words ever strung together. Anyway.

Don’t misunderstand me: it’s not that I’m feeling discouraged. For the first time ever, the thought of writing, among the few things that has always allowed me sniff out some sense of who I am, fills me with physical and metaphysical revulsion.

All I seem to feel when I think of rolling a fresh sheet of paper in to start a new work is humiliating foolishness. Partly because I don’t have a typewriter, and I keep forgetting laptops don’t need paper. But mostly because I am living out the famous definition of insanity: doing the same thing over and over and over again and expecting a different result.

Obligatory Rhetorical Question
If a play is performed in a forest – or a theater – or a forest/theater and no one comes to see it, does it exist?

And it’s not like it’s been read by bunch of professionals and deemed unworthy. That would be disappointing and frustrating, but something I’d have to be willing to hear. I can’t get anyone (in a position to produce it) to read it. Not in theater or tv. And it’s not just my bank account and ego who feels this sting of rejection, although sure, that’s in there. It’s that it starts to feel like a delusional act. It stops being nourishing and gratifying and starts to seem a little embarrassing to myself.

Many Believe the Universe is Indifferent to Our Lives. Perhaps. But I Know for a Fact Art Is.

This when to remember Art has made it quite clear it isn’t obliged to you in the least. Art doesn’t owe me (or anyone) any favors. It didn’t sell on becoming an artist like it was talking you into a time share. Art says, “You want to be an artist? Great. Best of luck,” and then it walks away, probably on its way to a gallery opening in the West Village, and leaves you to do the rest.

I’m not arguing what I’m feeling is right from an aesthetic, philosophical, or emotional stand point. If a friend approached me with the same dilemma, I know just what I’d say. I’d be encouraging and mean it.

I admit chasing fame and fortune are poor goals for an artist. I’m not (I wouldn’t turn it down, of course, but I’m not chasing it. The fact that I’m a playwright sort of proves that. If I’d hoped to achieve fame and future as a playwright in America, it’d a little like moving to Kenya hoping to achieve adulation as a figure skater.

Usually, I somehow just trudge forward, not out of some heroic dedication but because I’ve unlearned how not to. And who knows? Scarlett O’Hara famously said, “After all, tomorrow is another day!” Thing is, she’s not the fictional character you’d look to for solid life advice.

So, What Now?
Will I try to write again? Sigh. Probably. Did writing that jut now depress me? Very much so. Will the fact few if any may ever see it or care gnaw at me a lot more than it used to? It seems to be trending in that direction. Certainly more than I’d hoped from myself.

Art owes artists nothing.

And you could argue that no one put a gun to my head, forcing to become an “artist” (I’m a bit self-conscious about this term. I worry it’s too self-regarding). But if you feel this is something people can just walk away from or stop emotionally attaching to once they’ve realized how disappointing it can be, I have to tell, this in’t like the last season of Game if Thrones. Sure, you likely got pissed at the lazy writing and oddly unsatisfactory ending, but then you started binging something else. God, what bliss it would be to simply stop caring like that.

Let’s Open Up the Floor

How do you deal with these feelings as actors, writers, artists, etc.?

I’m curious about how others have dealt with such moments: please let me know your experiences and philosophies.

*It’s hard not to believe that title wasn’t the result of some drunken party at the producer’s home, in which hundreds of words were clipped out of magazines by interns, placed in a hat, and then picked at random. And when the guests dared the producer to name a film that, he (“he” is accurate here, because a woman wouldn’t be this idiotically obstinate), fueled on drunken bravado, shouted, “You bet your ass I’m gonna use this title!” and the next day, hungover, when he tries to back peddle, his buddies won’t let him off the hook. I’m pretty sure that’s how Hollywood works. Or at least, how it worked HERE.

Published by Jack Canfora

I'm an award winning and losing playwright and screenwriter; I'm a dad of two great kids, an aggressive spoiler of dogs, and hopelessly addicted to baseball and The Beatles. I have no recollection of ever having worn a mullet, yet photos in the 80's say otherwise.

2 thoughts on “Art: It’s Just Not That Into Me (Or a Lot of Us)

  1. Some artists have to wait an eternity. Rothko took a couple a decades to receive his due, Gustav Mahler thought it would be 50 years before his music was understood and turned out to be right. I know none of this reduces despair or provides much solace. The odds are against any artist in a welter of wannabees. All I can say is that your goal is possible and there is hope in that. I will be rooting for you. I am sure many others are, too.

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