Last week while under the fog of flu, I consumed all of the commentary on Elizabeth Wurtzel’s New York magazine article.
Her article frustrated me to no end (like many people). Mostly because of her assumption that you have to pursue your dream in the manner she did – with no security net, with total reckless irresponsible abandon.
You don’t have to do it that way and it’s no greater guarantee that you’ll succeed if you go about it without a safety net. In fact, it’s more likely you’ll end up bereft and rootless.
And what is success?
Is it monetary?
Is it artistic?
Is it respect and renown?
Of course, it would be ideal to have all of these things but that’s not usually how it plays out.
Wurtzel was financially successful but according to her all that money is gone. When she went to law school, she took out loans like everyone else. And she had a reported $500,000 advance for her book Bitch.
She hasn’t written a book in ten years. But that doesn’t startle me so much (maybe because I’ve been working on my first novel for over a decade). One of the things that angers me the most about this article is her assumption that all writers are basically an undisciplined and unproductive lot.
In an interview about going to law school, she says, “You hear about the work ethic of people like Joyce Carol Oates and John Updike and you think ‘well, God bless them, but I don’t know how they do it.’ Most of us just wind up watching Oprah.”
Not only is this statement extremely insulting and belittling to all the writers I know – it’s just not true. Most writers I know who are fortunate enough to write full time have a very scheduled life. They get up at 8 or 9 am every day and write for several hours, then read and start writing again or revising in the afternoon. Then there is the other more plentiful group of writers I know, the majority who write in their threadbare, spare time. Like them, if I only had all day to write (to play music, etc), I certainly wouldn’t waste it the way Wurtzel seemingly has.
Yes, when you choose art, you have to make some compromises but usually not the all or nothing immature life that Wurtzel describes. I have always had a job and usually a good one with benefits and sharply delineated hours. These assistant jobs have afforded me with security but also with a more important commodity – time.
I have time to write, to practice, to promote our albums – sending emails and mailings all over the country and the world. Sure, I’ve traded so-called status for the pursuit of my dreams but I haven’t traded happiness and well-being. Status is somebody else’s hang-up not mine.
The other conceit in Wurtzel’s piece is that if you are an artist with a pure heart, you must suffer and be alone. That is ridiculous.
One of greatest joys I derive from making music is that I make that music with Mark, my husband. Indeed, Mark is the reason I got into music in the first place. He encouraged me to take my guitar out of the closet and play and sing. The greatest regret of my life in my twenties transformed into bliss – all because of him and the wonderful life we’ve built together.
So Wurtzel, it’s not either or – it’s AND.