Pointing Your Arrow: The Artist’s Way to Happiness

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LETTER FOURTEEN

It’s not the success that I’ve had that gives me joy. It’s not fame or fortune that pleases my soul. For me, it’s the perfectly struck chord, the phrase that captures exactly what I’m feeling, the letters scattered across a handwritten notebook that please ME. That’s the important part to remember. It is your heart that is listening. It is your heart that is the most important audience. If you love your craft, your fame and acceptance will be less important to your happiness.

So what is the goal, of this creative life? What do I get from being bombarded daily with poetic ideas, song fragments, and aspirations towards becoming an artist? If I am continuing to “point” my arrow, as in, sharpen my craft, to what end am I laboring? And if I continue to strive, write, sing, create, what is my goal? What am I aiming my pointed arrow at? Where am I pointing this creative life of mine?

I’m 52 years old. I’ve already lived 12 years longer than John Lennon. And if you watch any of the documentaries of his life, can you imagine a more successful creative life? And yet even at the height of his fame he was still searching, still stretching to express himself artistically. With all of the wealth of the world what he wanted the most was time with his family. He missed Julian, but when Sean was born, John basically took to becoming a stay at home dad. His joy was his family. And even as his life was cut very short, remember that point. One of the most successful creative spirits on the planet was still seeking more time with his family. Time and experience that could never be regained. Ask Julian Lennon about the loss of a famous father.

So even in achieving the greatest fame and appreciation possible, John Lennon was struggling to find more time to be with his family.

What is the goal of trying to express ourselves creatively? If fame seems elusive, are there other reasons to listen so intently, to strive daily to write, paint, craft? For me, the experience of living my life through the lens of art is part of my personal life mission. It sounds woo woo, I know, but here’s what I’m saying.

  • I listen a bit more deeply to myself in trying to understand and express my feelings.
  • I listen to others, and record experiences in my mind with a fine attention to detail, in order to absorb as much of the essence as possible. Sometimes level of detail makes recalling experiences a bit more vivid.
  • I am tuned in rather than tuned out. I don’t watch much television or read much mass media. I am actively trying to create my own story. I am weaving my own tapestry experience into a tale of song, poetry, image, and story.
  • I get great joy from my own work. A poem well turned is a thing that can make my whole day. It gives *me* great pleasure. If I’m happy, well, that’s a pretty good result.
  • After capturing a story or an idea I can let it go more fully. Once I’ve written about an experience (good or bad) I begin to understand it more fully. In the case of hard experiences (Losing my father or my older sister, for example.) my artistic expression helps me process the grief. By telling the story I get a chance to re-experience any event in my life and thus reprocess the feelings associated with it.

The art in itself is a joy and a comfort. The act of creation is a form of prayer. (See Matthew Fox) When I am deep in my creative process I am also in the flow. The flow is like meditation. My troubles and personal frustrations are forgotten while I am in flow.

What’s the goal of my art? 

My goal is to live life as fully as I can. To enjoy the time I have with my kids and to make a living. So I have not been able to make the two aspects of my life combine into a famous artist path, that’s okay. It’s not the idea of becoming famous that drives me, it’s the joy that the act of creation brings me today. And if I can write a new song while my kids are busily going about their day in and around me, what could be more joyful?

Aim at your own heart.

Then, regardless of your fame or fortune you are at least making one person happy. And often, if that happiness is genuine, the art will also touch others with a happy resonance. You can hear the joy in John Lennon’s songs about Sean. He was hitting stride again as a solo artist just as he was cut down by a mad man. And in many ways, he was a victim of his own fame. And yet his legacy and music lives on.

12-22-14

John McElhenney
@jmacofearth (also seen on Google+: jmacofearth)
permalink: http://uber.la/2014/08/vocation-and-passion-letters/

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image: be my valentine, martin fisch, creative commons usage

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