When I was in my 20s, 30s and 40s I burned, burned, burned. I had this relentless drive within me. To produce the absolute best writing and artwork that I could. To push whatever God-given talents I had to their absolute limits.
Every time I sat down at my drawing table, or sat behind a typewriter, I felt like I was strapping myself into the cock-pit of the pilot’s seat of the most powerful jet airplane. And I aspired towards nothing less than soaring into the uncharted Heavens. Or Hells. Depending on which direction the goddamn plane was headed for.
I never questioned this drive. Considered it both a blessing and a curse. It was just something in my wiring. I suppose you could call it a “calling.” Even as the relentlessness of it had a demented aspect to it. Like I was a junkie for my art. Like Gollum, feverishly lusting after his precious Ring. Or Don Quixote, launching mad crusades against imaginary windmills.
I had my own personal and peculiar “standard of excellence” that I aspired to. Which had little to do with the applause of the crowd, or monetary rewards. I hesitate to say that I aspired towards “genius.” For that’s such a loaded word. But I had my own personal standard of 100% perfection that I aspired towards. And after completing a piece of artwork (after much toil, struggle, sweat and usually about 10 cups of strong coffee) I would initially admire my latest creation with great pride. But all too soon I’d be ruefully saying: “Nah. Only 92%.” Or: “Damn. Only 70%.” As I would notice the flaws. The things that could have been better. “If only . . .” But the NEXT time I was REALLY going to nail it.
And that relentless drive for this unattainable artistic perfection drove me for decades. Non-stop. I never took a vacation. Simply because I could never turn it off. Even when I wasn’t specifically working on a project, my mind was constantly buzzing anyways. Feverishly looking for the next hit.
Now that I’m pushing towards 60 I guess I’ve lost that drive. I suppose you could say I’m burned-out. And, of course, I miss it.
It’s somewhat typical within the field of artists and writers, I guess. Where you burn, burn, burn until you burn up from the fire you generate. Shooting stars and all that. Jack Kerouac was pretty much creatively burned-out by 45. I don’t think J.D. Salinger produced anything of worth after 40. Hunter S. Thompson produced three classic books in his 20s and 30s, and that was pretty much it for him. Jerry Garcia was a burned-out shell by 50. Like I said, it’s more the rule than the exception with artists. Genius is something that the gods give out only rarely. And take away in a blink of an eye.
Sometimes I’ll think of some kid at the playground with a basketball, aspiring to be “the next Michael Jordan.” Burning, burning, burning. “To be somebody!!” Aspiring towards greatness. And maybe, with hard work, God-given talent and some luck, they actually make it. Become a professional athlete. A star even. . . But all too soon, they find that they’re pushing 35. And the bodies that they’ve pushed to the limits in their quest for greatness have finally worn out. And suddenly they’re “retired.” And all the great battles in the arenas, and all the glorious cheers of the crowd are like a fading memory of a long-lost dream.
Longing for a “second act.” That usually isn’t there.