The Blessings and the Burdens of Calling

I am called to create. I am an artist, destined to dwell among artists. But some days I don’t feel destined. I feel doomed.

Some days calling is a pair of wings. Other days if feels like like a pair of handcuffs.

But the chains are chosen. I would choose them still.

It was in a safe circle of friends this idea of blessing and burden took shape. A circle of peers I meet with monthly to tease out feelings and beliefs about what it means to be an artist of faith. To have faith in our art. To have art in our faith. In that safe circle, I am free to flex the muscles of my language. To stretch my words to their breaking point. That night I chose the word ‘curse’ to describe my calling. I was rightly challenged. But I was feeling the bite of that word.

I love my creative work. But some days I would like–or I imagine I would like–to trade it all in for a ‘real job’. You know, the kind with regular hours and a pre-formed job description? The kind of work with a rubric for success and failure. The kind of job with a paycheque. 

I don’t know how it feels for electricians, or lawyers or school teachers. But for someone like me, carving a career with each considered step forwards, the process can be frustrating, and it can feel unfair.

Some days I just want to stomp ‘unfair’, like a three year old. I hope that’s OK.

I am good at many things. I can sing. I have an ear for music. I am getting better at writing. I can take a photo. I have an eye for design. All of these things can be traded for praise easy enough. But figuring out how to turn those talents into cash is where the real creativity is required.

Nearly every artist must also be an entrepreneur. Or make art her hobby. I don’t want to run a business. I want to make art. I have no romantic illusions about ‘being my own boss’. But I can’t see another way.

There is no Artists Inc. in San Francisco we can work for. And if there was, wouldn’t that be a terrifying place?

Artists don’t generally get ‘hired’. We find ways to make projects pay, one by one. We seek patrons. We bet on kickstarted campaigns. We write grants. We mortgage houses. We ride bikes.

In Santa Fe, New Mexico, last summer, I met a lot of professional artists. Very few of those made art as their profession. Many found jobs orbiting the edges of their art making. They taught. The edited. Their creative craft was crammed into the spaces between.

Has it always been this way? I’m not sure. But I live here and now.

I don’t want to complain. But maybe I do. Just a little.

You might ask why I don't just do something else? Why don’t I learn a trade? Why don’t I take a computer sciences course?

Well, I don’t actually know what a computer sciences course is, for one thing.

And I do something else right now. I am in communications. I design. It’s sort of like art. Sometimes.

But here is the burden part. Art will always haunt me. Haunt is a word I owe to my friend Stephen Berg, and it is perfect. My calling haunts me. It sits there in the corner of my room at night. It wakes me up in the morning. I cannot run away from it.

It’s late last night and I have just a bit of time set aside to complete a project. A melody interrupts me, rudely. A song asserts itself. Stop everything, it cries. I don’t. It keeps humming through me. Then maybe I get an important email or watch a short video. The next time I think about that song it is gone. I am glad to have banished it. I am sad I will never remember it again. I let one get away.

The muse is a blessing and a burden. 

I have never been more clear in life about what I am supposed to do. I can tell you what I am not about, and what I am. I am to love artists. I am to create safe spaces to pursue art, faith, hope and love. Spaces online, like right here. Spaces in person, like workshops and exhibits and arts potlucks and open mics and circles of friends. Spaces for community and connection. 

This morning I read about the coming death of Wunderbar, a beloved Edmonton art and music space. The ‘Wundi’ has meant to the world to my friend Andy. I read about the blessing and the burden it was to animate such a space in Edmonton for four years. Craig Martellica made me want to be part of that space with his stories. But I could feel his pain, too. He is tired. He was likely never paid well for his investment.

Those four years are spent, but he doesn’t regret it.

Some of us choose to keep the dream alive–to prop up our projects with whatever we can spare–for a whole life. Some of us find a way to reap material rewards and support a family. Many of us never do. Perhaps most of us never do.

Others of us feel the burden too acutely. We let the burden sour into a bitter curse. We are mocked by failed potential in the back of our brains as we pursue other things in life. The things we are supposed to want. Big house. New car. Stable income. Weekends at the lake. Our paintings gathering dust in the basement dark.

All that wasted beauty.

Here is what I think. 

We all have our burdens. We all make our choices and our sacrifices. Very few have it easy. 

I’m not special as an artist–only different. 

But I am called. And when I draw near that calling–when I put my ear up to its speaker, I will hear a richer sound, but also go a little deaf. The stronger the calling, I believe, the stronger the blessing is felt. But with it, the burden.

And if I am close enough to Christ, I have someone who can carry that burden, and save the blessing bit for me.

That’s grace, and I don’t know how creatives make it through this life without it.

Without Jesus’ love and heavy lifting.

Living out a creative calling is not a curse, but it is hard. Damn hard. And we need something–someone–to save us from that damnation.

That weakness is the real blessing. That need. That salvation.

That’s how I wake up and make something new every day. Almost.

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