I wanted to learn to take a photo.
Because I wasn’t paying attention.
I wanted to learn history.
I wanted to understand the minds of great philosophers.
Because I didn’t want to pay attention.
Because it was easier than paying attention.
I wanted to drown in the stories of others.
I wanted to play video games.
I wanted to watch movies and tv.
Because I was too scared to paddle in my own pond.
Because I was pretending I earned a break.
Because for a moment I could live as if the success of others, the work of others, the craft of others, belonged to me.
I’ve wanted to do so many things, learn so many things, understand so many things.
Because I’ve been too foolish to see the thing before me, the problem I devised, the craft that could be all mine, needed my attention.
I’ve thought it too small, too simple, too boring, too unimportant.
Though I’ve not said any such thing. I’ve said that what I’m doing is my craft and as my craft I take it seriously.
But my actions say something else, my actions betray me, undermine my desire, demean my craft.
I hid in as many interests as I could think of. I hid away from the fear that what I could do, what I have been doing, wasn’t of value. I hid because I thought I would never be able to do something that could truly touch the hearts of others.
“Oh, to know your craft so well…” I said as I left my friend’s audio studio. He had shown me beautiful music that was perfectly recorded and levelled brilliantly.
I could feel the musician’s beats in my chest, flirting cheekily with my heart. I could hear the fingerprints strumming the guitar, tapping its side, echoing a rhythm in the artist’s soul.
I walk to my office and see, as if nothing else in the world matters, a photo from another land.
It’s a hauntingly beautiful scene in black and white – dark contorted trees in gowns of ice and snow.
And it was taken with an iPhone, because that’s all this craftsman needed.
A thousand times it’s caught my eye and played with my focus. A thousand times it’s been beautiful and heard me sigh.
Oh, to know your craft so well.
I’m going to be honest with you and let you know something of which I’m deathly ashamed.
I’m selfish. I see this work and respond with selfishness.
I see and experience beautiful work and feel a huge amount of pride to be a human being along side these masters.
That’s not the selfish part.
I see this work, and I feel happy and excited and inspired…
Nor is that.
… and then hate myself for having seen it.
That’s the selfish part.
I turn someone else’s brilliant work, and the moment of bliss they have given me into something dark and horrible and self-serving and self-defeating.
Not because I’m jealous of their skill, their work, or the feeling they so generously gave me.
I turn these moments dark because it reminds me that I’m not working closely enough with my craft, I’m not honing it sharply enough, I’m not giving it the attention it deserves, I’m not doing what they’re doing, what I should be doing, what I know how and why and where and when to do.
It’s a reminder that I should be doing more and doing it better.
Should, not could. We could all work on our crafts for eighteen hours a day. But the muse doesn’t ask for such a thing.
But we should be working on it as best we can.
We can’t quantify what “the best we can” means, but we know what it feels like, and we know that the feeling of it missing from our lives hurts far more than how good it feels to have it. It’s odd that way.
And we also know if we ignore it long enough it will simply be gone. Until we see a craftsman’s object and we feel inspired. Then hollow. Then, eventually, nothing.
Sometimes when I look at beautiful work I’m reminded of that feeling. That I could be doing more than I am. That something beautiful has gifted me inspiration and that I’ve too often squandered it.
Then I wonder if all that horribleness is just another excuse.
And then I tell myself to shut up and get to work.