(Response to my friend J. Tom Hnatow's lamentation and musings
on the suicide of front man Scott Hutchison of Frightened Rabbit)

Any artist-- painter, actor, musician, comedian, writer-- carries that mixed blessing/curse of creativity and sensitivity that MUST find release in expression via their particular gift/ability to create art. That drawing/sculpture/soliloquy/joke/song HAS to come out, and that need to get it out in front of others both drives, nourishes and torments the artist.

People endowed with/afflicted by talent and creativity carry a burden that others, without it, will never know or fully understand-- because they are more sensitive to things in general. People lacking that sensitivity have no idea what it's like to be driven to scratch that itch-- much less what the itch feels like.

Sometimes the reward for adhering to this process is immense-- adulation, fame, exposure, gallery and theater retrospectives, and the awards one might receive: Oscars, Tonys, Grammys, etc., etc... More often, it doesn't happen, and the artist just toils away for years and years, striving to continue making... whatever it is that propelled them into expressing their art in the first place.

What's the reward for THOSE people? The ones who don't score big, who never get a world or national tour, a studio contract, or even a newspaper article or podcast interview, much less becoming a household name or even a headliner? It's got to be the sheer love of the process, itself, yeah? The reward is simply the doing of the thing, and taking pride and pleasure in the ritual and the performance, eh? The deep breath backstage, and repeating your lines in your head before the curtain goes up; the minutes of vocal warm-up; reviewing your list of bits/jokes/songs; selecting the paint colors or block of wood/marble; tuning that guitar and adjusting your strap. Then you step up and...do it.

You may or may not wow them, and the performance/drawing/story/tune may or may not be one of the better ones you ever deliver, but you managed to get it out-- so, there's that. The itch subsides for a bit, at least. You showed up, did your thing, and delivered as promised. Whether or not it blows anyone away is often way beyond your control.

It's all a crapshoot, isn't it? Hasn't every artist known the feeling of just KILLING in a performance or the flawless execution of their work, when they give their all and produce something they know is the best they're capable of, only to have an audience respond with, "Meh..."-- and the crippling let-down that brings? Or the flip side of that, when (on some tapped-out, stressful, less than ideal, got a shitty head cold kinda day) they struggle to produce something that they come to realize is mediocre or half-hearted, and it gets lapped up and fawned over like it was gold? ("Really? You all dug THAT piece of shit work? Why do I bother..?")

Given the capricious nature of the General Public, and their fickle and impossible-to-comprehend tastes, it's a wonder that ANY artist manages to survive past his or her first public effort. Every day there's the possibility you'll disappoint or just fail to rouse any real enthusiasm from your intended audience, but you do it anyway. It's that, or go and sell tires or shrubbery or something.

That drive to express one's art creates the emotional landscape for that inner turmoil, anxiety and depression-- the need for validation and acceptance, the barometer of artistic achievement and self-worth, and it fairly screams "LOVE ME! APPRECIATE ME!" It's a way to channel that sensitivity and feed the impulses that other, less sensitive folks just don't have. It can reward you or disappoint you, but you do it because you must. If you're really good or clever or lucky, it lasts and nourishes you. If things don't go your way, maybe you abandon it and find something else to fill the void.

George Mallory (who never painted a picture, performed a pantomime, told a joke or sang a song that I know of) expressed it best when he was asked why he felt compelled to summit Mt. Everest in 1923. He replied, "Because it's there." I'm guessing he had a few moments of doubt and fear, maybe a certain hesitation as he considered he might not be up to it, after all-- or some sphincter-puckering shortness of breath when he lost his footing on some icy patch of the steep rock face. He managed his anxiety, somehow-- without Xanax or Valium.

He had the drive to climb the damn thing, though, didn't he? AND let's not forget... he had Sherpas! They carried food and tents and ropes and stuff, so he wasn't alone or without support. All of us out here in your audience-- and in your ever-widening circle of friends-- are your Sherpas, pal. Never forget that. Everyone needs at least a few good emotional Sherpas. We've got some nice soup for you back at base camp, and dry socks. Climb well. Here's your goggles. Get out there.

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