And some people are just plain withholding. I have no idea why! Perfectly nice people. And then there are the pushmepullyou people, who bolster you up one minute but when they think you’ve got a bit too big for your boots, make it their business to karate chop you down, for no other reason than that some people like to tear the petals off flowers. I have observed all kinds in my life. But I have learned who to go to for encouragement. And I don’t ask Girl Number 2: “How do I look?” when I am feeling insecure (or actually ever!)
Being an artist is a little like having a terminal illness. You have to guard against any kind of negativity. When you’re struggling for your very life, you don’t focus on your eighty per cent chance of not surviving. You focus on the other twenty per cent. You stay away from naysayers and doubters and the people with stories about how Uncle George had the same thing and was gone in six weeks. You surround yourself with cheerleaders who also believe you can make it. You go out of your way to be around other survivors, who inspire you to realise you can do it too. You pray. The important thing is you stay positive by any means necessary and realize (as my friend Mansur likes to say) that the only person who can stop what’s coming to you, is you.
As a fledgling journalist I would send off my articles with no idea at all if a piece was any good. In fact, I’d invariably think it was bad. It wasn’t until the editor called and said they loved it that I would allow myself to think it had any merit, and even then I wouldn’t quite believe it until I saw it in print, unedited and exactly as I wrote it. This isn’t entirely a bad thing. As author and scriptwriter Veronica Henry [that’s Ronnie and me in the picture] puts it, “The minute you think you are good, then quit. It’s the fear that keeps you going, the gut wrenching anxiety and insecurity that drives you forward to write your best.”
Think about the words ‘encourage’ and ‘discourage’ for a moment. To en-courage somebody means to inspire them with courage: to put courage inside them. To dis-courage them is to take away their courage. Deciding to devote your life to painting/photography/music/poetry/writing takes every ounce of courage you’ve got. As author Alison Owingssays: ‘You have enough trouble convincing yourself (let alone the rest of the world) you can do it, you shouldn’t have to convince your partner too!’When I was interviewed on The Russell Davies Show on the UK’s BBC Radio 2, he played the boxer’s song ‘Stand Up and Fight’ from one of my favorite movies, Carmen Jones, which I’d told him my mother and I had loved when I was a child. I thought it was a bit of a strange choice but afterwards my mother pointed out that it was perfect because the stamina required of a singer (or writer/painter/musician) is the same as that required of a fighter. ‘. . . until you hear that bell, that final bell, stand up and fight like hell.’ In the arts, where your success is dependent on other people’s tastes, you get knocked down, and have to get back up – again and again.
So when you sink back into your corner you need someone there to rub your shoulders and pour water on you; someone who, because they have made you the object of their utter undivided attention for the duration of the fight, can give you tips about your opponent’s weak points, advise you when to jab with your left or right, tell you what you’re doing right, inspire you to ‘get back in the ring’ for another round. This is not the time or place for a demoralising critique about how you’re never going to make it and you might as well give up now.
In other words, ditch Girl Number 2 and stick with Girl Number 1