When I was a child, I was fascinated by people’s life stories. In the cozy library at LaVace Stewart Elementary, I even had the Dewey decimal number memorized: 920. That’s where I’d find tales of interesting people living remarkable lives.
In college, my interests narrowed to the biographies of artists, musicians, and writers. I dreamed of becoming a writer, of whittling away the hours playing with words on a page. I loved learning about the trajectories of a creative career, but the biographies almost always left something out.
What I was longing to know was how these makers and musicians actually spent each hour of their day. What activities did they fill their time with? What tiny steps did they take to actually fabricate their art?
I didn’t just want to know who they became, I wanted to know the details of becoming.
It’s a question I’m only now beginning to answer, but not from reading books about other people. Instead, I’m watching my friends reach middle age with burgeoning careers pursuing what those biographies like to call their “passion”.
The thing is, for the last two decades, what we’ve all been doing has looked an awful lot like work.
This past summer, I met up with my friend L in Denver. She was at an art festival selling her jewelry. I was absolutely amazed by her level of success, though not surprised by it. Throngs of people shelled out good money for her gorgeous handcrafted pieces.
L and I met almost 20 years ago. We’d already known each other for a couple of years before the night I pinpoint as the beginning of our deep friendship. We’d gone to an empty dive bar by ourselves to get away from the wild scene at our regular hangout, which was packed with friends, noise, and smoke.
Before that night, I don’t think we’d ever gone anywhere together, just the two of us. It was time, I guess, while being jostled around in a crowded booth, for one of us to snatch the other’s arm and make our escape.
A couple of hours later, at the dive bar, we told each other our stories. We discovered that both of us had lost our fathers when we were young. For the first time, I could see that the hole in her heart was the same size as the one in mine, even if it was a slightly different shape.
After that night, L and I had breakfast together every morning for years. We’d meet at our regular cafe and order bagels with cream cheese. (Oh! For that metabolism!) We’d sip our coffee, brown and warm, while we gossiped about friends.
Then we’d head off to work. She made jewelry. I wrote and waited tables.
L would head to her studio and for the next several hours, she labored, pounding away on metal, cutting and bending wire, mounting enamel and gemstones. I’d go home and scribble notes, songs, and journal entries for a couple of hours before heading to whatever odd job I was working at the time. Our offerings back then were simple, but we kept making them.
At night, we’d meet up again. This time our drinks were brown and cold. We’d ride bikes, hang out with friends, go see bands, and eventually say goodnight. We didn’t have to make plans to see each other again. We knew where each of us would be the next morning.
Day after day, year after year, we started and ended our days together, along with a rotating cast of artist friends. After breakfast and coffee, we would all wander off and get our work done. At night, we’d pour cold drinks and ride bikes around the empty streets of Austin.
I'm embarrassed to admit how long it took me to realize that this is how true success is built: one strike of the hammer and scribbled word at a time. I learned it only by living it. If I keep crafting and editing the words on a page, words that reflect and organize my thoughts and ideas, my writing will get better. Just like L’s incredible jewelry, it will keep evolving into fantastic new designs.
See, it’s the same for you, no matter what your art form is. If you’re searching for advice in those biographies of other people’s lives, wondering how their art gets made, wondering about the process of becoming, remember this: If you keep working, your work will get better.
Between the coffee and the whiskey, you and me, we’ll become the artists we always dreamed of being.
I'm Lisa Machac (rhymes with scotch). Reading and writing are my favorite things, followed closely by hanging out with quiet people, playing music, and eating pizza. I also dedicate a good amount of time to hanging out with my friends over at Genuine.