A Hymn for the Blessed Amateurs
You are not built for life under the fluorescent light, or to be enthroned in an ergonomic chair not nearly as comfortable as it was expensive. You are not built for the snarl of traffic, angry knots popping up in your shoulders as you endure the slow death of the rush hour freeway. Not built for spreadsheets and reports, for deadlines and policies, expenditures and fiscal year ends.
You were not created for the grocery store checkout line, doleful toddler screaming from the cart, your paycheck beeping away with one swipe of the barcode after another. Apples tumbling from their bag, being shoved back in, grayish bruises already appearing on their delicate skin. Scrambling for the coupons, reminding them not to squish the bread, wondering if you’ll have time to thaw the chicken before dinner.
You were not born to bend a thousand times, stooping to pick up dropped toys, socks, half eaten crackers, wadded napkins. Not for sleepless nights, smoldering in the steam from the shower, holding a tiny body racked with croupy coughs, his little eyes wide over every strident breath, every rattly wheeze. Not for the impact of the door being slammed by an angry teenager, fury in her eyes, her existence an eruption that threatens to engulf you both.
No, you are full of music and light, art and imagery. You were made of something different. Made for something different. Your brain hums with beauty, your lips buzz with song, your heart thumps and your palms twitch with the passion, the urge, to create. The urge is soaring and grandiose, a cathedral with no ceiling, and sometimes it seems so big it can lift you, it can carry you away, whisk you right out of the grocery store checkout lane and into some rapturous otherworld.
Groceries do need to be bought and dinners made. Angry children need to be calmed and sick children comforted. Electricity bills need to be paid and legos picked up. Reports must be filed, paychecks must be earned, and thus traffic must be borne and fluorescent lights endured.
So, for now.
Be born for both.
Take your paints out of the closet and set up that old easel. The light from the family room will work just fine, if you can’t manage a plein air vista in Tuscany. Sit down at the piano and shake out those cramped fingers. Sing in the shower, and the kitchen, and the car. Open up that computer and type; write something, anything to start.
You can wonder if your time has come and gone, worry the living has bled the life right out of you, even shake your fists at those enviable giants who’ve done this bigger, better, louder, to the tune of fame and riches.
Do it anyway.
Because you are made for the winged angel of color dancing across the page. For the blissful authority of holding the brush, directing a symphony of purely visual delight. You were born to sing, feeling your voice rise and swell at the summit of the crescendo, a sound so powerful and rich it doesn’t matter if anyone else ever hears it. You were born to dance, to dip, to arch, to alight — to balance on the edge of liftoff, buoyant, free. You were born to face off against the keyboard, a duet, a duel, mining the debris of thought for the ultimate prize, the finding of the exact right word.
You are made for stanza and line, forte and pianissimo, charcoal and clay. You were born for form and composition, delight and design. And what does it matter if the pay for these acts of beauty is in some currency, or if it is in the glorious release of doing the act itself?
The dictionary tells me that the word amateur is a French word, that comes from Latin, meaning “lover.” To be an amateur is to do something for the love of doing it, and when I think about it that way, it seems like a wonderful compliment, to be told you are an amateur artist.
Statistically speaking, most of us who have this creative fire within will not make a living doing it. The way I think about it, you can either be a blessed amateur and do what you love or be a former amateur who has surrendered to the march of time and the demands of daily life. Either way, odds are you are going to be rewarded with a life of obscurity. But one is a lifetime of beauty, creation, fulfillment, and light. And the other is the life of the armchair quarterback, out of the game but still hollering at those who are in on the action. That path is, in truth, nothing more than a life of sitting comfortably.
And you, amateur poets and painters, were not made for a life of sitting comfortably. So when your day of living is done, instead of sinking into a comfortable chair, listen to that gentle whisper calling you to make some life, too. The clatter and the lists and the responsibilities won’t go away, won’t be blotted out by the effort. And goodness I understand how tired a body can be after all that doing. But, see, when you create something, you ensure that neither will the little artist inside be blotted out by all the things you weren’t meant to be but have to accomplish anyway.
So be what you were made to be, in any stolen moment you can. Be a poet (we need those) and a waitress (hey, we need those, too). Be the best karaoke-singing, nighttime-story-reading mother you know how to be. Be the best car salesman by day, drummer by night that has ever played that dingy club down the street. Sew yourself a dress. Take a dance class. Try a gourmet recipe. Write the book you know will never get published, try out for the part you know you’ll never get, be the person you always wanted to be as often and for as long as you can squeeze it in. Because you were made for something different, and it’s a birthright that’s here for the taking. So get out of your armchair, you blessed amateurs, and step into your life.
Photo credit: Nathan Sawaya, used under Creative Commons License