We have been spending some time in this chapter going deeper into our dark memories of the losses that our artist self has endured. From our long ago baby steps that were shamed or thwarted, to more recent attempts that seemed to fail, artistic losses hurt.
But this is where we learn how to turn that around. Loss can be used to our advantage; it’s all in how we frame it. Julia writes, “ ‘Gain disguised as loss’ is a potent artist’s tool. To acquire it, simply, brutally ask: ‘How can this loss serve me? Where does it point my work?’ The answers will surprise and liberate you. The trick is to metabolize pain as energy.
“The key to doing that is to know, to trust, and to act as if a silver lining exists if you are only willing to look at the work differently, or to walk through a different door, one that you may have balked at.”
No, this is not always easy. As we’ve been discussing, when we are in pain from our beloved works being dismissed, ridiculed, or ignored, we absolutely must grieve. To pretend that it doesn’t matter to us is to shut down and further damage our true creative self. But to stay stuck in our pain, fearful that the future may only hold even more of the same for us is not going to help, either.
Julia cites several examples of this dynamic in her own early career. Luckily, she got some advice from the great director, John Cassavetes, who told her, “In order to catch the ball, you have to want to catch the ball.” In other words, instead of complaining about the lousy curves you get thrown, you must stretch, reach out for what you really want, all the while knowing that this opens you to even more vulnerability, not less.
In her own life, Julia had tried and tried and tried to get her scripts produced. Some were actually purchased, but then languished on some obscure studio shelf, never to see the light of day. After telling herself for years that this was just a Hollywood fact of life, “racking up loss after loss, writing script after script,” she tells us, “finally, after one loss too many, I began to look for the other door, the one I had refused to walk through. I decided to catch the ball: I became an independent filmmaker.”
It wasn’t easy. This is no Cinderella story, where she picked up a camera and next thing you know she was in a ballgown being adored at Cannes. But it began a foundation of solid success for her that did eventually grow into a satisfying career. Most of all, it has been, from what she writes, a career that has had much more authenticity and integrity than the other route might have turned out to be.
“I learned,” she writes, “when hit by loss, to ask the right question: ‘What next?’ instead of ‘Why me?’
Can you think of how this might apply to you? Or can you see this pattern in any of the stories of the mentors or role models you may have for your own art? Please share your thoughts.