This column first ran in John Paul Brammer’s Hola Papi newsletter, which you can subscribe to on Substack.
Papi, I’ve really been going through it the past several months. I’m a filmmaker on my good days, and on my bad days I’m in retail, job hunting, or, as of today, fired.
I’m an optimist and try to retain a sense of gratitude, which I think is one of the only things keeping me afloat lately, along with an excellent support system. But things have just been … hard. I quit a job I (joylessly) worked at for years to find something better, but all my pursuits since then have epically flopped or failed. It’s been seven months of financial hardship, job insecurity, and, due to a very scary and highly traumatizing neighbor-stalking situation a few months ago, housing insecurity. I’m starting to feel like someone who attracts drama like a moth to a flame — the friend who never has a good day, always has something wrong, always needs help.
I hate needing help. I’m a perfectionist (Virgo) and really hard on myself, which I know just adds to my inner turmoil, but I’m trying here. I go to therapy, I meditate, and I genuinely believe (despite, uh, everything) the world to be a good and beautiful place. I’m trying to see this as just a season, but I can’t help feeling, after all of this rejection and insecurity, like this is personal. I have a very loving, very kind, very supportive boyfriend, and my appreciation for him is only matched by my tendency to get overwhelmed that this will be too much for him. I want to be someone he can be proud of. I want to be someone I can be proud of.
Ultimately, I want to be a filmmaker. But I also want to pay my rent. How do I navigate this? How do I pursue my dreams and stay afloat and believe, really believe, that I’ll make it out of these woods?
Hey there, FF!
Woof, when it rains, it pours, doesn’t it? Sorry you’re going through all that, though it does sound like you’re doing a good job reminding yourself of the positives. You have a support system, a caring partner, and a general belief in the goodness of life! Those are nice. Those help.
But I understand. Sometimes, despite your best efforts, you find yourself in what the kids call your “flop era,” and it seems like there’s no way out. Nothing is going right. All your efforts feel like they’re in vain. It’s like trying to crawl out of a hole but the soil is all crumbly and you keep sliding back down to rock bottom.
Good news: You’re not alone. This isn’t an uncommon sentiment. I’ve certainly been there plenty of times, and given the spate of global crises presently bearing down on us from all sides, it’s understandable — maybe even expected — that we may get frustrated, jaded, and exhausted. And if, like you, like me, you’re a person who pushes yourself really hard, you may get even more irritated that you just haven’t figured a way out already.
Let’s talk about art for a second.
When I’m drawing or painting, I will, without fail, get something wrong. I’ll forget what “hands” look like. I’ll make a stroke, add a color that doesn’t quite fit the vibe I’m going for, or even worse, I’ll work myself into a tizzy and pour hours into something, only to take a step back and think, Huh, this doesn’t look right.
Fear of “getting it wrong” kept me from drawing anything for a while. I hate wasting time, and even more, I hate being confronted with evidence that I’m not as good at something as I think I should be. Because of my general attitude toward myself (wanting the best), I found I was approaching each piece as a referendum on my skill, on my potential, on my worth.
But I kept at it. I watched art tutorials and looked at other people’s work. It didn’t quite click with me until I was able to visit the Reina Sofía* museum in Madrid, where Picasso’s masterwork depicting the horrors of war, Guernica, is kept. But more important than Guernica were the framed pieces of paper opposite it. These were sketches and drafts, the Not Guernicas, the attempts to figure out what Guernica should be.
In creating something, in living a life, there are bound to be many, many mistakes, and indeed, maybe mistakes isn’t even the right word for our trials and errors. They are steps. It’s impossible to “get it right” immediately. Sure, some things in life come easier than others, but everything, absolutely everything, is the result of a series of steps, drafts, lines — line after line until we have something that works.
The thing is, FF, it just needs to work. I realized my drawings weren’t reflections of my value as a person. They were more like puzzles to be solved. Does this line work? Does this color work? Do they work together? If not, what would? What I’ve come to love about art is that there’s always, always a way to make it happen. Paint over, adjust, add, subtract.
I find it reassuring to apply this logic to life in general, too. The world isn’t as fair as a blank canvas, of course. Much more can go wrong, and the stakes feel much higher. But what I want you to keep in mind as you push through your funk is that better things are often just a series of steps away, and you can be patient and kind enough with yourself to find them. Lines and attempted lines, lines and erased lines, they’re all part of the same project.
So take that pressure off yourself, FF! As Ovid once wisely said, the flop is always darkest before the slay. Or something.
Con mucho amor,
*Papi’s Note: I mistakenly said Guernica was kept in the Prado in the original post. It is actually in the Reina Sofía. You see? Mistakes abound.
Originally published on September 21, 2022.
This column first ran in John Paul Brammer’s ¡Hola Papi! newsletter, which you can subscribe to on Substack. Purchase JP Brammer’s book ¡Hola Papi!: How to Come Out in a Walmart Parking Lot and Other Life Lessons, here.