Please read this to the end my friend. I should have listened to you long ago. Remember when I first mentioned how much I loved art and you saw that sparkle in my eye but tried to set me straight? You were smart enough to know that life as an artist is only met with struggle and starvation and you wanted to protect me from all of that. You said I should get an office job, something safe and secure and then work on my art on the side. Oh, I should have listened to you! I was such a fool!
I spent years of my life making art. I put my heart and soul into everything I created just to be met with rejection after rejection. At first it wasn't so bad because I could say I was new to being an artist and I needed more experience at it before I was good and before people could value what I was doing. But then more years passed and I knew I was getting better but people still rejected my work. I showed it to friends like you. You smiled and nodded and told me it was good but I could always tell you were being nice and didn't really mean it. You never bought my art and in the beginning that was okay because we were friends anyway and I didn't care about the money so I'd offer to give it to you for free but I could tell you didn't really want it. I started to realize that I must not be good enough so I foolishly took more lessons, studied and worked even harder! I was such a fool! I spent thousands of hours getting better, not to mention thousands of dollars, in the hopes that I could somehow make it and prove you wrong. I really believed in what I was doing and I knew that being an artist was in my blood and I couldn't imagine life without it so I actually continued on, ha!
One day my hard work paid off and someone not only loved what I was doing but they paid me money for it! It wasn't a lot of money but it was something. Remember that day? You told me it was great but that the money I made compared to how much time it took to create my art still didn't make it profitable. You pointed out I'd have to make lots more art and that I needed way more fans than I'd probably be able to find. You told me most people didn't care about art. You said people were too busy working and trying to survive themselves and how could they possibly hand over their hard earned dollars for something they didn't really need. You pointed out that my art wasn't food, it wasn't clothing and it wasn't shelter. I had to admit that you had a point and it really put me in quite a state. I spent weeks thinking about what you told me and it really started sinking in: the idea that I'd just wasted most of my life pursuing a crazy dream that was never going to happen. I started to think about going back to college. I researched which jobs paid the most. I grabbed all of my art supplies and materials, every book I had and every scrap of anything that could possibly remind me of my life as an artist and I put them in large boxes and was ready to take a trip to the thrift shop. I sat there upset, angry and frustrated. I thought about how you tried to help me so many years ago when I first had this foolish notion of being an artist. I remembered that look you gave me and continued to give me. I decided to make a wish.
I wished for a time machine to take me back in time so I could have a conversation with myself back when I was younger; back when I first thought of being an artist. You know what I would tell the old me? I'd say this:
"Don't listen to anyone doubting you and what you want to do. Don't call someone a friend who doesn't support your goals in life and who doesn't want you to succeed as an artist. No matter how much it all seems to make good, solid "sense," never let anyone convince you that what you are doing is not important. You see, artists run this planet. Without people coming up with new ideas and creating new things, the world would never grow or get better. Without artists the world would be a boring, stagnant place that no one would want to live in. You are one of the most able and gifted people on this Earth right now. It's up to you to not only make art but to make as much of it as you possibly can. The world needs you.
It's hard for some people to have as much courage as you do. They wish they could do what you can do and what you will do. It's up to you to help bring about a world where they feel they can also face all of the obstacles standing in the way of artists. The biggest ones don't come like bulldozers or Godzilla stomping towards your house. They knock at your door very politely and smile every time they sit in your living room. They put one hand on your shoulder while the other one moves ever so covertly. No matter what they do, how they appear or when they come, you must know this: they are cowards.
Just keep doing your thing and do it with all your might. Oh, and one day, years from now you will write something that you can send to any of these "friends." You'll start by telling them you're giving up being an artist. You'll be using the words they most want to hear from you. Then, once you have them believing this you will do a complete 180 flip and send them falling down into apathy about trying to harm you. Why will you write this? Because 1) you don't need those kinds of "friends" and 2) it's fun to create isn't it? (Not to mention some of your artist friends may enjoy reading it too, or you for that matter if you ever need some motivation. You don't want the bad guys to win now do you? Good, now stop reading this and get back to making art. You've got worlds to build.)"
It happens to us all. You put yourself out there by showing the world something you made, something you believe in and just when you are at your highest, happiest, proudest moment, someone says something or maybe they don't say something, but the communication is clear: you suck, you're not that special, you're not that talented, it wasn't a very good idea, and so on. At this moment we flare up inside and then get that feeling of wanting to hide, to escape, to get the hell away and make the suffering end or quite possibly get mad and verbally attack back. However, I would challenge you to take another look at what is really happening. You should know something: You should be feeling on top of the world. Huh? Let me explain.
Not everyone puts themselves out there. In fact most people sit idly by wishing they had something they could put out and had the courage to actually show people. They don't but you do. Congratulations, you are indeed special. Yes, that's right, your mom wasn't lying to you and deep down you always knew too so take a moment and give yourself a proper acknowledgement. Okay, good. So you've got a few guys putting themselves out there so that must mean everyone else hates you, right? Wrong. Like I said, most people wish they had something to put out, something to believe in and go after passionately so they're not actually bad people, they're just trying to find something to believe in and be passionate about. That's where you come in with your idea, your painting, your novel, your song. So who is the guy hating on you? There's not many of them and it's probably your best friend. Huh? Let me explain.
You see, there are heroes in the world. That's guys like you and me. Artists, creators, doers, the guys that make stuff happen and help people. And you see, there's also bad guys. Sure, these are your Adolf Hitlers, rapists, murderers, serial killers, etc., but they are not always so obvious to spot. Why? Because they are COWARDS. What would a coward do if he didn't like someone and wanted them to sink? Would he come right out and tell you he hated you? No, that wouldn't be very smart. What would he do then? He'd cuddle up to you, get as close as he could and slowly stick the knife in as he smiled the most genuine smile he could muster, pretending loyalty but always looking for ways to make it hurt more. You've seen the movie lots of times right? Isn't it always the guy the hero never suspected? Of course we see it because we're the audience, but he usually doesn't.
A funny thing happened to me once. I'm big into comic books and love the hell out of them. I like to follow writers and artists that I like. I like their fan page, I might follow them on Twitter (I'm @David Carus by the way) and I like to keep up with the guys that are creating universes filled with heroes. I started a friendship with one writer that was kind of a big deal. He was a New York Times Bestseller, he wrote comics that I enjoyed and was working in the industry, a real professional. One day he posted something that was pretty scary, that went totally against stuff I knew to be true and I commented on his post. He came at me like a vengeful, hateful, slobbering, slimy bastard that wanted to shrink me down to nothing, and he did this in the name of helping me. He wanted me to know how wrong I was and when I didn't take the bait the real guy came out. Now remember, this is a guy I had admired up until this point and it was shocking to see him act like a hateful monster. He called me names, he belittled my core beliefs and I was supposed to be left feeling like an idiotic piece of crap. But I didn't. I quickly unfriended him, laughed it off and turned my attention elsewhere. But, it's not always so easy. You know what I mean, right? That feeling was still there. That feeling of being slimed. I didn't like it and something had to be done. So what did I do? I immortalized him in song. Huh? Let me explain.
I make music and it's hip hop music and the one thing you don't want to do is piss off a rapper. You see, rapping has one interesting element to it: the diss song. When someone upsets a rapper he just writes about him in his next song. Heck, even Taylor Swift has used this method, taking her bad ex-boyfriends' actions and turning them into million dollar hits. So what did I do? I wrote a song about him. I'd been working on this idea for a song called Copy Machine because I thought it was a cool metaphor for how people just like to spew out stuff they heard somewhere else without really coming up with anything original themselves. The best example of this is when people watch the talking heads on the news and then stand at the water cooler at work the next day giving the exact same opinions they got from their TV. But this happens a lot. So I decided I would take this critic, this hateful individual, this guy that had tried to make me small and I decided to make him big. I put him in a song that will survive longer than him. He'll forever be known as the Copy Machine guy. And the kicker? I never mention his name. He's not going to get one new fan from me. But I got and continue to get new fans because of him.
The next time you get someone being critical, ignoring you, telling you that what you have to say isn't important, look a little closer and really listen to what that person is saying. All of those things are not directed at you, they're really directed at themselves. Deep down they know what they're doing is wrong and if they can't be right they don't want anyone to be. You just have to know they are Copy Machines spewing out the hate of people that were their Copy Machines at some point. Then, you just smile because you must know this: they thought you were important enough to target because you are. You're the most important kind of people we got on this planet: an artist. And you know what? Artists Run This Planet. The Copy Machines don't but wish they did. Get happy, take it as a win and make art because ultimately that's what will help everyone, including these guys. Even they want to see you win, deep, deep down. Don't ever let them make you small because you're not. You're a giant and you leave big footprints. Just know that sometimes people will fall into them and get hurt. When they do, and climb out trying to murder you from every angle, just keep your head up in those clouds and make a beanstalk. When someone climbs it, that's your real friend.
Hope you enjoyed this blog. Make sure to join my mailing list if you haven't already and if you get a chance, check out the music video for Copy Machine below. It was a lot of fun and if you watch closely, that's me in the mask :-)
When I was younger I knew I should go to college. How did I know this? It was encouraged at every turn I took. My parents, my teachers, the television; seemingly everywhere I looked the message was clear: go to college! I did. I was well on my way to a promising career as a lawyer and then into politics where I would someday work up the ranks of elected office until one day I was President of the United States and then I could save the world. It seemed like a perfectly logical and reasonable plan that everyone I knew was totally backing me up on.
So what happened?
Well, I was interning on Capitol Hill, flying through all of my Government major at record speed and was confronted with the opportunity of throwing on a second major. I chose English. All of a sudden I was reading tons of novels again, discussing their importance and meaning. I realized I had way more fun and passion for books and poetry than I did for politics and then an idea struck me: who impacted the world more, a politician or an artist?
I knew government extremely well and I had to honestly say that the work of any one President could easily be wiped out by the next guy and very few politicians made lasting legacies and how valuable were any of them really? I looked at famous writers and thought to myself, wow, someone like Shakespeare has been influencing the world like crazy and he's been dead for centuries. Hmmmmm.....the answer was clear. Ideas were the thing. Whoever created them and could have them spread won. And when it came to expressing ideas there wasn't a better person to do it than an artist.
I started writing poetry which turned into spoken word poetry and by the time I graduated from college I was determined to be a novelist. I returned home with my degree (everyone was happy) and got a job as an English teacher at my old high school. I would write in my free time until I could make a full time living as a writer. It was a logical plan and once again all was right with the world.
So what happened?
Let's just say it wasn't an ideal place for a politically minded, self-determined individual such as myself to make into any kind of a permanent home. I did my best though. I was most proud of one thing I used to do with my students. I took a stack of blank white paper and gave each student a sheet. I then told them they had 15 minutes to come up with something, an idea, anything they wanted. At first they were like deers in headlights but I encouraged them with further explanation. I told them that the piece of paper was their only barrier to having whatever they wanted. I asked, "Who wants to be a millionaire?" and practically all their hands went up. I said, "Good, so here's your chance. Put a million dollar idea down on that paper. You can write a song, an idea for a movie, the start of a story, invent something that will change the world for the better." The lightbulbs shined brightly above all of their heads and I walked around the room for 15 minutes continuing to encourage them.
As time went on I left teaching in very dramatic fashion (I wrote a whole book on it called Hip Hop Will Save The World, look out for it) and found myself having to confront making a living as an artist. You see, I had started recording hip hop music just months before I decided to leave teaching. I was making about $100 a day as a teacher and I quickly realized that if I just walked around and talked to people I could easily sell 10 CDs at $10 each and make the same amount of money. Once again it sounded like a logical plan and it was!
I spent the next several years making a living as an artist selling my music one by one to the people I met. I set my own hours and I met tons of interesting people. And this was before the era of Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube! Anytime I walked outside and communicated with people it was a successful action.
Fast forward a few years. I'm married now. I have a son. I live in New York where it snows. We have the internet on our smart phones so..... Yep, I stopped going outside like I used to. My music and my art was still reaching people but not enough that I could make a living off of anything. I scratched my head and wondered what I was doing wrong and then it hit me. There was a time when I was making a living being an artist and then I stopped. I realized that what I was doing back then held an answer to all this. It did. It could be boiled down to one word: Communicating.
What does an artist do? He communicates! But, what does that mean? Well, to communicate you have to have something to say, sure, everyone knows that and boy do people have a lot to say, but it's more than just talking and saying stuff. Communication is a two way thing. Someone on the other end has to listen, duplicate you, understand and then they get to say something back! This is basically how people become....wait for it....friends. Friends? You might say, "I have 2,000 friends on Facebook but they don't pay me to be an artist!" My response: Have you really been COMMUNICATING with your "friends" and are they really your friends?
We all have something we want to tell the world and in getting our message out we know it would enhance the world and make it a better one to live in but in order to be heard we all have to do a better job hearing other people. They have something to say too and when you listen to them they listen to you. I know you have friends, real friends that you'd support if they all of a sudden had a book they self-published or were performing in a local play. Who wouldn't support a friend? They're your friend after all. When you have lots of friends boy you can get stuff done. Selling a book, an album, a movie, anything, is super easy when you have lots of friends. Real ones that care. In order to get those you have to genuinely care too. (Think about all those big stars that thank their fans and seem to genuinely care about them.)
Now, not everybody is going to be a perfect match to be your friend so you have to go find your friends by communicating with lots of people. With the internet it's now incredibly easy. You can find people's entire profiles filled exactly with what they like, and if you like what they like, there's a good chance you'd be friends. Imagine if you made tons of friends, how easy would it be to make a living as an artist or at anything else for that matter? Real power comes in numbers. It doesn't come from staying locked indoors or not interacting with people.
My approach is now completely different. I don't just post my stuff and expect people will respond. I post other people's stuff, interact with them, become really interested in what other people are doing and somehow they become really interested in what I'm doing. This isn't a trick, it's not something faked. It's all about finding people you can connect with and communicate with. An artist communicates and when you look at any great artist, what did they do other than communicate with a lot of people? You have that opportunity every moment. When you go to the store, when you pump gas, when you go online, when you visit your kid's school. Make friends, communicate, build an army of support for yourself and not only will you make a living doing whatever you really want to do, you can topple any opposing force with ease because it's not just you at that point, it's a whole army fighting for you to win.
This isn't an easy solution. It takes hard work to be a good friend. But isn't that what makes it valuable?
I hope this blog has helped you. I know it's already helped me just writing down what I'd been thinking about the last few days. I hope you reach out and leave me a comment on this blog, send me an email (I'm firstname.lastname@example.org), follow me on Twitter @DavidCarus, etc. because like anyone else, I could use more friends. Also share this blog with anyone you think it might also help. I truly hope you get what you want and you help make the world a better one because there's no excuses anymore right?
P.S. If you enjoyed this, there's a good chance you'd enjoy my songs. They always carry a message of being at cause and making things better. You can download my music for free here: xraypoetz.com
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I'm David Carus. From overcoming one of the most dangerous cities in the country and graduating from one of the most prestigious colleges in America to leading an educational movement as a teacher and running for Congress at the age of 25, I decided the best hope our world has is through art.