After releasing a collection of essays on the struggles and scrapes of the working artist, musician Cam Gilmour writes about what it’s like to pour your vanities and faceplants into print.
The idea to write about my experiences as an artist took hold when I realised that my struggles weren’t unique. In fact, I think they were, and are, horrifyingly normal. In a time where we all want to be noticed as the one-of-a-kind starfish, I began to consider that it is far less important to write esoteric garbage, dress it in humility and offer myself up as a god, than to write truthfully about the everyday and stand by it no matter how unflattering.
I wanted to see how honest I could be with myself. For instance, exactly how much time can you devote to jealousy and self-pity before you feel utterly worthless? How long must you be broke before it breaks you? What level of celebrity makes you a beast of loneliness when a room full of people don’t acknowledge you? Does rejection taste better in the morning or the afternoon?
True to the artistic plight, this book is all about me and my shit. I don’t presume to know anything about other people and the things they fear, but if you do find yourself somewhere in here, know that I understand and wish you well.
Lessons in Self-Sabotage: An Excerpt
A small bird will drop dead from a bough
without ever having felt sorry for itself.
– D. H Lawrence, Self-Pity
I keep a cutting of a comic strip from Footrot Flats tacked to the wall above my desk. The scene shows the hard-nosed but ultimately tender-hearted farmer, ‘Wal’, with his loyal sheepdog, ‘Dog’ (the emotionally complex, morally conflicted protagonist of the comic series). They are walking along a gully on the farm when they happen upon a number of dead lambs, killed in a recent storm.
‘Wal’ takes in the pitiable scene and, visibly distraught, curses skyward, “Why does nature do this sort of thing to us?!!” As he sits down reflecting a tincture of grief, despair and confusion, Dog looks up at him and ponders in reply, “Why not?” A strikingly similar phrase also occurs in Christopher Hitchens’ posthumously published book, Mortality. When describing in exacting detail his losing fight to oesophageal cancer, he says, “To the dumb question ‘Why me?’ the cosmos barely bothers to return the reply: Why not?”
I try to keep these shared sentiments close to mind to remind myself that the world doesn’t owe me a damn thing – both in the absurd and pitiless existential sense, but also in a more grounded personal way that concerns everyday life and one’s attempt to traverse it without plunging down a crevasse of self-pity.
You often find that there are a lot of appealing reasons to feel sorry for yourself when you’re an artist: the pay is crap, the hours are unforgiving, the work is difficult and you don’t always have a set lunch break (or the food on hand to justify one). However, the main catalyst for melancholy and afternoons spent sighing into the sink usually has more to do with the fact that a lot of people who veer toward the limelight have the proclivity to be the slightest bit vain, often possess an ego the size of a small moon and prance about with an ornate sense of entitlement that has a tendency to shatter.
I find I am continually resisting the temptation to gnaw on the rotting idea that when things don’t go my way I have been unduly wronged and somehow cheated out of the life I deserve, the one I’ve worked for, and handed one less sparkly. With this in mind, it’s not all that uncommon to sometimes throw a bucket of fish heads to my grotesque narcissism and let it gorge as I go about colouring the world in various shades of spite.
It’s fair to assume that all artists secretly compare themselves to one another. And who could blame us? The world is practically overflowing with talent and tenacity – it’s annoying, actually. What is also fair to assume is that when it comes to making comparisons, the game is fixed from the start and you’re sure to come off second best.
When I compare my life, or my work, to someone else, I do so with the implicit knowledge of all the inner turmoil of my own mind: the breaks I’ve had, the opportunities I’ve squandered, the fears that throw me into despair, the anxieties, the low self-opinion, the dashed dreams, the sense of defeat – all of it. I take this soggy version of myself, wrap it in a confidence no thicker than a sheet of paper and plonk it down next to a very attractive, very two-dimensional idea of someone (or something) else and commence to feel positively shithouse.
This fixation to compare our lives with other people has a huge influence over our ability to feel joy and a sense of accomplishment, and is usually the thing that derails it. But as painful as it sometimes is to come into contact with work that is infuriatingly brilliant, it is actually good for you. I try to view these moments as necessary growing pains, an important part of being an artist who is concerned with forward momentum and devouring the universe. They will serve me well if I can just avoid another annihilating comparison, if I can just hold out against envy.
Sometimes that’s a pretty big ‘if’.
Cam Gilmour is a musician and a writer who has performed in and around Australia for the better part of a decade: most notably with hip-hop artists Illy, Joelistics and rock band Behind Crimson Eyes. These days he prefers to write from a detuned piano, while attempting to drink his own weight in tea everyday.
You can purchase As Dire as its Title: Writings on the Daily Struggles of the Working Artist and the accompanying EP, Anhedonia, here.