The TPP Shell: Tenacity, Persistence, & Perseverance
Answering a reader's question on whether TPP can be taught
Unlike parties, the longer you stick around in a creative life, the better it is going to get. You have to plan to stay late from the start. You need some tricks in your bag not just for when you need to get that party started, but also for when the going gets tough and energy might be running low, what are you going to do?
If you are sharp and can stay sharp, the more you do, the better you are going to get. Be it pattern recognition, ability to access the unconscious, general knowledge or wisdom, the things that bloom with experience are going to need some time to deliver, but deliver they will.
It is a super ugly world at times, and that’s on the good days. Ours is a cruel and unfair industry, and it has taken tremendous progress to get here. Many of our leaders are selfish, cheating, manipulative, misanthropic narcissists fully willing to sacrifice others for their gain. Great work never gets seen. Mediocre crap gets rewarded. GET USED TO IT. Climb back on that horse! And never stop fighting — it’s the fight that makes it all so much better.
But how the hell does one train themselves to have thick skin, an endless reserve of energy, and the sort of precise diamond points needed to cut through all the calcified shit that will mount before you? And where is that diamond point hiding anyways? Can we build a process to improve the traits so needed to develop a sustainable creative life? Can we teach tenacity, persistence, and perseverance?
I find a great deal of support in the dueling tactics of interrogation of all aspects of reality and the capture and definition of the things that we love. Accepting the world — despite all that aggravates and disappoints — helps us recognize what to change and what we can tolerate. Recognizing how much there is to love — as well as the reason we do love them — generates hope and often spurs on a mission. I am going to deeply explore these processes as we continue, and they are the first steps for creating the necessary shield of deflection in any creative life.
Financial security is probably the greatest deciding factor for most on whether they keep on pursuing things they love. If you live in the States, the cards are currently stacked against you, as the cost of education is tremendous, and although loans are available, the debt drives the young out of the arts. If you manage to navigate the first hurdle, you then have to deal with high cost of living in the main creative centers. And if that is not enough, good luck find grants to help you generate new work, as America does not have much support for the arts. Even if you navigate that labyrinth, I have yet to meet an artist that didn’t have medical bills or need therapy, so there’s that too. Pile on child care, and really, how can one expect to be creative?
To pursue any career in the arts in America, I think you have to make an initial commitment to both live frugally and to have a side hustle. You have to spend little on things that don’t advance your creativity and knowledge and you have to find ways to bring in additional funds outside of doing what you love. The latter should be something that also doesn’t detract from your creative time; it can’t sap your creative juice. The reason you need to not need much cash and need to build your stash in a non-taxing manner, is you have to be able to always say “No, fuck you, I will do what I want.” This is crucial.
To pursue a creative life, you have to know you are not dependent on anyone and if something gets in the way of your primary pursuit, you can kick it, and drive where you want, and that you-will-survive. If saying “fuck you” is going to disrupt your life, it is going to be hard to say that when you most need to say it. If you can’t do that, you need to build a financial reserve somehow so you have six months cushion (three to work on your art, three to then find a new means of support to build a six month stash).
My ability to not compare myself to others was a definite help in building my creative life, and to be honest, I suck at it. I do it well enough to not get bogged down at how fast some people move, how much good fortune they have, or how talented they are – but those dark nights of the soul still surface. I think it is true for most of us, and I have gotten much better at avoiding it more and more. I confess though, there are times when I have gotten lost in desiring what others have, as opposed to recognizing what it is that I particularly need.
The two parts of my non-comparison mantra are personal velocity and I-don’t-care-what-they-think. We all do things at our own speed. And need to. We gain momentum and we cruise. We get some benefit of some downward slopes and learn to lean in on the curves. If you are enjoying what you are doing, you are going to be improving, and sooner or later, if you are sticking with it, getting better and better, the work will find its audience and you will get lift off. For some it is in their twenties, for others their forties. My best work will come in my sixties. Your speed is your speed and until you get that velocity you just want to stay on the road.
I-don’t-care-what-you-think is also related to two other necessary techniques to build tenacity, persistence, and perseverance. You have to “fail better” and “always be learning”. My mistakes are learning experiences that make my next work better, so if you think it sucks, it is because you don’t yet see where it is leading to as I do. Yes, I regret you didn’t dig it more, but there will be more, and one day you might get hooked. All three outlooks are linked and seeing them in a process helps you whether the storm, stay on the road, and move forward. Can you feel your skin thickening?
I think to have a sustainable creative life you need to have a generative one too. I think it is the opposite of what we have learned about life on the planet (or rather that I wish we had learned about life on the planet). Here on earth if we want to learn we have to stop always trying to grow like a cancer; we have to learn to conserve, recycle, and reduce. Creative lives need the thing that comes next. Being generative helps you complete the task at hand (so you can go onto the next) and helps you develop the processes needed to get it all done. Capturing your ideas, periodically reviewing them, and developing long term plans on how to develop them, give you a future that you feel the need to complete, and that in turn gives you the strength to deal with the daily crap we all have to face. I find it a good riddle, is it the work that gives you the endurance, or ones ability to endure that leads to good work; either way the tactic is the same, be generative and do the work.
So, at first blush, that’s my miracle cure for facing the hard choice of digging in for the long haul:
capture & define all you love;
stay financially secure;
don’t compare yourself to others;
build your own personal velocity;
don’t care what they think;
always be learning; and
I think it will help give you that TPP shell. I am sure you will also find some further cures on the roadside as you travel too.
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There's a strange absence of the past in your meditation. The creative life has always been virtually non-existent in America. In fact, a great literary critic once wrote that the Americanness of American literature is its disconnection from the populace. Hawthorne, Emerson and those guys were the only people in the forest that read Shakespeare. No one else cared, but they had to smile anyway. H.L. Mencken and D.H. Lawrence are a gold mine on this subject. At 125 lbs, Richard WrightI found his literary in at the Post Office. I recommend the Brit Cyril Connolly's Enemies of Promise for a 1940's take on what is a classical problem.
In other words, the best teachers and inspiration are those who've gone before us. When things get tough, read a Hollywood bio or one of the Impressionist painters or one on Abraham Lincoln. That should get anyone through the stupid comments from family and friends, the romantic rejections by people who over the past fifty years have become brutal competitors, drying up the side hustles. That's why so many men still live at home. In rereading The Power Elite, I've been reminded that America never had salon women. Mabel Dodge was a flash in the pan that ended up in New Mexico. The Suffragettes only met among themselves, cooking up what has amounted to a radical conformity So, we've had no institution in which the brightest women hosted the brightest men in ongoing debates about the largest subjects, with intrigues and affairs to round it out.
I'm surprised that more American artists don't refer to what artists have always referred to- other, greater artists. Instead, we've chosen psychology, which only has a fleeting place for art and which props up the very people who are in our way.
Oooof. Exactly what I needed to read on a hard day when I was not feeling like I had any tenacity, persistence and perseverance left to give.