Everyone carries a certain something inside. What it is, exactly, can only be determined by the passage of time.
There are the elements, in the beginning, mingling fiercely as they do — a storm of passions, each searching for its proper place within the life of the individual, each vying to find and know its voice as the strongest one. Only a few come to get it clear. Some may find that they are earth, from which a grove of the finest greenery can then grow, resilient in the cycles of the ever-changing seasons, beautiful in the slow strength and loyalty that informs the wood born of seed; others may find that they are water, constant in their change, open, patient, wise; others still rage like the wind and the rain, only to lament again with the sweet succour of the morning breeze, curling softly around the ear of those who felt the fury of their storm, only so recently...
And some will come to find that they are fire. And it is fire, more than any other, that demands surrender. Fire must be harnessed, yet allowed to burn in full brightness, or it will run the earth down.
It is fire that undoubtedly lies at the heart of every artist. It cannot be quenched, it cannot be tamed. Fire must burn, controlled, or it will hurt those who have gathered around it for its heat. It must be given a steady and constant outlet. If it does not get it, it will grow far too hot in its neglect, coming eventually to catch those dry spots that it shouldn’t be near, and burning where it wasn’t meant to burn. It must be fed, yet tended to. This is the movement it demands.
There comes a point, in the life of every unfulfilled artist, when it has simply been long enough. When those who are host to the fury of the furnace inside cannot take the heat any more, and find themselves, finally, willing to give it all up in service to those flames, even if it means that the sheer fever of it may well be the death of them. It is as it should be. This is the nature of the element itself. There is no life without the voice of the artist — it is he who sings this world into existence, she who gives it movement, they who play as the creator does, dancing the dream of this life into reality. To deny fire is to deny life. It is something you cannot stop.
To be sure, there can be drudgery, and malfeasance, and a poking around for years, but none of it will serve to settle the flames — they will only grow, restless under the slow hang of death as it so imposes itself through the passage of earthly time. If you have it, then you know what it is I’m speaking of. It has nothing to do with youth — everyone has it in their youth, because, at heart, all of us possess the fire of the artist in one way or another — it is something more, something that won’t quit, that won’t let up, that simply will not stop long after the rest have settled into the roles of their respective elements and surrendered to the life that is dictated therein.
This is what it does to you, what it informs you with. It is an absolute demand for expression — a slow rage, a madness, an exquisite ache that keeps one from sleeping, from speaking properly, from thinking in any manner that could be considered linear or sensible in the face of a world that seems to so easily exist without it. Yet the artist knows the truth — you could not exist without me. It was fire that formed the world, and fire still that gives it life. To live in denial of it is to sink a deep madness into the mind, and this is tremendously ill-advised. The voices will not get quieter as you age, only louder.
If you are reading this and you are one, listen to the voices. There is no purpose to this world without art. There is no nobility in survival alone. You will make yourself sick in the denial of your fire. You will suffer, and so will those around you.
Yet also don’t be fooled. If I am making up your mind for you, chances are you don’t mean it enough. If all this, instead, is old news to you, then do what you know you need to do, and QUIT. Maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, maybe not even months from now, but for the love of god — and I mean that literally, for the love of god as it so wants to move through you — figure it out. You know that you are good enough. You know that the world will listen. Get a plan together and step off the edge. The heart in your chest knows the fire in your belly — it has been warming it since childhood — only now is it beginning to burn. Do it.
There are those who’ve made it work, those who’ve surrendered to the call and in turn set fire to the world with their work. Henry Miller was pushing 40 with two failed novels under his belt when he left for Paris, broke, writing to a friend after his arrival, "I start tomorrow on the Paris book: First person, uncensored, formless — fuck everything!” Four years later, Tropic of Cancer saw its first printing. Bukowski was 49 when he made his break, saying, "I have one of two choices – stay in the post office and go crazy... or stay out here and play at writer and starve. I have decided to starve." Post Office hit the shelves two years later.
Of course we all know, quite well, that for these two ‘success’ stories there exist a nearly innumerable amount to the contrary — those who’ve ended up in the gutter, who’ve failed time and again, unable to make even the slightest mark upon the world that they so nobly brought their hearts to bear upon. But so what? Do they concern you? Even if they do, I can tell you this — they died better off. No matter their state of health in the end, they did not make themselves sick in the denial of their fire. Of this you can be sure. In all honesty, what difference does it even make? We are, all of us, trembling on the verge of dust as it is. You can always return to the life of drudgery you now serve once again, if need be, and you can always give it up when the fire begins to bend you at the knee once more, as it surely will.
There is no escaping it. This is the plight of the artist. Even if you do ‘make it’ — whatever that means — even if you tear down the rafters with your brilliance — you won’t be long satisfied. The hunger will be so close to follow you’ll have to run to keep it off, even for a short time.
There is no ‘resting on laurels’ for the artist who means it. There is no peace. The fire demands it be lit, and harnessed, and brought to an illumination so great it reveals the faces of all who’ve gathered around it, just one more time.
This is what you’re here to do. This is what the world demands of you. This is the voice as it speaks inside. So quit, brave soul, and find out just what it is you no longer have to hide.