Everything Worth Doing is So Fucking Hard
rating: +16+x

You climb up the pebbled path, invaluable jaspers and jades — pearlescent reds and greens — set between dew-wet snake grass and fresh buggy mud. The hill rises steeply upwards to your left, sometimes graced by rocky outcroppings and spotted with… a pretty hillside-type tree, the kind I don't know the name of. But its branches reach out horizontally like arms and its leave spread into big discs like plates and so it looks like a kind of waiter — or a rain-catcher, catching the atmosphere in shallow bowls, dripping itself with dew and moisture. And to your right, everything. A big fucking expanse. The hills are fluffy with fog, like whipped cream on a forest-green cake, verdant foothills that peak into spears similar to the one you're climbing now. Poked heads above a grey-green sea. Hey, grey-green has a kind of thematic relevance here, actually. I should be careful where I use that word.

But you've yet to reach the summit. Your hands press into the maroon railings, hatched like barbells, to keep balance while you ascend. Soon, the climb becomes shallower, and the stairs turn inwards, flanked on both sides by small cobblestone walls. A couple deep breaths, and you're at the top. A porch, on the side of this small mountain peak, all beechwood and Western. I don't know enough about architecture to name it, but it looks like affluency, like upper-middle class America, a far cry from the probably Asian-adjacent visage that had been painted just prior. It looks like you could live here, if it weren't so high up.

In any case, you rub your shoes off on the mat, and look behind you one more time at the landscape which seems to disappear into the beyond more than it succumbs to a horizon. You wipe some beads of sweat off of your forehead, and feel a breeze of chilling air pass through the stones and plate-trees all the way to you and past you and out towards the whatever-it-is, over there, great beyond, et cetera.

And then, you knock.

Knock knock, just like that, or maybe more of a knock knock knock knock knock, because I really don't know anyone who only knocks twice.

And before long, though you have to excuse just a little bit of tardiness while I slip on my shoes and put the finishing touches on my hair, I greet you. With a smile, mind.

"Come in," I say, with a slight touch of apprehension. I notice, and clear my throat to start again. "Come in!"

And once again, you'll excuse my tardiness, because really I hadn't quite fixed up my shoes just yet, and I hadn't quite put on the finishing touches to my hair, because I hadn't settled on a good description, and I'm still fishing for one. I'm short, that much is certain. Shorter than you expected me to be, probably. You're not used to being head-and-shoulders taller than someone, even though you're probably average-to-above-average yourself. (I would give it a fifty-fifty.) And you're still not head-and-shoulders taller than me but the difference of inches (or centimeters) is instantly noticeable, and you weren't expecting it. From this angle, following behind me into the house, you can get a good look at the split in my hair. I have nice hair. Straight, mature, cocoa-brown hair, which, with the trained eye, can look just a little bit orange. Secretly, I used to be a redhead, but I grew out of it. You'd know if I grew a beard or moustache, but I'm clean-shaven, smooth as a baby, because mismatched hair colors aren't my style.

Oh, but now you're wondering about the room. It has two walls that face out towards those misty foothills, each of which bearing just a couple nicely-sized windows, very square and unremarkable in style, which look to have just a little bit of frost on them, which surprises you because it wasn't that cold outside, but it makes sense if you don't think too hard about it. Or if you do, depending on how you think about it. Isn't that annoying?

"Take a seat, do you drink tea?"

You drink tea. Or you're being polite, or you'd just like something warm to hold. But you say "yes."

"Perfect. Right at this table here."

There's a lot of negative space in this room. Maybe half of it is just empty, and all the features are crowded into the corner furthest from the windows. There isn't a light on, so the only illumination is the grey sunlight coming in. It fills the room well enough for now, but the window (pun unintended but acknowledged) for its optimal angle is brief, and it will only be some hours before the room will really be in need of something else.

Oh, but where are my manners? The features. A wooden table, square, grey and bland but functional, enough to comfortably sit two people or uncomfortably sit three to four, with chairs just as unremarkable to boot, maybe even a little cheap, like there's the slightest worry these might give you splinters. You take a seat anyways, because that's what you're here to do (or else you may leave now, if this build-up is too slow and boring for you) and you look towards the tiniest, most worthless kitchen you've ever seen. It looks fit for an apartment, maybe. Certainly not sufficient enough for a house so high up, where you can only imagine groceries are hard to come by. There's a cooler on the floor, and then a stove and a small cutting board to its left. The sink has a couple unwashed bowls in it.

I reach above the stove and open a cupboard, pull down a pot, fill it with water, and then put it on the stove.

"Well, that will take a moment. I guess we can get preliminaries out of the way now, then."

I sit opposite you, and you get a good look at my face. My chin comes to a point, though my cheeks are round enough, and my hair is deceptively poofy for how straight it looks. It gives my head the rough shape of an acorn. And my eyes… they're not afraid to meet yours. Before any more words are spoken, I just take a moment to appreciate your eyes, however they look. Whether they're blue, hazel, unfocused, yellowed, have a mole in them — like a little brown spot among a bunch of green, I Googled it and it's called a nevus or eye freckle — or even if they're rotting inside your head and you almost went blind because of medical workers going on strike in Ontario and your parents' stubborn bullshit refusal to take you elsewhere while you literally couldn't perform due to the stress on your retinas.

Whatever your eyes, I'm taking my time to give them one good long look before I talk, and I thank you that you're letting me. A lot of people are uncomfortable with prolonged eye contact. It's a skill.

I breathe in deep, and close my eyes. My brown eyes. You got a good look at them too, and there wasn't much to see. I breathe again, and again. Just a couple breaths. I urge you to join me. No, really.

Close your eyes, and breathe in and out five times. Count to five while breathing in, count to five while exhaling. That's how slow it should be. And in between your breaths, give a genuine moment of pause, however long you like, though the goal isn't to hold your breath until it hurts or anything. Five of those. In, and out. In, and out. In, and out. In, and out. In, and out.

Did you actually do it? Don't worry, it's not a song, you won't interrupt the flow by pausing. I'll wait until you're finished.




















Thank you.

"I've dreamt of a thousand ways for this to start," I say, finally. Some invisible tension leaves the room. I chuckle. "No, really. I've wanted to have this conversation for a long time. This is a really valuable opportunity for me, and I'm really glad you're joining me for it, even if I did have to kind of trick you to get you up here. It's beautiful though, isn't it? I think so."

I have my hands in front of me on the table, and they're playing with each other. My face looks calm, but I betray some nerves. I chuckle again. Polite, not humorous. More a punctuation than anything.

"It really is," I stall. "Anyways. I'm Jasper Waters. Redhead Özdemir. Robin Wilson. And despite all my planning, I really don't know how to start this conversation. I'm an artist, first and foremost. I guess it's good to get that established early. It's really important context for everything I'm going to say. So, I make art. I even want to add 'try to' as a clarifier, but I won't. I do. I make art. It's true. I make no claims to its quality or importance, but I do make it. And it's really hard."

I swallow.

"It's really hard to make art."

The only sounds are our breaths, the stove, and the occasional surge of wind large enough to push a branch against the side of the house or rattle the windows just a little on their sills.

"But, I started making art before it was hard to make. When I started making art, I didn't really know why. It was more like… impulse. And community. I started painting when I was, what… twelve? I drew earlier than that but I only started painting when I was about twelve. It was really captivating for me, and I was just making things and enjoying making them. It was really fun. It was childish. None of it really amounted to anything, except that I could show people my art and they would go 'oh how cool!' and then it would get put up on the wall in my room, or on the wall in my friends' rooms, or in the hallway at school or the fridge in our living room or this and that and the other thing. And I enjoyed it, a lot. Making art. It was, like, my thing. I'd like to think it's still my thing. We'll, uh, get to that."

I swallow, and reach under the collar of my shirt to scratch at my chest.

"Right now, in fact. Um, I haven't been able to. Make art recently, I mean."

"It's not for lack of ideas. I have plenty of those. An abundance of those. It's just that, when I put brush to canvas, I freeze up. Well not immediately. I can get some strokes in, that's true. I can get the sketch done, that's happened. But at some point in the process — and early in the process, too — it starts failing on me. Lines don't coalesce into the shapes I want them to. Or, I don't even get to those lines, I've already decided the shapes aren't what I want them to be, that the whole thing was doomed from the start, that I ought to just scrap it and start over. Find another project. Do something else. And I know what the difference is. Between now and then, I mean.

"Back when I was young, back when I was twelve or thirteen or fourteen through eighteen even, the art didn't mean anything to me. It was a thing I did. It was a really fun thing I did, that I boasted about, that I owned, sure, yes. It was a big thing. I'm not denying that. But it didn't mean anything, the way it means something now. What it meant then was a fun hobby. And then, I dunno. I mean I do. I do know. My worldview expanded. And now I'm twenty. And fun hobbies don't exist anymore. Not in the way they used to."

The pot boiled — you thought I'd forgotten, but I hadn't. It's curious I don't have a kettle, but a pot does seem to work just fine. I fish out two mugs, and both have little faded printed collages on them. Collages of two little kids. A little redhead brat and another, rounder-faced, wavy-haired boy. It's a lot of pictures you can't quite make out in this poor light, but after I pour water and a ginger teabag into your mug and hand it to you, the image you can make out most is that of the redhead laughing.

He's in the middle of the snow, and he's wearing a coat that at least doubles his size, he's so small. Coat, snow boots, some amazingly puffy pants, and his face is red, his eyes are closed, his mouth guffawing. It looks like he's just crying with laughter. Standing there.

"See, now things matter to me, and that's completely different. Some things mattered to me before, but, less things. Well that's not true. Hang on, let me think on this statement for a second."

In, and out.

"Things mattered… on a different scale. On the scale of here-and-now. I was extremely anxious to be a virgin in high school. I was very sensitive to my social standing and very prideful in what I could show off (like my art). But I wasn't so considerate about my impact on people. And then I was, and then, after that, I started being more… considerate, about my impact on the world. Sort of. That starts approaching the difference, the key issue between my past self and my present self. The start of the tension. Because when I was first making art, I was making it to be cool. And now when I make art, I make it because I want to get something across. And really, very recently, I've started wanting — needing — it to mean something. Really mean something. And that's what I've been coming up against. This awful pressure. This sudden realization… that everything you make teaches people. That you can never make something that's just 'cool.' That everything sends a message. And sometimes I wish I hadn't realized, because if you don't know, then you're innocent. It's once you know that you're responsible. For what you are saying, for what you tell people."

I sip my tea, and wince just a little. I shake my hand at my throat. "Hot," I say, and chuckle. "Hot."

I place the mug down, and my hands start fiddling with each other again.

"And that's scary. It's scary! It's scary to have something become suddenly important like that. Because now, all of a sudden, if I do it wrong, if I do it poorly, it's unbearable."

"Before, when things were 'cool,' it didn't matter if they were bad. If they were bad, that just meant I'd gotten more practice at making things cool. I'd figured out whether or not this one method, this angle of attack, this color palette, was cool. It didn't mean anything to try at it. It was just like, 'I have some time, let me bang something out.' It was fun, it was freeing. And, fuck, if I were to stroke my own dick for a second, I think I got, like, kind of good at it. Good on an amateur scale, not a professional one. But good. Really, actually good. The noticeable kind. But once shit means things, it's like, fuck, dude. It's impossible. If I fail, I feel it now. And, this. One second."

In, and out. In, and then out.








I take a sip of my tea, now. It's at a good temperature. And it tastes really good, too. I suggest you do the same. (You can get up to make tea, too. I'll be right here.)

"Okay, let's… start, from a different point. It will loop back around, I swear. I think. I struggle, with ego. 'Oh, wow, I hadn't noticed.' Yeah, a real shocker I know. My world feels like my world. It feels like I may not be the center of the universe, but I'm the center of my universe. Of everything that happens to me, even. I feel… a lot of self-importance, and, that's something I've been trying to work on, because it stops me from doing things. From connecting to people, for one thing. Um, this is going… shit, I don't know exactly where this is going. One second."

In, and out.

"I'm trying to arrive at some way to say, that, I'm not very important, and things I make will have meaning whether I intend them to have meaning or not. I don't have to force meaning onto them. I should be able to see that. But it's hard, it's really hard. It's hard not to care. I don't even know if I don't want to care. I think I'd rather care about the things I make, like really care a lot, but that seems to come in between me and actually making them. It's like… as soon as painting stops being a thing I do, and starts being me, then every time I'm bad at painting, I'm bad at being me. I become a poor, shitty version of Robin Wilson. And the thing is, I just need to weather being a shitty version of myself until I can reach the future, good, appreciatively talented and successful version of myself, which will exist but under the one condition that I can make it through the shitty version of myself I am right now. But there's so much psychological resistance, so much pushback, there's so much negative reinforcement for trying.

"And this whole time, I've just been trying to figure out why. Why am I like this? And furthermore: does anyone care?"

"So I've had all these paintings, these unfinished sketches and outlines and… they've stopped rewarding me to work on. They've become painful. And I wish I was obfuscating some big, emotional truth that reveals to you why that is. I wish I had some 'I was emotionally abused by a teacher who told me I'd never make it' type story. Some really easy explanation for why I'm like this. Why being me is always shitty and why it's so much easier to live in an achievement-less existence. Why I've been sitting in my own emotional filth for two years, just going to work and coming back home and telling myself, 'I'm an artist,' and not doing any of it. Not being me. Because being me hurts, genuinely. Just sitting with myself. I'd even say I like myself generally. But existing as this proto-version of something that could be good is awful. And it makes me feel like nothing's happening. Because nothing's happening. Because I won't do things. Because the thought of doing something and failing sucks. It's easier to detach and go through routine.

"Wake up, brush teeth, play a video game, go to work, come home, play a video game, sleep, and, on the weekends, play more video games but with friends and maybe read a book in there. Search for nothing, want for nothing, live with parents, fear the fires, move nowhere, be no one. One moment, I have to breathe."

In, out. In, out. In, and out.












"I'm not trying to be obtuse, by the way. Replace 'paint' with 'write,' and apply it also to songwriting. That's where Jasper is. And Jasper is where I am. That's what I mean, really. Robin, Faeowynn, Anders, Tim, Alice, but more than just the Wilson family — Rachael, Robert, Brainy, 3T, Tongue, Aggie, JaJa. We're all just parts, just representations, of one greater whole. Jasper. DarkStuff. And there's… some truth, there. You know? Some solution to this ego, if I can just grab a hold of it. Because Jasper's in exactly the same boat. We all like to think we're these individuals with individual goals and accomplishments and these unique thoughts, and, really, we're all representations, all reflections. I can't be anything less than a reflection of DarkStuff's brain, because my thoughts must first travel through the neural pathways of my author. Whatever I am meant to be — angry, disturbed, confused, happy, an asshole, a saint, an abused child — I am always Jasper's version of that thing. Well, Jasper's the same way. You're the same way.

"But it's not a neural network. It's a cultural, societal network. You are some reflection of everyone you've ever met and every message you've ever digested — whether accepted or rejected, mind you. And that's exactly what started me down this path, the thing that clogged this pipe, once I realized that everything I put out there becomes one of these messages, one of these digestibles. That people are information sponges and you teach them. Yes, you."

You do.

"And that kind of pressure is paralyzing. But, it's not like Jasper isn't also Liam, Aiden. Miranda. Ari. Patrick, Chris. Mom or Dad. I, myself, am a collage of messages. Of inheritances. Of.. nouns. People, places, things. We're all other things. You're not just you, you're the intersection of everyone and everything around you. The thing is, I already felt small, but, I felt small on the cosmic scale. I felt like an ant in comparison to a bigass thing I couldn't control. I still feel small that way. But what I lacked was… feeling small, on the human scale. Yes, I was an ant, but I was still an ant. This one, right here. This little individual ant. But, really, I'm some ant. One of these, in this area. And I'm just an ant in this generation of ants, and I can't think that whatever this anthill looks like now is what it's looked like since the dawn of ants or will look like at the end of ants. Do you… get that? Do you feel me on this?"

"Whatever it is, it makes painting just a little less scary. Even just in the course of speaking this out, I've felt, like, calmed. Reassured. Placated. Like, even if I work a pizza delivery job my whole life — and please, please let that not be the case — that's alright. I tried. And I don't have to achieve that possible, perfect, future me in this lifetime, because it's not all up to me. I'm just a character. And not all of our arcs are very good, if I'm to be straight about it. There will be other characters that explore these themes, and they might be better at it. And they'll come after me. And they've come before me. In a thousand million incarnations with a thousand million rhyming names.

"And that's not just a helpful perspective, it's… comforting. It feels warm. It feels like a blanket, and… it feels like… an easier sense of purpose. It's okay if I'm a failed musician. There are other musicians. It's okay if not everything I write is good. There's good writing in the world. And, ultimately, the likelihood that I alone change the culture or send the right message is actually zero because those are less individualistic goals than they might look. Nothing happens by one person. I need to lose myself to the everything. I need to lose a bit of myself to the whole of it. And then maybe I can just… I dunno. Paint a fucking picture for once. And someone can look at it, and ask what it's about. And I can shrug, and say:"




I don't know. But isn't it cool?


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