The myth of hardship
Not everything needs to be difficult
I’m going to cause a scandal and contradict everything I wrote about ease.
Well, not everything. I’m not in it for ease, and I don’t think you should be either. But I think that many of us put too much emphasis on things being hard.
The theory of the “tortured artist” argues that pain is required to create meaningful, enduring art. To suffer for your art is to unlock the full potential of your creativity. In other words, if you’re not suffering, you’re doing something wrong.
I won’t explain just how flawed that thinking is because others already have. Suffering should inform our art, not define it. But I think there’s something to be said for the myth of hardship. I’m not talking about trauma here so much as the mundane struggles that come with living in an imperfect world.
I feel so good about myself whenever I wrestle a chapter into submission. It doesn’t matter how much time I wasted fretting about it; it doesn’t matter how miserable I made myself in the process. All that matters is I persisted. I suffered for my art and therefore am better than all the other creatives who give up when the going gets hard.
I recently submitted to a contest. I did not win the contest. I felt pretty shitty upon realizing that I had, in fact, not even placed among the finalists. I sulked about it for a couple of hours, only to shrug and move on with my life.
This isn’t to say I’m cool and detached and utterly unbothered by the prospect of failure. I am terrified of failing. So much of my mental and emotional energy is allocated towards not failing. But I do think that, after years of trying and failing and berating myself for failing, it’s pretty cool that I was able to sit with the disappointment and eventually move on.
We love making things hard for ourselves, don’t we? We throw pity parties. We lean into the self-loathing, because we’ve been conditioned by capitalism to equate suffering with success. We’re not really trying unless we’re flinging our incredibly fragile bodies at an incredibly rock-solid wall. We’re not worthy of success unless we’re beaten bruised and bloody.
I believe that ease is a myth. Life is hard. Creating something out of nothing is hard. I don’t want to give up on the devotional act of making art simply because it’s hard. More importantly, I don’t want capitalism to convince me that something is wrong with me as a person if my goal in life doesn’t come easy.
But I also think that hardship is a myth.
I came up with this topic weeks ago, days after publishing my essay on ease. I did something that previously would’ve been extremely difficult, and I was fine. Was it fun? Not really. Am I eager to do it again? Absolutely not. But was it hard?
Lately I’ve been asking myself how to make things easier. And it’s not because I’m afraid of hard work. It’s not because I’m chasing that ever-elusive thing called ease. It’s because I’m learning, little by little, how to be kinder to myself.
Writing is hard. Writing about disabled girls as a disabled girl is even harder. Writing about disabled girls in a world that hates disabled girls? That’s its own kind of hell. So maybe the magic is in knowing when to double down versus when to let go.
How can I make things easier? How can I disinvest from the theory of the tortured artist? By being kinder to myself. By treating kindness as its own kind of devotional. By saying that, yes, hard things are worth doing — but not everything needs to be hard all the time.
I can have a little ease, maybe, as a treat.
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