Dreamin’ Ain’t Easy

Standing stone at Stonehenge

All my life I dreamed of standing in the stone circle at Stonehenge. This year, that dream came true.

My friend, Devon Monk, and I have a twice-a-week writing date at the local university library. I’m working on Good Bones: the Elements and Principles of Design for Jewelry Makers. She’s working her next novel series. We go to the library to get away from the distractions at home that provide lots of opportunities to procrastinate.

Working with a buddy is good for guilt, too. When I’m staring out the window and she’s typing like mad, I begin to feel like a slacker. So I start typing again, typing anything just so I don’t look lazy. We both gain ground on the number of words we have behind us. And that’s good. It doesn’t make it easier, but then, dreams are never easy.

We’ve both wanted to write since we were young. And here we are, doing it. People say to us, “Oh you are so lucky to be living your dream. I wish I could.” And yes, we are lucky, and we both know it. But we both know it doesn’t come without risk, disappointment and work. And it’s not always glamorous. In fact, it’s rarely glamorous.

Living your dream in the arts–writing, dancing, singing, painting or making jewelry–is mostly work like any other. Worse, it’s self-directed work that most people really don’t understand. They think you’d do much better to have a “real” job. Other people think, “Well, it’s easy for you.” But it isn’t. It’s hard, it’s lonely, it’s fraught with frustration and failure. (Devon has six pounds of rejections collected over the course of 15 years. Six pounds! Yes, she weighed them.) And just about the time you find success, the market changes, the popular style changes, you face an injury, you have a family upheaval that leaves you shaking and scarred. In fact, in genre fiction, Devon tells me, most writers confront the complete blow up of their career an average of three times. Three times! This is glamorous?

But living a dream has its moments. I always get a rush when I propose an idea that I love and that a publisher loves enough to say yes. I know when Devon got the call about her first book contract, she took time to savor the moment, looking back at all the hard work behind her, and being smart enough to see all the hard work ahead.

For artists, the dream moment comes in the piece that comes out of your hands singing. It’s the first big sale, the call from a gallery, workshop organizer, book publisher, magazine, museum, or collector. Those moments–few and far between– make it worthwhile. Not easier, just worthwhile.

If your dream is to make jewelry, don’t say, “I don’t have time. I have to make a living. I have a family. Seattle metalsmith Micki Lippe made jewelry after her kids were in bed and on Saturday mornings before they were up and around. Andy Cooperman put in time at a repair bench. Other jewelry artists teach at universities, offer workshops, write, or work day jobs–inside or outside of the jewelry industry. Some have seen their collectors age and disappear. Others suffer in a faltering economy. Many have to reinvent themselves to go on. But go on they do. Only they know how often they wanted to bite the walls or just quit. To the outside world, they look glamorous.

I once read a short children’s story that ended with the moral: “All the miles of a hard road are worth a moment of true happiness.” Living your dream gives you those moments. They are rich and wonderful and worth the journey. Perhaps they are richer and more wonderful because they are rare.

If you want to make jewelry as a living, make time for it. Learn your craft. Persist. If you’re making jewelry as a living now, and see your market changing or drying up, please don’t quit. Learn to weather the storms. Be open to change. The world needs you.