Saturday, May 8, 2010

The JOURNEY- lions, emperors, unknown doors, and flying deer

Sitting here listening to violin concertos. I missed you guys, and feel bad I haven't been disciplined enough to get to y'all every week like I wanted to. But things are really on a roll. Yesterday I got some really big news, can't announce it yet but this summer is gonna be really exciting.

What's been on my mind lately is the journey of an artist (visual, musician, writer, etc.) Our paths are so similar, as we progress forward on this journey. Which is why I wanted to share a story my mom told me when I was younger that has stuck with me all my life. When I get scared or fearful or doubtful, I think of this story and know exactly what to do. Of course she Asianized it so bear with me... lol

Once upon a time, there was a strong and powerful emperor. *Chinese music and gongs* He captured a brave warrior from the opposing forces. The emperor gave the warrior two choices. Behind door #1 was a lion. If he picks that door, he'll get eaten by the lion, a sure thing. Behind door #2, was unknown. The emperor asked the warrior to promptly choose. The warrior, without hesitation, chose door #1. The emperor then shook his head in disappointment. The warrior asked, "Why do you shake your head, emperor?" The emperor berated, "You are a brave warrior, but I am so disappointed because you would rather get eaten by a lion than open an unknown door." The warrior asked, "Well what was behind the unknown door?" The emperor replied, "Well, I was going to grant you your freedom to return to your homeland, to be with your wife and children, but you were so afraid to open the unknown door that you'd rather be eaten by a lion". And so, the warrior was devoured by the ravenous lion. *Gong!

How many of us out there are choosing to be eaten by the lion because we're too scared to open that unknown door? How many of us are being devoured by remaining in our comfort zones, decaying in an illusion of what we think is stability? If opening an unknown door really does lead to freedom, then are we opening every door that is available to us? Don't we owe it to ourselves to open every door presented to us; isn't that what carpe diem is all about?

I just see so many people stuck in this illusion of stability (which admittedly, I also crave to find). I faced a big adversity recently, which is why I haven't blogged much lately. Not gonna go into details, but let's just say it was a state of emergency and every single little bunny hair was on high alert. You know how skunks are so aware of their environment when they hear the slightest noise they suddenly scram away? Well let's just say I was in extreme high alert skunk mode. lol It was a situation where I had to perform and come up with results in a very short amount of time. My mentors from financial world taught me it's not how much you try, but whether you can deliver great results. So I had to step up my game.

There was an incident that I remember, where fear completely took over and consumed me. I remember praying hard that night to whoever was up there watching over me, that if I jumped into this art thing whole-heartedly, to please catch me and not let me fall. I could run back to my hole and not pursue this art thing full time, and get a job, or I could floor this thing and get to the next level to gain the momentum that I needed.

In being true to the purpose of this blog, which is to share with you what's really going on, I gotta be honest. While I'm proud to be making a full-time living as a professional artist, with the recent transition leaving job world, I can't say it's all smooth sailing yet.

A friend recently said, "Yun you've had quite a 'colorful' life". When I thought about it, it's true. Who would have ever thought that a Chinese immigrant / ex-stripper could have the support and the brilliant team that's working with me now? That I can make a full-time living making paintings out of porn to empower women that we are truly flowers, to be represented by galleries nation-wide, be reviewed, and show internationally? And, actually be respected and taken seriously by the the art community? Really? Would you have believed it if someone told you that?!

While I can't say I've "made it" yet, I'm definitely doing it. Doing it hard, too. lol As a visual artist who sympathizes with musicians, writers, actors, etc., I fully understand the struggles we face in the pursuit of our dreams. I see so many rappers, singers, pimping their CD's on Venice beach, at the Chinese Theater in Hollywood promoting to all the tourists, selling stuff out of their trunks. I so respect that. And writers, my goodness, submitting your material to publishers to get published, same thing. Even actors, actresses, screenwriters, directors, anyone that has a dream that's creative, we all struggle. We do. We grind. I can't say that creatives have really ever had it easy even, as a whole.

Even in history, the stigma is that of the "starving artist". I mean, one day you'll be using your laundry quarters to scrape up something off the dollar menu (Carl's Jr. has the best dollar burgers, especially their ranch bacon cheeseburger, followed by McDonald's chicken sandwich, then Wendy's chili and their chicken sandwiches are ok, surveyed through frequent experience, lol) and the next day you're drinking Dom Perignon with a collector, meeting God knows who you never imagined. There was one time when I was stuck at the gas station with no gas and a friend had to drop by and lend me $13 so I could get home. There's also been times where I got to meet brilliant artists like John Baldessari, Barbara Kruger, and Orlan . To have the privilege of being in their presence even, was life-changing. To have Orlan and Barbara Kruger ask me what my name was? And to have Orlan tell me "I'll remember you, Yun Bai" was such a big deal. Or meeting Hans-Ulrich Obrist, one of the most prominent curator/critics in the world.

The point I'm making is that the life of an artist is very "colorful', indeed. It can be extreme. One minute you're facing the perils of survival, the next minute you actually get to coast; sometimes finding yourself in the company of people you never thought you'd be in the presence of. Every penny you have goes back into your art. I heard a photographer once say, "My camera eats more than I get to eat". Then another day, like yesterday, I got an email from something I'd submitted to months ago that said "Hi Yun! I was looking through all the thousands of submissions and I found yours! I really LOVE your porn flowers!" followed by an offer I couldn't refuse for a very lucrative opportunity, beyond my wildest dreams.

Albert Einstein said, "There are only two ways to live your life: as though nothing is a miracle, or as though everything is a miracle." I used to live as though nothing was a miracle; going about life on autopilot, going to my 9-5, or working the three part-time jobs I had at any given time. I felt like a mouse on a hamster wheel; running running running, but going nowhere. I mean, when you have eight W-2's in one year, something is wrong. lol I realized that I wasn't employable. It wasn't that I would get fired, but more so that I would get bored and quit. After realizing what a run-around I'd created for myself, I made the decision to really step it up and do this art thing full-time. In doing so, I now expect miracles, and for some reason, they come. ? *confused bunny shrug

It's something we as artists have to be honest with ourselves, it's a real commitment that we have to be absolutely committed to. I mean, if you're not "in it to win it" as they say on American Idol, and be truly committed to being an artist for the next 20, 30, 40 years, then forget it. Like hip hop and rock n'roll, being a creative is a way of life. It's how we live, who we are, therefore how we exist.

In making this commitment to open the unknown door, I left everything I'd believed to be "stability", behind. I left my parents in Atlanta five years ago while they're still able to get around and be in mediocre health, to come out to LA and really fight for the three of us. Even though I'm their only daughter, I'm also their son.

It was scary to leave. My mom was scared for me the most- single girl, moving cross-country by myself, I can see how she would be concerned (especially when a convicted rapist raped and killed a woman, then stuffed her in her car trunk, and dropped her off 500 ft. from my apartment my first week in LA). When things got hard, she would suggest that I get a job or go back to Atlanta, because she loved me and didn't want to see me struggle the way I was struggling. We would have endless screaming matches of me refusing to go home, refusing to go get a job because I was 100% committed to this art thing. There have been times when I was really between a hard rock and a hard place, instances where my dignity would be compromised if I wasn't true to myself. Moving back to Atlanta and living at home would have been easy. Getting a job would have been easy. But I decided to really stay true to the commitment I'd made to myself, so I decided to floor this shit.

By flooring it, I swung open that unknown door, and truly found the freedom and the stability I craved for so long. After learning that I could depend on myself to make miracles happen and create amazing results, I just went with it. To justify to my mom that getting a job was a no-go, I explained it to her this way: being that my expenses are about $2000/mo, and even if I got a full-time job working forty hours per week at $10/hr (being conservative), that's still only maybe $1200 after taxes. Which means I'd have to get a side job, taking up another 20-30 hours per week, just to cover my expenses. The opportunity cost was too high- who has time or energy to work on their art after a 70-80 hour workweek? Really? Or better yet, what kind of crappy art would I be producing if I put my he(art) as second priority, second to an 80 hour workweek?

Even though I knew she was just trying to help the best way she could, I knew in my heart it just wasn't the way to go. Although I remember going to bed that night completely afraid while weighing my options, I knew that I could do it. The next day, I landed close to $2000 with 2 phone calls landing a commission and selling work direct. And how long did it take to make those two phone calls? An hour. Seriously. Granted, we're not counting the time it takes to make the work, but you get the idea.

After that day, I knew I could fly. I knew it. And no one could talk me out of it or make me believe otherwise. No one could suck me back into the fear they had projected onto me. I finally found stability- in myself. I finally trusted myself. And in discovering that conviction, I discovered freedom.

Of course the unknown is a thick fog. A thick, thick, opaque fog. Often we are so afraid to let go of what we don't want than to have the courage to seek out what we do want. It's not really being true to ourselves, is it? To know what that super-action hero or heroine version of us looks like, acts like, talks like, walks like, but afraid to ever become that person for ourselves, simply because it's safer and easier not to. Not even giving ourselves a chance- but instead remaining comforted by a lion that slowly devours us as we continually lie to ourselves that the lion is stability, when it's really decay.

Which brings me to the story of the deer (it's a story, so don't quote me on whether it's factual, lol). I heard somewhere that when a deer gets hit by a car, it doesn't get hit running across the road. It gets hit when it's distracted by the headlights (an adversity) and in that moment of hesitation, whether it should run back or not. That's when the deer gets hit- when it starts to run back.

I made a commitment to myself to be like a deer, to spring forward laser-focused, with no time for hesitation to be hit by adversity. I wondered, if deer could fantasize about the super-action hero version of themselves, would they pursue becoming that magical deer who can fly? If deer could ultimately trust themselves in knowing that springing forward through the road meant opening unknown doors to survival and ultimate freedom, would they run forward with more conviction? Would you?

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