One of our favorite writers, Cary Tennis is funny, bold, wise, and eloquent. In 2009 we printed a selection of his “Since You Asked” advice columns, which appear regularly at Salon. This month we’re reprinting columns from his book Citizens of the Dream: Advice on Writing, Painting, Playing, Acting, and Being, which features wide-ranging questions about the creative life and Tennis’s candid and often surprising responses. The title of the book derives from Tennis’s belief that creative people live in their “own country with its own physics and history, its own atmospheres and rivers, its own maps.” Although he says he is “not really a self-help guy,” he hopes that through his advice a few more artists might find “quiet dignity in this supposedly real world that others inhabit with ease.” The columns appear here with permission from the author and Salon Media Group. More information about Tennis and his book can be found at

— Ed.

Dear Cary,

I am a young, talented writer. (You should know how much effort it took me to write that sentence without any disclaimers built in.) I got my first book published in 2002, a young-adult novel, and it was well received. I got married and became a father, and I have a full-time day job now to support my family.

Since my first book came out, however, I haven’t been writing. Plenty of ideas come, but I just can’t manage to commit myself to it. Whenever I even think of writing, I feel this huge laziness coming up, as if some heavily sighing voice says, I just don’t feel like it.

Am I lazy? Am I afraid of failing? Do I lack the discipline, the artistic urge, the necessity? Am I not a writer after all? Should I give up writing and learn to be happy without it? I know that I could be happy if I gave up writing, but I know that my life would be missing something too.

If we have a talent, are we obliged to develop it? Or are we free not to use it at all?


Dear G.,

To me it seems possible that all the dire things you imagine could be true, and you could still write. You might very well be lazy, afraid of failure, and undisciplined and still write. You might lack the urge and still write. You might not be “a writer” and still write. After all, a writer is just someone who writes.

It is also true — now that we are at the task of arranging apparent contradictions in ingenious ways — that you are both obliged to develop your talent and free not to develop it. That is, you are free to acknowledge obligations but still say no to them.

I personally believe that, as a guide to right living, we do have an obligation to develop our talents. But this is a practical rather than a moral matter for me. I do not think so highly of myself as to assume that the world will be greatly improved by my contributions, but I have observed that mastery of a craft is personally satisfying, and that failure and frustration are not.

You are free. That is the thing. You are free not to write if you choose. But you are not alone. Your choices matter to others. And the choices of others matter to you. I say this by way of challenging this notion that your inspiration should come only from some tiny, esoteric writing gland behind your navel. As a writer you are dependent on others. You could not have published your first book alone. Why should you believe that you can write without any external stimulus? If you need to meet with a writers’ group, enroll in a class, arrange with a mentor or writing friend to share work, or work out a schedule of deadlines with your editor or agent, then please do so. This is often the case. The idea that we write only from inner inspiration is, I think, a bit of a romantic myth, rooted in the idea of the writer as a solitary and mysterious figure. The writer may be that, but he or she is also a person in a web of community, and is also fallible. The writer may be lazy and unable to meet deadlines; he or she may be, as I am, fearful of completion. So there is nothing wrong with building into your life some structures that compensate for your weaknesses. We are not superheroes. We all need a little help.

As to this heavily sighing voice you hear, I will say that only after I did cognitive therapy did I realize that the voice I was hearing — the one that said, I can’t write! My writing sucks! — had a historical source, and that the veracity of that statement could be objectively weighed against the evidence.

It may be true that you don’t feel like writing. You are probably working hard and have many duties as a father. So there will be times that you have to write even though you don’t feel like it. In that sense writing is like your other roles in life as a worker and a father and a husband: it sometimes requires you to do something you don’t want to do.

You do it because that is your role. It’s the only way you can get anything done.

Good luck with the next book.

Dear Cary,

One day when I was in third grade, while everyone was studying quietly, I had to go to the bathroom. I was too scared to raise my hand and break the silence and speak. Everyone would know that, right then, I had to go pee. Everyone would look at me. Another option was to get up and walk across the room to the teacher’s desk and ask her quietly so that no one else could hear, but I was afraid she would be mad at me for getting out of my seat without asking first. So I just sat and held it until my bladder got the better of me. I peed at my desk. Obviously everyone really was looking at me and judging me then.

A few months ago my boyfriend of two years and I broke up. I missed him terribly at first, but I’ve come to realize that all that time I was with him, I was scared of being myself. Now I feel crazed with this newfound freedom to be me again. I do things that in the past I would have been too scared or embarrassed to do, like buy pink padded bras because they make me feel sexy, or drink wine and dance at my cousin’s wedding. Everyone remarks about how much fresher and happier I seem, and I feel they are right.

I am a shy person. I need to be able to find my center and spend time alone. But I also want to be able to allow myself to do these crazy things I want to do without guilt.

Case in point: Recently a friend of mine expressed an interest in playing music with me. I’m a good singer, but as far as instruments go, I’m not very skilled yet. I told him this, but he still seemed eager to play with me. I’ve always protected the creative part of myself from other people, out of fear of their judgment or ridicule. Letting someone hear me sing or play is like letting the person in on a secret. It may not be a big deal to my friend, but if I let him see this deepest side of myself and he doesn’t think it’s any good, I’ll be crushed.

I know I have something to share if I can just let it out. If I dance, I dance as if to bring down the house. If I sing, I sing as if to drop the moon. I don’t want to be afraid to show people who I am anymore.

Dorky Pee Girl (holding it as long as I can)

Dear Dorky Pee Girl,

When I was in fourth grade, I was the kid who vomited frequently. I was the dorky vomit boy. I was a worrier, an anxious kid, a boy full of private visions, terrified of the world. I do not remember much from that period. It seems to have been erased or to live in a kind of memory that requires intense emotion to uncover. I know that it was 1962, and there were missiles in Cuba, and we would look up at the Florida sky and wonder if death and fire were going to rain down upon us. And I know that in my house there were money fears and fights. We were not at war. Still, the skies threatened. There were missiles in Cuba. Perhaps that’s why I was so anxious.

I remember squirming in my little desk one day, raising my hand, needing to run to the bathroom at the back of the class but afraid to do so without permission, feeling the heat well up, feeling the cold sweat on my face, feeling utterly alone and abandoned and scorned, no one to help me, no one to run to, afraid to run to the teacher because the look on her face would say that I wasn’t going to get the help and warmth that I needed, that I would face only scorn and ridicule.

So I stayed in my desk as long as I could, and then, when I was starting to heave, I left my desk and ran to the back, but of course I didn’t make it, and I ended up on my hands and knees in the aisle, vomiting on the linoleum. I remember that linoleum. It was cool to the touch. I remember the stink of the vomit, so near to my hot, teary face.

The question of course was “Why didn’t you raise your hand?”

But I did! I was waving my hand! You weren’t looking.

Thus the child’s humiliation follows him, and tied in with the humiliation is the child’s wounded innocence, the feeling that it was not my fault. I was trying to follow the rules, trying to be a good boy, and look what I got: scorn and humiliation from my peers, incomprehension from adults. Why didn’t you cry out?

Cry out? And risk more scorn and humiliation?

We’re already locked into the authoritarian rows that lack all organic reason and seem strictly regimented to make us into soldiers or businessmen and not into creative souls who might want to turn their desks backward to enjoy listening to the teacher behind them or to the side to enjoy looking at the pine trees and the highway, or to sit on the floor instead of in the desk to alleviate the imprisoning influence of the desk, the desk, the desk, every day the desk, the pencils, the paper, the blackboard, every day the hands raised, the teacher, the click-clack of her hard heels, her authoritarian skirt and her authoritarian glasses, her authoritarian ruler slapped on the desk, her authoritarian calves in her authoritarian stockings, her authoritarian farts we were not allowed to comment on or giggle about lest her fury rain down upon us, her authoritarian marching up and down the rows of desks, we children putting our heads down like prisoners in solitary confinement, our tiny joy at our daily release, our enormous sorrow at returning again the next day, my blinding depression and fear on Sunday nights, when tomorrow again there will be the classroom, the torture chamber, the hellish prison of mechanical restraints, the swirling heat, the fear of ridicule, the desire for approval, the boredom, the tedium, the feeling that even at the age of nine my life is passing, passing away, that even at nine I have nothing to look forward to, that even at nine this is how it’s going to be forever, imprisoned in a tiny desk chair among idiots, subject to the whims of a despot with a ruler who asks every Monday morning how many of us went to church yesterday, and I do not raise my hand.

I was the dorky atheist vomit boy of small-town Florida.

But that was many years ago. So let me tell you what has happened in the last few hours. Let me show you, if I can, the kind of moral and creative universe I am living in, and ask if you can share this universe with me. I have published a book and am distributing it myself. So I was at the post office at 9 AM filling out customs forms to send books to Australia and Singapore. After I left the post office, I was driving in the chilly fog and received a cellphone call from a friend who wanted to arrange to have a book shipped to his uncle, a Holocaust survivor. So I pulled over to talk, because when this particular friend calls, we talk. And he said that his uncle the Holocaust survivor wanted to know: what are my spiritual beliefs, and how did I arrive at them, and how can I believe in anything after the Holocaust?

And so, sitting in the car on the side of the road in the chilly ocean fog, I talked about how it is possible to find belief in a power greater than oneself after such evil, and I thought of his dear uncle, who’d entered a concentration camp at the age of twelve. I thought of this monstrous evil, this unspeakable crime that was perpetrated against particular individuals but was also a crime against every person on earth.

After talking with my friend, I did some more mundane business in the world: I voted. I talked with someone about subleasing a storefront as a publishing office and writing haven. And then I came home, and on the radio was a Canadian man speaking about his extraordinary rendition and torture in Syria at the hands of U.S.–connected torturers; he described the three-by-six-by-seven-foot “grave” in which he’d been held for seven months. And I gritted my teeth and uttered a small scream, my mouth tight about the edges.

Now I think about you and me and our troubles — you, dorky pee girl; me, dorky vomit boy — and I see that in the larger scale of things, our own personal difficulties and hurts do not matter, not in and of themselves. They matter only to the degree that they help us connect with others. They matter because we can use our shame and humiliation to imagine how it feels to be beaten with electrical wires, to be housed in a lightless grave for months on end, to be led to the ovens. If we have something to offer, it is that we can use our small inconveniences to imagine great evil. If people make fun of us, ridicule us, shun us, shame us, it just helps us to imagine, magnified a thousandfold, the humiliation of the gulag, the humiliation of being stoned in the street, and how, even while being stoned, in the physical pain and agony of approaching death, there can also be the incongruous modesty and concern for appearances; how the victim of a public stoning might reach down and attempt to adjust her clothing to preserve her dignity in death.

In the face of that, what are our little sufferings and failures? Why am I publishing and distributing my book myself? Not because I thought it would be fun, but because it failed to find favor with major publishing houses. Do I feel spurned and resentful? Yes. But do I have something to offer? Yes. Will I take the business decisions of major publishing houses as absolute judgments on the value of my creative work? No. I will form my own business. I will offer my work in any way I can. In scale and degree my own difficulties finding a publisher are minuscule. In scale and degree our suffering as creative people is barely perceptible compared with the suffering of those who are tortured in gulags and burned in the streets and kept in prisons because of what they dare say, or write, or think, or sing.

This is the landscape. These are the historical and moral parameters in which a creative person confronts his or her fears and decides how to proceed. There is torture and genocide and evil. And there is personal embarrassment and humiliation.

This is not saintly. There is practical value in it. Considering the sufferings of others helps us forget our own fears as we go onstage or send out our writing. So take your embarrassment and fear lightly. Think of the greater world. Think of your ancestors and the generations to follow. Think of your gift.

With your gift comes a duty, in both senses of the word: an obligation, and a special tax levied on something of value brought in from afar.

There is no escaping this, so you might as well accept it now. If you turn away from your creative gift, it will not go away. It will just fester, and you will become depressed.

You may have a modest gift. Still, it is a gift. It is not yours; it is entrusted to you. It is something beyond you, something you didn’t cause to come into being, but something that was handed to you. It is a gift, and with it comes a duty. Carry it lightly, but carry it.

You might very well be lazy, afraid of failure, and undisciplined and still write. You might lack the urge and still write. You might not be “a writer” and still write. . . . You are both obliged to develop your talent and free not to develop it. That is, you are free to acknowledge obligations but still say no to them.

Dear Cary,

I’ve been a jazz pianist for nearly thirty years. I never thought I would be famous, and it doesn’t bother me that I’m not, but I always thought if I stuck with it, I’d be able to make a living. I read somewhere that the average jazz musician these days makes about seventeen thousand dollars a year. I do better than that, but not by much. I’m approaching fifty. I’m not married and don’t have kids — I never would have been able to afford them.

We always hear heartwarming stories of people who followed their dream and never gave up and succeeded, but what of the people who followed their dream and failed?

I’m an intelligent person. I have two master’s degrees: one in music, the other in fine arts. Yet I have absolutely no idea how to go about making money.

I once thought being true to your art was satisfaction enough. I guess it’s not. I want the satisfaction of making a real living. I want health insurance. I want a decent place to live. I’m tired of taking every hundred-dollar gig that comes my way to play for a tone-deaf singer. After I drive an hour each way and pay the IRS its cut, I end up with fifty dollars. I don’t want to be taking lousy gigs at the age of eighty to buy a meal.

I really think I could leave it all behind and be happy playing the occasional gig for fun, or just playing for myself and friends, but I have no idea how to make a living! The thought of starting over from scratch at my age is mind-boggling. Is it possible for me to change?

Musically Frustrated

Dear Musically Frustrated,

I, too, was frustrated this morning when I sat down to answer your letter. Nothing was coming. I went to the regular place where I go to get words, and there were no words there. Weird. Am I running out? I had to leave my house and walk around. I went to a meeting of the type I often attend. It was somewhat comforting but did not really help.

Then, standing on the street corner waiting for a train, I noticed a bumper sticker on an old Toyota Camry. It said, “Real musicians have day jobs!”

I felt that my prayers had been answered — and yours too.

It was a needed reminder: Your music does not have to support you. In fact, your music might be happier if you were supporting it.

You have done the almost impossible by making a living as a jazz pianist all these years. It is a remarkable, heroic, and admirable feat. That doesn’t mean that at a certain point you can’t sit out a few sets.

You may find it hard to change; deep down you may feel that what you are is a musician, end of story.

I felt at one time that I was a writer, end of story. But it wasn’t end of story. It was more like beginning of story.

I did not gain the freedom to write with fluidity and ease until I stopped believing that I had to be a writer. Until then I believed not only that I had to be a writer, but that I was my writing. I thought the words I put on paper were me. Literally. I did not know this was what I thought until I heard myself saying, “Of course I am my writing!” But I learned, after some work with a helpful therapist, to see myself as a person who plays many roles. Yes, I write, but I also am a husband, a homeowner, a friend, a family member. I am also a person who deserves to take a rest now and then. I was killing myself trying to prove this hypothesis that I am a writer, end of story.

You sound like you are ready to make some changes, but I suggest that you avoid making a sudden, cataclysmic break. First try augmenting your income with related activities: Sell a few CDs at gigs. Teach a class or two. Repair instruments now and then. Do a little booking. Do some engineering or production. Consult with club owners.

Do this gradually. Do a little of everything. You may discover that one of these ancillary activities seems to be the right model for a career change. If so, do more of it. But start small. Pay attention to percentages at first, not dollar amounts. If you can increase your income from one gig by 10 percent, consider that a victory. If you’re netting only fifty dollars a gig, selling even two CDs at a five-dollar profit each is an increase of 20 percent for the night.

At the same time think about major changes down the line. Maybe you will find that you want to go into a totally different field. You could go into law or finance. It’s not too late. You could take major steps in a year or two. But for now I think it is better to move gradually, using what you already have, and keep your eyes open for a new career that attracts you.

Over the weekend I found myself rereading Straight Life, the autobiography of jazz saxophonist Art Pepper. That guy had a hard life. He was out boosting construction tools from building sites in LA with his poodle named Bijou to feed his heroin habit! And he wasn’t alone. So many jazz musicians have died early deaths because it’s hard to be an artist and maintain one’s sanity.

At least you don’t have a heroin habit. (You don’t have a heroin habit, do you?)

So, congratulations! You have done well to keep yourself healthy all these years. You are an asset to our culture. You ought to be rewarded. It is terrible what musicians have to go through. We ought to take better care of them.

You’re going to make a change. That’s clear. You can teach. You can repair. You can do sales. You can get into booking. You can do engineering and production. You can do soundtracks for movies. All these things you can do without a whole lot of extra education. And you can keep playing music while you make these changes.

Good luck. I’d like to say more, but I have a deadline, which is sort of like going onstage. You go up there with whatever you’ve got.

Dear Cary,

I have committed my life to writing, and I have no idea if I’m any good.

How can you tell if you have talent? I submit to magazines, and they reject me. I submit to contests, and I lose. I try for the creative-writing awards at my university every year, and I never get so much as an honorable mention. I work and work and work on my craft. I read and read and hope to absorb skill by osmosis. Everyone says this is normal and not an indication that I’m on the wrong life trajectory, but my peers seem to be shooting past me.

I know I will always write. It’s in my blood. But when should I give up on making a career of it? When should I stop trying to send my writing into the world and keep it to myself? There is a line from Little Women that has always stuck with me: Laurie is trying to write music like Mozart, and he realizes, “Talent isn’t genius, and no amount of energy can make it so.” He goes into business.

A Writer Or A Fool

Dear A Writer Or A Fool,

One does not write only to display one’s talent. One also writes as a spiritual practice and a mode of self-discovery. One writes in order to see. One writes in order to remember. Writing is like a sixth sense used to apprehend a reality not detected by the other five. It is the memory sense, or the feeling sense, the organ through which we make known to each other a rich world not otherwise knowable. It is also the medium through which we make known the history and the soul of our culture. It keeps something alive that otherwise might die. It is an important act regardless of whether it garners fame and praise.

So your question about talent is moot. It is more a question about how to persist in writing through the fear, discouragement, and disappointment that are endemic to the activity.

Logically it works out like this: All the practice you get makes you better. Whatever stops you from practicing makes you worse. One thing that may stop you from practicing is the belief that you are no good. So the belief that you are no good may prevent you from becoming good — unless you persist in writing despite it. Many of us wake up believing we are no good at something and persist in doing it anyway, knowing that if we do not, then we will surely get nowhere. Our beliefs about our value are meaningless. Writing is a thing that must be done. If it is, as you say, in your blood, it is a personal necessity.

These are not trivial matters.

For reasons psychological, spiritual, and philosophical, one must learn, through practice, to regard one’s creative work with some compassionate detachment and not to equate it with one’s worth as a person. We are attempting to contact a source beyond our conscious control. So we must be willing to be surprised by what we find. In order to be surprised, we must have some distance, be detached as it unfolds. Otherwise ego-fear emerges. The ego will try to remain separate and distinct; it will impede and filter; it will attempt to steer us away from things that resonate with other people. The ego is too concerned with its place in the world.

I think much good writing — of the kind I like now as opposed to the kind I liked when I was younger — is very simple. I have come to love the unadorned voice of the letter. I have come to love the subtle variations in individual voices that indicate who is speaking. They are not reducible to tricks of style. They seem more like that complex and undefinable combination of traits that we think of as individuality. I have come to love the individual and untutored voice.

There is a political dimension to this. One of the fundamental assumptions of a society that wishes to live in liberty is that individuals matter. That means the lowliest person matters. When we accord value only to the famous and obviously accomplished, we endanger the lowly. I say, give more esteem to the low. Give voice to the voiceless. Help the voiceless find their voice.

Each of us has some searing, white-hot core of feeling and being that is trying to find its way to the surface. It may seem alien to us; it may frighten us if we identify with it. So we must have a method by which we can assure ourselves that this white-hot core of our being is not something to fear; that it may be something individual to us or it may be part of the voice of our species, the collective voice of humanity in all its pain and grandeur. It may be our desire to survive. It may be our primordial sense of aliveness. It may be a prenatal consciousness. It may be childhood’s first glimmer of separate being, our love of beauty, our sense of the divine, our wonder and amazement, our most secret and delicious ecstasies, our most fervent beliefs, our moments of pure being, our strange battles in the night, our dreams, our best meals.

It may take a while scratching around on the surface to find those buried things and coax them up. But writing, if undertaken seriously, strips away layer after layer, making it more likely that something of this white-hot core of being will emerge. You scratch the ground year after year, hungrily looking for something good. You exhaust what is on the surface. You keep pawing away, you keep digging, you keep staring, you become uncomfortable in your chair, you think you hear a voice from beyond, you think you see the glimmer of a ghostly nightgown in your childhood home bending over you in your bed, you become distracted, you watch the dog moving about the yard — there is the dog draped like a courtesan on the deck, her head hanging over the redwood edge, eyes contemplating a bug traveling across the concrete step, white fur mottled in the shade of the camellia and the tea tree; you notice the yellow clover and green grass and lavender, the April air impossibly fresh and clean, and suddenly you realize you have scratched away and scratched away and have found traces of a lost world and then been hurtled back into the present, and you find — what? You find the family dog under a flawless sky watching a bug move across the step. You find that you exist! It may seem like not much, but it’s a beginning. And tomorrow you can go again in search of that ghostly white nightgown.

This may take many years.

In the meantime I don’t believe you are ever wasting your own time by writing. Some people might think you are wasting theirs, but that’s their problem.

In scale and degree our suffering as creative people is barely perceptible compared with the suffering of those who are tortured in gulags and burned in the streets and kept in prisons because of what they dare say, or write, or think, or sing.

Dear Cary,

By many measures I am a successful designer. I live in a beautiful home, take my daughters on wonderful vacations, and have some money put away for retirement. But my sister is in the same business and has become rich at it. In fact, she is famous. In fact, you unquestionably know her work and probably make use of products she has designed in your home. My daughters say nice things about my designs; they go wild over their aunt’s. Just tonight I learned that she has made a lucrative deal for a new line of products.

My problem is the constant sense that I’m just not good enough, not the artist I wanted to be, and certainly not the artist my sister is. It has poisoned my life for many, many years. Cognitive therapy has helped, but only temporarily. My sister and I are very close, and our relationship, at least, is not poisoned by my jealousy — just my heart.

I’ll go a step farther here. If I took my sister out of the picture, I would still be disappointed with my work.

Do you have any words of enlightenment that might help me not to feel emptiness where pride and satisfaction should be? Where reading about my sister’s latest triumph doesn’t lay me out for a day?

The Younger and Less Talented Sister

Dear Younger and Less Talented Sister,

Stop beating yourself up! Jesus! Just stop it!

Come on, now. You have to fight your way out of this. You have to fight this bitchy, soul-killing voice. Get mad at it. Tell it to go fuck itself. Banish it. Get it out of your head. It doesn’t belong there.

Replace it with something good. The minute you hear that voice in your head that says you’ve wasted your life doing mediocre design, say out loud, “I am a designer. I am an artist. I make honest work. I make a living at my work! I’m a good designer! I do good work!”

Just like you, I beat myself up until I’m black and blue because I’m not the guy who wrote The Corrections, even though I couldn’t even read The Corrections. I couldn’t read A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius either, but I’d like to be Dave Eggers. Why would I want to be Dave Eggers? Because I’m a sick fucker, that’s why. Because I hate myself. And I have to stop doing that. I have to love myself.

I have to love myself because loving myself is the only thing that stands between me and suicide. I love myself because other people love me, and I’ve got no right not to. So I do. I love myself immoderately and without delay. I love myself without recompense, without reason, without state sponsorship or licensing, without writing a proposal first or getting a grant, without getting dressed up and taking a shower, without calling ahead to find out what time I should love myself, without buying a bottle of wine and some flowers first, without shining my shoes and clipping my nails. I love myself because there are people like you and me all over the world beating themselves up because their sister made more money, because their sister is more perfect, because everybody loves their sister better. Jesus, woman! Love yourself! Take the afternoon off. Pick up something you’ve made and admire it. Spend all day admiring it. Don’t criticize it. Don’t pick it apart. You made it. You are a creative person. You don’t control the market. You don’t even control your creativity. It’s a gift. Take care of it.

Love yourself because you’ve got no choice. It’s that or end up in an institution where they hand you your meds in a little cup from a window.

I know I’m not Dostoyevsky or even Paddy Chayefsky. I’m a guy with a mortgage and hungry dogs. I love myself because the alternative is not an option. I talk to God unabashedly and say, What’s up, you fucker? What fresh hell have you so graciously arranged for me today? I bless myself. I say, Bless you, fuckhead; bless you, my son. Let’s see you make it through this day without driving off a cliff. Let’s see you smile in line at the grocery store and try to make small talk with the cashier. Let’s see you ride all the way from here to the ocean with murderous voices murmuring in your skull. Good morning, fuckhead. Bless you for another day. What do you think this is, the Ritz?

Considering the sufferings of others helps us forget our own fears as we go onstage or send out our writing.

The murderous voice says, Do you, Cary Tennis, take this existence to be your lawful wedded life? And I say, I do. And do you, Life, take this man to be your impoverished and humble obedient slave, to breathe in and out until God knows what unholy combination of stress, disease, cell mutations, poison, decay, and entropy forces him finally to take one last, dark half breath? And Life says, Yeah, sure. Why not? And so we go on, me and my weary bride of a life, two ragged beggars hiding behind the Safeway looking for cans and cigarette butts.

I know. I do exaggerate. I have a good if perilous middle-class existence. And so do you. But in our hearts, if we are artists, we are hungry and desperate. That is utterly normal. That is the condition of the creative person, to be hungry and desperate without moderation. Our job is to continue in our crazy journey with immoderate and unearned joy in our hearts and to keep creating things, immoderately and without delay, desperately, beyond all reason.

But let’s talk reasonably here just for a minute before I jump off a cliff. Why did cognitive therapy help you only temporarily? Is that because you practiced it only temporarily? Are you practicing it now? Are you still using the tools that got you some relief? You have to do it every day. It won’t work if you stop. So start doing it again. If you’re still using cognitive therapy but it isn’t working anymore, work at it harder. It worked once. You have to keep doing it, or the dysfunctional voices of self-hatred and despair will happily come back. You have to keep them at bay. It’s a maintenance thing. Keep at it.

Don’t give the negative thoughts a chance. Kill them unmercifully. And don’t idolize your sister so much. She’s a designer just like you.

OK. Enough of this. Get back to work.