I am still recovering from the nervous breakdown and thinking of what caused it. One thing that's been in my mind a lot is the lack of success I'm experiencing. I wouldn't say failure – because I haven't failed unless I stop trying (or die) – but I've been trying so long now and success is still not in sight!
What do I mean by success? And success with what? Well … with what I'm doing. Most of you will have an idea what I'm about. I paint and write – and I would love to have success with that. I define success for myself as simply reaching the point where I'm good as well as appreciated. In my art, I think I'm fairly good – but not yet as good as I want to be. Much of my recent work is in my own opinion sorely lacking … I am aiming for something far higher than what I am achieving. And it's not for lack of work. I really put a lot of effort into everything I draw or paint. But I'm feeling as if I'm stuck in a dead end. I have been doing this for so long, I have so much practice already … I don't know what else to do so as to get better still!
Another aspect is appreciation. I do not make my art just for myself. It is so that I enjoy doing something that in my own estimation is good. I like looking at my own art, the best of it. So I am getting some personal satisfaction from it. But also I make my art for other people. I want other people to appreciate it as well. My art … what I am really, really targeting, is making things that people can look at that they like and that makes them feel good. After days with lots of nonsense and negativity I would like people to be able to relax and look at my art and feel better about the world.
I want to show just how much beauty and wonder there is in the world – for me this means the living world, all those other living beings sharing the planet with us. We know so little about them. With my art I want to do something about that, showing people things they otherwise won’t see and will know very little about. I focus my art on the lesser-known creatures. So there's a goal to educate. Also to encourage appreciation, and ultimately I hope my art can also be in service of conservation, safeguarding all these wonderful things. I know I'm not alone in this. There are so many excellent artists and photographers dedicating themselves to the living world, to the same task. I simply want to be *one of them*, one of the people doing good work for animals, plants and nature.
So … appreciation-wise … I simply want that there should be people who see my art and appreciate it. How many? As many as possible. A problem is … I don't know how many people my art reaches. And I will sort of always feel that it isn't enough. I have no idea how many people see my pictures and read my articles on h2g2. I have sort of an idea on DeviantArt, and there at least things seem to be going all right. But I still feel my art is not doing enough 'out there', that I am falling short of my goal, that I'm not measuring up.
What about money? This is at least part of what I think of in terms of success. Well, I am selling a good number of paintings. But I cannot ask much money for them. I can't bring myself to ask for them what I think they're worth. There's the economic situation in South Africa and the world. Being a poor person myself, I think that other people also don't have a lot of money to spend on art. And I want art to be affordable. So I sell my works for less than I think they're worth. Sometimes I feel guilty about that. If I sell my art cheap then I contribute towards a market of cheap art … meaning that other artists will then also have to sell their work for less than it's worth. But I still can't bring myself to ask lots of money for my work. Meanwhile I have to live, I have to eat, keep myself functional. I've been for a long time now living a 'bare bones' existence, allowing myself no luxuries whatsoever, not even a book or a movie every now and then. My minimalist lifestyle itself exacerbates the problem … I am living like an ascetic and feeling like a hermit, not a part of regular human society.
Anyways, so: artistically I feel I'm still very far from success.
Then there are my other endeavours. With them, I'm doing worse than with my art. There's my writing. I'm now working on the fifth novel in the Wavendreem's Garden series … at least, I'm supposed to be working on it. Since coming out of the clinic, I've not found myself able to think about it or to work on it. But I do have those four preceding books … still, no idea how to get them published. There's the novel I wrote before those also, tentatively titled 'Kilamol'. I have been thinking … though it is a weird thing I think I can whip it into publication-worthy shape. But haven't found the time or inclination for that, either …
There are my articles for the column 'Colours of Wildlife' on the Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy site. I've been thinking about trying to publish some of the best ones of those as a book. But haven't started on it yet.
There's my weight training book, tentatively titled 'Sane Bodybuilding'. The text is pretty much done, and most of the illustrations. I'm holding out on it a bit … since coming out of the clinic, I have joined a gym … after the breakdown I wasn't in good shape, and what I want to do is to get in the best shape of my life to make me feel 'worthy' of the book. I need to set an inspiring example after all.
But these are my main writing projects right now … I have to fit the writing and stuff in between my art and I feel I don't get enough time to dedicate to them.
Then there's my plant cultivation and conservation projects. I am presently in the position to help save at least three plant species from extinction. From my side I'm doing what I can but it hurts me on a deep and intimate personal level to see ongoing destruction of these plants' habitat. I don't have the political (or any other kind of) clout to stop the 'development' that is destroying the wild areas around my town where these unique species are found. And these wild areas are more than just the habitat of threatened species, they've also always been vital for my soul. Since I was a kid I have been hiking in these places to enjoy the beauty of nature and to get away from the mad world of people. There's nothing that's as good for my soul as getting out into the wild. So it hurts, in an agonizing and deep way, to see these places that have always been so important to me being destroyed. And I know that other people also need the wild. Perhaps I am more aware of it than most, but it is becoming recognized in the world of psychology that 'nature therapy' can help people immensely … people will all sorts of mental troubles.
But … it feels to me as if I am personally failing the plants and animals (and the people who need and aprpreciate them) because I can't stop these other people from destroying them. And it really, really hurts.
My insanely ambitious long-term goal with the plant work, is having my own botanic garden one day. At least, I want to be a curator, the one doing the planning and the planting and supervising the care-taking of everything. Someone else can be in charge of the money. I just want to deal with the plants. I am extremely well qualified … I already know how to grow a vast variety of things and I have a collection that I can easily expand enough to fill a large botanic garden with. I have contacts in the plant growing and conserving world; I can get rare species in an ethical way – for instance through projects collecting or 'rescuing' plants from places due for mining or other developments – and ethical collection of seeds from wild plants. I will also endeavour to connect with other botanic gardens in South Africa and worldwide.
But I don't know how to move closer to this goal that I have. I know I can do it! I just don't know how to get there from here.
So anyways. Those are my goals, the things I'm working on, and the things at which I am getting a frustrating sense of getting nowhere with. I am passionate about all those things and can't imagine my life without any one of them. I don't think these things are too much … I can juggle them so as to pay sufficient attention to all of them … or can I?
The stress I've been experiencing that ended up causing the nervous breakdown, are my doubts about whether I can do all that I have my heart set on. A big problem is that I 'believe in myself'. Yeah, just like we're instructed to do in all those pop-psychology articles. I believe I can achieve great success. But why am I not achieving success? It feels to me there's something I'm not seeing. I am still going at it all alone; I don't have a mentor, someone who watches me from the outside and can tell me if I'm doing all right, tell me if I'm doing things wrong, give me practical advice and guidance. Lacking an outside view of myself and what I'm working on, I don't know if what I'm doing is enough, I don't know if I should be happy about what I'm achieving. Instead I am plagued with terrible doubts, I feel I'm underachieving compared to my potential, I feel I am messing things up horribly. If I can do it, then why aren't I doing it? What am I doing wrong? I must work harder! But how? The doubt and uncertainty eats me up from the inside. It's a horrible feeling.
Meanwhile I'm still very alone, still very poor, still feeling estranged from all those 'normal' people out there.
And still very confused about my life and what it means and what it could amount to.