I was out walking today and saw a Civil War trench. Living outside Atlanta, I get so used to seeing these trenches that I almost forget about them. It feels like they’re everywhere, and I begin to take for granted that these trenches represented real soldiers and real lives that were at stake. But whether or not we remember them, the trenches are real, just as the battle was real.
A few miles away from where I walked is a battlefield park. Trenches are there, too, similar to the one I saw today. In the park are signs explaining this network of hastily built trenches and the important role they played in nineteenth century warfare. More signs are beside the park trenches, reminding us that Civil War artifacts are fragile and we should take great care not to walk in them so as to preserve them for future visitors.
But the trench I saw today had no signs. Does that make it any less important?
Being an artist I can’t help but see the similarities. On rare occasions, making art is electric as you sense the lightning bolt of inspiration. But most of the time, creating feels a lot like digging ditches. Shovel by shovel, inspiration turns to reality by the agonizing process of accretion.
It is so tempting to throw up your hands when it gets like this. You start to wonder what’s the point? You go to the bookstore and see stacks and stacks of books and wonder why the world needs yours. You listen to the radio and everything sounds the same, and yet you go and listen to the tune you’ve been writing and you kind of hate it.
Who ever said making art was supposed to feel like work?
Whether the ditch you’re digging ends up getting remembered for future generations or not is besides the point. Remember that this ditch you’re sweating over could end up being the trench that protects someone during a battle you could never understand. Or maybe somebody like me will walk by it one day and stop to wonder. But thinking of the end result only gets in the way.
Forget the end – embrace the process.
Just keep digging.