Life is hard on the art show circuit. When a customer came into my booth and looked at my art and said, “I wish I had your life. You get to make your art all the time. What a wonderful, easy life!” I’d smile and say, “It’s wonderful to work on what you love for a living.” While that was true, it was not always what I wanted to say.
I didn’t say, “Try standing on your feet on cement floors for three days in a row, 10 hours a day, then make sure you find healthy food.”
I never said, “If you haven’t done 21 shows in 52 weeks, eaten Thanksgiving dinner with strangers, loaded your art and the booth into your van during a snowstorm, thunderstorm or in 95-degree heat, while the regulations make you park half a mile away, you don’t get to talk.”
I thought it all, but I never said it. I chose the life of an artist, and that means I chose all the consequences with it. Including “Suck it up and drive.”
Maybe your family had a similar saying. It means, “Stop complaining and get on with what needs to be done.” It means you have to do what needs to be done, even if you don’t feel like it, are tired, sick, or have a broken bone. I’ve loaded my booth and art into a van, a four-hour strenuous job, after standing up for three days. Then, exhausted and sweaty, I’ve driven four hours to get closer to the next show before I look for a hotel. I’ve set up with duct tape covering a cut that needed two stitches, with a 102-degree fever, with an arm in a cast.
Suck it up and drive. It’s serious. It’s your life and your work. When you work for yourself, there are perks and there are tough spots.
During our move, I saw my husband do a “suck it up and drive” that astonished me. At 4 p.m. we realized that all our possessions might fit in the truck, but not the motorcycles. We couldn’t leave them behind, having a company trailer them out is prohibitively expensive, and the closing was the next day, so we couldn’t leave them overnight. Nothing to do but rent another truck, one with a ramp.
A rental truck van has a ramp, but it’s about 3 feet wide, angles up at about 45 degrees and is tough to walk up, let alone push a 500-pound bike up. My husband and his friend Don considered the situation, then angled the truck so the ramp sat on the sidewalk, reducing the angle to about 35 percent. Before you think this sounds easy, remember that the steepest hill you’ve ever driven over on a paved road is not more than 16 degrees.
My husband’s job was to drive three motorcycles (our two and Don’s) up that ramp. At 11 o’clock at night. Because it was parked on our walkway, there was no run-up. My husband had to gun the engine, drive it up a swaying, 3-foot wide ramp, and then brake. The truck was not the big 26-footer, it was considerably smaller. I saw him start to sweat. On the first run, the engine died. A bike that’s moving forward stays upright. A bike that stops wants to lie down. This was my bike, at 504 pounds dry, and the way you steady it is to put your feet down on the ground. Except the ramp was narrow, and his feet missed. He has an amazing body-mind connection, so he let the bike roll backward until his feet touched the ground. I could see his heart pounding through his soaking T-shirt.
But he did it. Not once, but three times. He did not complain. The second and third bikes had a lot less space to maneuver, because there were already bikes in the way. He loaded all three bikes without a scratch to any of them. It was the best “Suck it up and drive” I’ve ever seen.
Don locked them into the rack he’d built, and strapped them in so they wouldn’t move. He loosened the handlebars so they wouldn’t hit each other on the trip.
My husband didn’t brag, didn’t complain, didn’t tell me I owed him. In a marriage that survived the decision to start over more than once, made it through each of our decisions to leave the corporate life and open a business, undergo a cross-country move, live apart for 10 months, have me go ahead and start my business, support him when he gets here and has to start up his business, there is too much “owe me” for either one to tally. The next day, he climbed in the 26-foot van, Don into the bike van, and they headed West. As I write this, they are in Oklahoma, still driving West, four days later. They have another three days ahead of them.
We made the decision to move to have a better life. To enjoy the years we have left. To enjoy creativity in very different ways. And to do that, you have to suck it up and drive.