Suffering For Your Art

I have many, many people in my life that are musicians. Some I love as much as I love my own family. Being a musician is surely something only few can be prosperous at. And there are different levels of success. Some are completely happy to do it on the side while pursuing a regular job/career. Some dive in full force into it and hope that their hard work pays off. I’ve found people who work tirelessly at their craft and are completely content giving their music away and performing two or three times a year and others that put tours together that travel 20 states in 50 days doing 45 shows. What I’m getting at here is “success” means something different to all of these folks.

A few months ago, on Facebook, one of my friends that I met through music (he’s a very amazing pianist, himself, and an all around excellent human) shared a video of a gentleman that was clearly busking on the street. His voice was wavering, but he clearly knew his way around a guitar fretboard. He played with passion and in the video, he was unkept and appeared to be homeless. None of this bothers me at all – because hey, I don’t know his story and at least he’s out there doing what he can to get tips and he’s sharing his heart through music. I get it. I sooooo fucking get it. After seeing this video, something in my head clicked, but I didn’t know that it had clicked until about a month and a half later when we went to a pizza/beer joint with our kids and got up to leave.

As we were leaving the table and getting our coats on, my husband said, “Hey! There’s a guy out there busking!” This isn’t something you see every day in our town, so when it happens, you notice. I squinted my eyes and tried to focus through the misty, fogged up windows and, sure enough, it was Stan. To which I exclaimed, “Hey! That’s Stan!!!!!!!!!!!!” My husband was a little taken aback that I knew who this guy was, so I explained about the video that was shared. I immediately scrounged through my purse and found my only $5 and my husband looked through his wallet and found only a few ones. Our kids got in the car because it was raining pretty hard and breezy out and my husband and I walked across the street under a rooftop of a closed, vacant business where Stan was playing. He was in mid-song, but I totally (and probably rudely) blurted out, “HI! Are you Stan?! I have seen video’s of you on Facebook!” I told him my name, we introduced with hugs and we listened to him sing a song of his choosing to us that fit the situation we were experiencing. I hadn’t heard it before and just wanted to appreciate his gift in the rain on a cold November night. We told him thank you and that we enjoyed his playing and gave him our contributions and hoped that it would give him gas money or a warm meal.

It’s been a few months since that meeting with Stan. One three occasions we have been able to contribute to Stan, who we learned has lost most of everyone in his family. His Father’s last wish was that Stan pursue music. Stan took that to mean that he needs to do that and nothing else and he is suffering for his art. My friend that posted the video and I have chatted on a few occasions regarding Stan. Before getting too involved, I wanted to know how much he knew about him, which wasn’t much, other than he is living in his van and plays music on the street – I was told he seemed like a very intelligent guy and he was not into drugs or boozing his way through life, which made me feel pretty comfortable about trying to help him more than that one encounter on the street after the pizza.

I’ve had several conversations with Stan and have seen him a few times over these last few months. We stumbled into him while meeting someone at a coffee shop one time – we exchanged hugs, we made sure he had a large hot coffee to keep him warm. Chatting with my friend that originally shared the video he told us that his most requested need, the thing that helps him get through really rough nights are hand warmers. The ones that fit inside of gloves or socks? Anyway, we bought him a whole case of those, wrapped them up for Christmas and drove around town trying to find him to give them to him along with a pair of fingerless gloves. Another time, someone had gifted him a portable propane heater and he asked on Facebook if anyone had any propane cylinders. We hadn’t been camping in FOREVER so I rummaged through our camping equipment and found 3 of them and met him at a coffee shop so that he could have them – the weather was bitter then, around 20 degrees and living in a van that you barely had money to pay for gas with all of his busking money – my daughter and I bought him a gigantic cup of coffee to get his insides warm and we sat and chatted for awhile. He’s very present and intelligent. Not out of it in any way. He seems genuine and caring and – yes, if you’ve been on the street for awhile, I’d guess that you figure out pretty quickly what people respond positively to, but I didn’t get the feeling that what he was showing us was an act. I think he sees beauty in the world, has fallen on rough times with losing his family and relocated to Washington State from New York to escape the frigid winters there. He told us about the farm he lived on where the snow drifts would get 8 feet tall and the old farm house they lived in. How he worked side-by-side with his grandpa. Sometimes, it’s nice to not pass these people by and to actually invest a little time.

He’s chosen a path that not many would choose. Stan told me that he is a very talented vehicle technician. He’s worked on import cars. Yet, he chooses to suffer for his art and not seek work outside of playing on the streets .

His latest rant on Facebook had something to do with me. I posted “Those that say money can’t buy happiness, clearly haven’t purchased a plane ticket to Hawaii.” We are planning our 25th anniversary trip to Maui this summer. So, naturally, I’m looking at airfares almost daily. ANYWAY – he saw this post on Facebook and he clicked the “like” button. His response was his own status message shortly afterwards:

Those that say money cant buy happiness are assholes who have NEVER had to choose between eating and fuel. With as much kindness as i can manage i say: go screw yourself.

To which I apologized (after he liked my status message) if I pissed him off in any way with my post. I have tons of Facebook friends and he took offense, which was not my intent. Sometimes we forget when we are making snide, cheeky comments that others aren’t as fortunate as we are. Does that mean I’m not going to share my life with those on Facebook? Fuck no. I’ll still share vacation pictures and all the other things that I get to experience because of my hard work and determination to make a good life for myself and my family. Unfortunately, Stan has made his choice to suffer for his art. Or maybe it’s not unfortunate at all. Maybe he wants to live life having a pity party – which seems harsh to say, but after seeing more comments that he posted , it’s exactly what he’s asking for.

He complains about working 18 hours a day, playing his music until his fingers bleed. Cinching his belt tighter and tighter. Making $1.75/day. To me, that is insanity. He’s clearly able to live better. He truly is. Yet, he chooses to suffer for his art. He doesn’t have gas money to keep his van on the road. I’ve invited him to house shows, so that he can get out of the cold, get some food – because GOD KNOWS – we have so much, it’s embarrassing. But, I cannot be the one that supports him fully. I just can’t. Sure, we go out to dinner a lot. We go on vacations. We have insurance and jobs and own our home and have two cars and can get gas whenever we need it, but I cannot adjust my life and the way I share things on social media because Stan can’t handle other peoples happiness or good fortune. But…


And it upsets me deeply that I can’t do more. It really does. You have no idea how many times I have kept myself awake at night thinking of ways to talk to him and try to get him placed at a job. Or even if I could somehow get his van in the back yard so he can be safe, instead of who knows where he goes at night. But, I need to take a step back and realize that maybe he just needs to live like this. I have enough respect for how other people live their lives to not butt in and try to solve all their problems outwardly – no matter how much I want to and dream of doing it internally.

My husband described it as “victim mentality”. But I’m not so sure about that. I may never know. He may never make it out of here finding the success that makes him happy. Or maybe he will. And that is how I’m going to have to look at it. Maybe he will.

I suspect I’m not the only person that he will affect in his life by his story.


6 thoughts on “Suffering For Your Art

  1. Peabea says:

    Seems you followed your heart with kindness toward him. I agree, no apologies needed for the hard work that gets that vacation or whatever other luxuries. There are some happy things that money does buy like one of the happiest times for me was when my daughter bought tickets to fly her and I out to California to see my son’s family and youngest grandbabykins. First time I’d ever flown, first time I’d ever been out West, and that money bought beauty to my eyes because it was so pretty with the mountains and scenery compared to where I live that is all flat. In the context of your post, you were not saying money was the be all so he clearly misunderstood.

    • sassypanties says:

      Yes. I remember that trip you took! I was and AM so happy for you.

      I feel badly for Stan. I want things to be easier for him. I wish he could be steady and have his dreams fulfilled. But I cannot do that for him. I realize that. I think he has had s really rough time of it lately. I think he needed to rant a little. I just feel badly that it was me, that set him off. It’s hard to see so many people “with” while you’re struggling “without”. I wish he would open his eyes and see that it doesn’t have to be this hard.

  2. Luke Otley says:

    Interesting post. I respect you did so much for this man. Your conflict with him seems misguided, or I am not reading it correctly. It seems to me that you were both agreeing on the same thing. You were saying money could buy happiness (plane ticket) he was saying people who believe that money CAN’T buy happiness are assholes — correct me if I’m wrong. Probable it was more clear for you that it was transferred to this blog post.

    However I’m not sure I agree with the last sentiments of the post. There’s a big stretch between struggling for food and living an upper middle class lifestyle (and i’m happy for you and reward your achievements).

    I think what some people who are satisfied with their careers, or if not their actual jobs then the benefits of these careers, don’t seem to grasp is that people have different values all over the world. For example: if I have to work 30 hours a week in a mundane job but don’t appreciate or want the consumer luxuries this affords me, and I have no family to provide for- why should I want that job? Why should I work past the bare necessities of survival for a gadget or clothing I have no interest in?

    This is something I have struggled with mentally in the workplace, and I don’t know if he is the same case as me – everyone is different. I’m not homeless but I get branded as work shy for wanting to work as little as possible, just because I don’t want the same things (or as many things) as is expected in Western capitalist consumer driven society.

    Please do not see this as a personal attack on you, I respect anyone’s right to live however they like and enjoy whatever they like — and I’m not even defending Stan, he may have been acting like an asshole for whatever reason — just sharing my views.

    Thank you for the post and the discussion, I wish you all the best.


    • sassypanties says:

      Luke, I am so glad you jumped in. I think his status message was meant as written…but I also saw his comments afterward:
      It wasn’t you. Its everyone. No discrimination. No one owes me anything. But i dont deserve to be humiliated for giving my all while suffering for it. Im sick of being left out on the street. 5 of my so called friends have had house shows charging money at the door and advertising. Not one has invited me to play. Yet they say they love my music. They say i inspire them. Ita bullshit all of it. Action speaks, words are empty. I got stuck here in winter, it wasnt my plan but it happened. Now everyone watches as i suffer without even one offer of help. I do not include you in this, i barely know you. Im just sick of everything.

      I recently had a house show we had booked for months and have another booked in April. We invited Stan, thinking it would be a warm place where there was lots of food, people he could connect with and tell his story to. I don’t know if that was me helping or being selfish, since he puts his thoughts out there. My intent was pure and I wanted those things for him that night -he said he would come, but didn’t. And I told him if gas was an issue, I’d love to bring him $20 so he could come.

      But back to my post…I totally understand what you are saying. My writing style lacks structure sometimes.

      I guess, I just want him to find success and live more comfortably. I know he wants that too. The definition of insanity is doing to same thing over and over and expecting a different result. If his ability is there to help him live even a degree more comfortably, my wish is that he do that…even if temporary. Not go after the supporters that he *does* have in such a way that makes us feel bad that we aren’t doing more, you know?

      I’d love for people that I love to all be happy with whatever makes them passionate about life. Even if that’s playing a guitar in the dead of a Northwest winter for $1.75 a day. If it worked and was enough, this post would never have been written.

      I’m really thankful you took time to read and post s comment. And, I don’t take offense to anything you wrote nor feel attacked. Just grateful.

  3. tiredwife says:

    I think you have an amazing heart to care like you do. Perhaps it’s uncharitable of me, but I don’t think I would (or could?) be as giving to him as you are. Maybe it’s my line of work, where I see people with the power to change their circumstances for the better, but who choose not to because of (Insert reason here). This is also why I have a huge problem with death bed promises. They aren’t fair. I’m sure his dad didn’t mean for him to give up his entire life for music, but that’s how he interpreted it.

    Reading your post, I really wonder if some sort of mental health issue is behind a lot of this. Not the overt, in your face psychosis, but something more subtle and quiet. Something that causes a hyper-focus and does not allow him to focus on other things.

    It’s a sad situation, but it’s also frustrating, I think. Reading what he wrote, is that he is tired of being on the street, and jealous of his friends successes, but he will not change his circumstances unless it happens for him on his musical terms. He says no one owes him anything, but he complains that his friends are not asking him to play and no one will help him. I’m not sure he even knows what he is doing any more

    • sassypanties says:

      I agree with all of what you say, I think. The last sentence especially. But, he’s tired, worn out, hungry, and trapped – which would probably make any one of us feel the exact same way.

      I’ll never be satisfied with my level of involvement, I fear. And this post from yesterday that he posted….if he was anywhere close to any edge when he typed it, I would suspect he will be pushed over it by some of the comments that were left for him.

      It’s a tough thing, to want to help people that may not have the same ideas as you. He has been at the forefront of my mind since I met him. And I just don’t think I can help him the way he wants or needs to be helped, so I’m going to just back off.

      Thanks for commenting. I appreciate reading your thoughts on this. I really do.

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