My friend Ralph, who doesn’t mind my talking about this, is way out of shape. His personal coach, Alberto, is a ladder-chested ex-lightweight boxer with blinding white teeth and lots of hair. Alberto comes over to Ralph’s twice a week. Sometimes they work out on Ralph’s expensive equipment. At other times Alberto drives him in his Beemer to an upscale gym. Personally, I’d say Ralph’s still the same. Maybe not. Maybe he’s bigger.
“Tennis players got ’em, why not you?” Ralph says. He’d like me to book Alberto, but Alberto’s booked solid, just one of many solidly-booked Albertos around here.
It’s no surprise when people ask me to be their personal coach. It happened again only yesterday. The lady was talking art, not abs. Come to think of it, a lot of us buffs are in demand. So I was thinking of all the inefficiency and disappointment that must ride on Ralph and Alberto’s contract. And while I like the idea of tailored guidance, I rather wanted to offer a more general workout. A sort of “Jenny Craig Success Course of the Arts.” Mine’s free. Here it is:
Find a sanctuary where you can comfortably work.
Dedicate at least two hours a day to your art.
Have more than enough equipment and supplies.
Set short- and long-term goals and keep track of progress.
Think of your work as exercise, not championship play.
Explore series development and exhaust personal themes.
Work alone with the benefit of books and perhaps tapes.
Replace passive consumption with creative production.
Use your own intuition and master your technology.
Feel the joy of personal, self-generated sweat.
Fall in love with your own working processes.
Be forever on the lookout for the advent of style.
Try to be your own person and claim your rights.
Don’t bother setting yourself up for rejection.
Don’t swing too wildly and damage the well-being of others.
Don’t jump into the ring until you’re feeling fit.
If you can stick with this regimen for a couple of months, I can pretty well guarantee your progress. If not, then at least the exercise will let you know the job’s not for you. We all have the potential to be barrel-chested, rich, satisfied or evolved.
PS: “The man who goes alone can start today.” (Henry David Thoreau)
Esoterica: “I decided to learn everything I could about beans,” said Thoreau when he moved to Walden Pond. Artists looking for inspiration can’t go far wrong with Thoreau. Self-reliance, there’s your personal coach. I’ve noticed most of the real success stories happen without benefit of Albertos. We all need to find the character within ourselves to overcome our weaknesses and build our muscles.
This letter was originally published as “Personal coach” on September 28, 2007.
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“You cannot dream yourself into a character; you must hammer and forge yourself one.” (Henry David Thoreau)
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