Shades of Gray

“I haven’t heard anything from you in awhile,” she said, her voice trailing off towards the end of her sentence like an invitation to respond. And, when I didn’t: “Things slowing down over there?” I let the white noise of our phones fill the air for what seemed like long enough, until I exhaled – inhaled:

People think of progress as a straight line – that progressing is just taking a big step to the next cobblestone on the path, and once you’re there, you can rejoice because now you’ve made it, and everyone can see. You are no longer where you once were, and now, everyone can see.  Because, really, that’s the gauge of progress – that metric which decides if we get an A+ on our weekly, monthly, yearly report, turned in and recited to whomever it is we report. I want the A+, so I’ll mention the concrete – the things that I can refer to and say, “Here’s my project, it’s forecast, and possible return on investment,” accompanied by a timeline of when I believe these so-called returns might be taking place, so that whoever is grading me can say, “Oh, that sounds promising.” Then we shake hands and sign off: I get the approval that I think I need, and the other walks away with the belief that time wasn’t wasted and he or she can rest easy knowing that I’m making a real effort.

And, that is how it works in a lot of cases when there are quantifiable factors at play that blink in red when they fall below a certain value. But, unfortunately (in some instances, and fortunately in others), a creative doesn’t have a blinking red light to tell him, “This is leading nowhere – invest in alternative strategies,” or, “Try something else because this won’t resonate.” Sure, there are market trends to analyze, methodologies that people swear by, and pieces of tangible evidence to measure success, but when it comes to the art itself, the black and white of numbers and graphs tends to blur into a swirling mass of gray. And, that’s what an artist deals in – different shades of gray that come together and hopefully convey what he or she intended. It’s a craft that takes time to improve – to realize which shades of gray are your favorite, which complement each other effectively, which are best for the art that you create, and so on.

That’s the progress that’s difficult to document and the progress that goes unreported when striving for that sought-after A+ on your report card. That’s the progress made on a song you’ll never hear because I’ll never release it. That’s the progress made in the hours of perfecting a minor detail that only I’ll notice. That’s the progress made when you may not hear something from me for a while because that’s the progress that symbolizes growth, and that’s the progress that matters.

I started listing the things I’d done in the past month that I thought would have some value to her: “I wrote a song with [insert name she may have heard of] who wrote [insert song she may have heard of] and worked with [insert name of big artist she may have heard of], and I think it’s got a good chance to get picked up by a major artist. We’ll see what happens,” letting my voice trail off and crossing my fingers for the A+. “Oh, that sounds promising,” she said, and I went on with my recital.