By Steven Pressfield | Published: December 4, 2013
This happened in New York, can’t remember what year. Early one frozen morning, I’m schlepping home from somewhere—probably a girlfriend had kicked me out—and I find myself on 53rd Street passing the Museum of Modern Art. There’s a line out front.
If you’re a New Yorker, you’re like a Russian during the Stalin era. You see a line, you get on it. A line means something good is happening. There must be, or people wouldn’t be lining up waiting for it. Even better this particular morning, the line is short. Six people. That means I’ll be up front. I’ll get into the museum ahead of just about everybody.
I get in line.
Time is about eight-thirty. Temperature ten degrees. Wind chill twenty below. No problem. I’ve got my sport coat, got a scarf.
In a line I’m like Louis C.K. I talk to people. “Freakin’ arctic, eh man?” “Yeah, coming down outa Canada.”
“The show’s free, right?”
“Yeah, see the sign?”
In the line we’re stomping our feet, jamming our hands into our pockets.
“Anybody had breakfast yet?”
I volunteer to run to the Greek deli. Ten minutes later I’m back with bagels and bialys, hot coffee in the blue-and-white cups with the Parthenon on the side. Now the line is up to about fifty people. Wow, this is great, I’m ahead of forty-four people now.
“What time do the doors open?”
“Somebody said eleven.”
It’s nine now. No problem. I can do two hours standing on my head.
Which I do.
Eleven comes. No doors open. The line is up to 200 now, we’re all freezing our asses off.
A museum guy comes out. “Doors open at twelve.”
WTF. I should go home. My feet are numb. This is nuts. But I’ve invested almost three hours.
“Show’s free, right?”
I hang in for another forty minutes. Fifty. Fifty-five. “By the way, what show are we waiting for?”
“You’re kidding me.”
“I saw it last week.”
Now I’m totally disgusted. Why didn’t I ask earlier? I’ve lost all sensation below my knees. I gotta go home. I’m gonna catch pneumonia.
Except now I’ve waited almost four hours. So what if I’ve seen the show already? It’s still Cezanne. Still great.
I endure till twelve. Doors open, the line surges forward.
“Twenty bucks,” says the museum guy.
“What? You said it was free!”
“You a member?”
I go home and blow the rest of the day.
This is how I lived my life for years and years. I drifted through the day at the mercy of chance and happenstance. Whatever came along, I did it. And this was before texting and tweeting and FOMO.
If you’re a writer or an artist, you can’t live like that.
You have to run your day. You can’t let your day run you.
You must roll out of bed each morning with an unshakeable focus and intention. Your novel, your start-up, your movie. That’s your day. That’s why you’re here.
You can’t yield to distractions and temptations. You must be like the Blues Brothers.
You’re on a mission from God.
Who is in charge of your day? You are!
Not that I really mind having stood in that line outside MOMA. It was fun. I was an idiot, and that’s what idiots do.
But at some point those days have to end. You, the artist, must end them.
Cezanne himself went to museums, I’m sure. He stood in line. He moved through gallery rooms with crowds of other art lovers. But he did it with a focus and an intention. And when he was done, he went home to his studio and got to work.