That isn’t supposed to be grim. I’m not excited about the term. Yet that’s what the guru on the podcast said.
A good friend suggested that we become accountability buddies, each helping the other one remember his goals, and follow-up with each other on a regular basis. It’s something I wanted but didn’t know how to ask for and something I’m glad to do but didn’t know how to offer. He’s already exceeded my expectations by making a podcast recommendation right out of the gate: he asked me to listen to an episode of “Design Matters” from November 2020. Author Seth Godin discusses his book “The Practice: Shipping our Creative blr blr blr” (I don’t remember the sub-title verbatim) with podcast host Debbie Millman. I’m not going to summarize the whole thing, just offer a citation for anyone who wants to dive deeper. My friend and I might be reading the book together and I’m inviting anyone who’s interested to join us…
The salty ‘rub’ was this: there will never be a satisfying assurance of success.
You can’t get in shape to run without running. You can’t become a musician without playing. I understood that. I may even understand that I can’t become a writer without writing but what prevents me from writing FEELS different. My best guess is that it’s because drafts can be saved~ it always feels like there is going to be a better time or a time I’ll be more prepared, or any number of a host of procrastination excuses that seem to be about quality but are really about energy. None of those “blocks” make any sense for an athlete or a musician~ I’m afraid to lose my lips as surely as I’m afraid to lose my legs. The physicality of running and trumpeting — the steepest barriers, ironically — helps me to appreciate the value of practicing. Even when I suck.
You have to SUCK, first, to ever be good at something and I never wanted to be a bad poet.
I convinced myself I didn’t want to be a poet AT ALL, using reasoning that’s fundamentally baseless. I told myself there wasn’t a “market” or “audience” for that kind of writing but I don’t have any evidence of that. I simply thought I had a better chance of never being a bad story-teller or never being a bad essayist so I was more willing to write stories and essays. In the end, I wrote more essays than anything else and (practically) nobody reads them. The world needs my poetry, not my essays, but I’m afraid of all the failures that stand between me and poetry that will matter to someone other than me.
Back to the “salty rub” as I called it: no assurances. I don’t just mean no guarantees. Those are two different things! A guarantee is the promise of an outcome; it’s performative. An assurance is someone else expressing confidence in an outcome for me. I’m not a child: I know there are no guarantees. I wanted to feel assured. When people assure me, the feeling doesn’t last long enough. Assurance isn’t the right place to start the creative process. It’s fundamentally unneeded, too: the only guarantee is that I’ll need to practice before I experience triumph.
All this time I wondered if there was another lesson from musicianship that could break my writing free. No, it’s just the same lesson: tolerate sucking, get better at practicing, never gain mastery but find beauty despite all the crap.
The difference this time is that I’m trying not to feel reassured at all.
I don’t want an encouraging word because I can’t depend on it. I don’t want the preponderance of evidence because there’s always more evidence to be gathered. I’m getting used to the idea that what other people think matters in a different way than I used to think it did. Maybe that sounds vague right now but I’m not going to be the idiot who says “what other people think doesn’t matter” because others have messages and helpful feedback for me. I’m also not going to be the dope who says “if nobody else likes what I’m doing, it doesn’t have value”. That’s also not true.
There is no opus. An opus is a curse. There’s no piece that will secure my legacy. My art has to be happening, right now, or it doesn’t count. That’s where this idea of “shipping” comes in: Godin says put it out into the world. He doesn’t say to watch the cash and the clicks piling-up… just ship the shit. Take some risks. Make some crap. Fail with or without assurances.
…but have friends who guard your back. Not people who tell you everything is going to be okay, nor people who find flaws alone. Hopefully, some of the friends who guard our backs have insights for how to improve the art. Even if they don’t, there is something better than assurance: accompaniment. Godin didn’t use that word but I’ll say it again: accompaniment. I want to be accompanied and I want to accompany.
All of this is a preface of what is to come. I’m process-writing this, hacking through the jungle of so-called “writers’ block” and just… sucking. I’m looking for my NEW voice. The voice I’ve had isn’t authentic to me anymore. I’m not even a fan, per se.
No, I want a new voice. I can’t find it. I can’t buy it. I must cultivate it. Godin says we have to put ourselves ‘on the hook’ to create even when we don’t feel inspired. To self-inspire by inspiring? That’s where I’m at.
The only way to cultivate a voice is to make it speak and sing.
If I don’t jam, I can’t become CactusPearJams.