In high school, I was one of the artsy fartsies. A couple of highly irresponsible teachers—bless them—encouraged me to pursue art in the Big Bad World. Many people will tell you the surest way to kill any creative impulse is to study it at a post-secondary level! And there's some truth in that. What a smack in the face it was, then, to a wet 21-year-old grad to step out into said Big Bad World with no clue how to eke out A LIVING. Let me tell you, there's nothing romantic about the starving artist. Scoffing convenience store sandwiches and sleeping on hostel mattresses will shake the romance out of you pretty fast. Any dreams I had of waltzing into a publisher's office in London were squashed when I realized an entry job required me to make someone else coffee for free. Since I couldn't afford to intern, I did what most English grads do - I took a job temping. All the while my soul recoiled and shrunk until it was a sad sorry scrap of a thing. More of a sole, really. The kind that's gone grey with residual gum and dog turd.
Many years later I started writing again. It felt good to express myself without seeing my words DECONSTRUCTED in a dank room full of assholes. There was no one grading. No one critiquing my thoughts. I remember the first time someone paid for my writing. I think it was $30USD, but you'd think I had cracked the 649! I was delirious at my good fortune. Never mind that it could be blown on a single trip to Starbucks. Then I got a part-time writing gig. It wasn't grand or highbrow, but it was writing. I felt like the luckiest woman alive. People were reading what I wrote, and I was being paid to do it. Doesn't get much better. Except it does. Another zero appeared after that $30, give or take. The bylines got bigger and fancier. After the Washington Post, the bar kept moving. It had to.
And with that win came bags of insecurity. If I wrote something, not only did it have to sell, it had to sell where I wanted to sell it. And in the Big Bad World, sometimes people weren't buying. The pressure built up and sucked the metaphorical wind out of my metaphorical writing sails. Writing under a kind of self-flagellating duress was no fun. What's more, writing under duress makes for shitty writing. Time to take a step back. I love creating, whether it's painting or writing, but these days I steel myself with the gentle reminder that creativity is its own reward. It has to be. The minute you start trying to attain or achieve, the magic fairy dust goes up in a puff.
For a lot of people, the pandemic has been a rich, fertile time of self-expression. Alas, the muse may have been all over hell's creation, but for most of this year, she sure as wasn't banging down my door! The fact is, there is so much talent in the world. I need only spend a nanosecond on Instagram to be reminded that there are folks out there who are infinitely more talented than me. And that's ok. There's room for everybody and every unique expression. I'm not in competition with anyone, except myself (and I'm trying to bow out of that battle as gracefully as I can). Every now and then my son asks if I've been published in the Times yet? Because, like, Mom, EVERYONE'S A NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER. Talk about jamming a finger in the bruise. Honestly, the kid speaks with a pure and innocent tongue. He has no inkling of how high and ridiculously lofty these bars of mine are. But the bars can become a prison if you're not careful. So I'm trying to go easy—to create like no one's watching or reading. Because they probably aren't. Well, maybe you are. (Thanks for that, by the way. But I would probably write this even if you weren't.)
Has this lockdown business been a "rich, fertile time of self-expression" for you? Or has it been a barren wasteland? May your soul/sole stay intact.