Clearing Away The Distractions Dept.
The world is a very big place (if I may state the obvious) and even though the internet and social media has brought that world much closer together, if one takes a step back and really thinks about all the wealth of creativity that’s out there, it’s simply mind boggling. There is a tendency for some to see things through their own prism and more often than not perspective gets lost.
An example, which is unrelated to creativity: this very harsh winter we’ve been having throughout the United States has driven many reactionary voices to claim that climate change isn’t real because it’s been so damn cold all winter. Numerous snow storms, ice storms, freezing temperatures in parts of the country that normally don’t experience that kind of cold, etc. The one thing they seem to always blank out is the fact that below the equator, half the planet is experiencing summer - and if you’ve been paying attention, you’d have noticed record heat waves in Australia, Argentina; multiple massive and destructive storms in the Philippines, raging floods from torrential rain storms in parts of Asia. Ask them about climate change being a hoax because it’s “been so cold”. In other words, it’s easy to lose a wider perspective because we’re too busy looking at things from our own, narrow point of view and think it applies to everyone else.
The same thing applies to creativity. Just think about whatever it is you do, then think about how many people are doing that very same thing in your neighborhood, then your town, city, state, country (along with all of its neighborhoods, towns and cities); then step back and think of just one other country - say Canada, or Mexico being that they are our next door neighbors. Think of their towns, cities, counties. Then step back a little further and bring another country in, then another, and then another. It’s almost impossible to contemplate how many creative individuals are out there writing, painting, drawing, making music, dancing, acting. You don’t know 99 percent of them and probably never will, even if they are successful in whatever country they reside. For those who thrive on competition, this is what you’re up against. An entire planet of creative, talented individuals. Kind of puts things in huge perspective, doesn’t it?
It’s easy to get distracted by what we see in front of us, what we are immediately exposed to. Take a look at TV, magazines, newspapers, social media and one would think that there are only a handful of individuals creating anything. Award shows (which are really nothing more than a particular industry patting themselves on the back) only hint at what is happening out in the wider world. The winners of the Academy Award, a Grammy, a Tony, etc, are only a tiny sliver of what is going on in the rest of the world. Not that these awards aren’t important in their own way but they’re really only representative of what is arbitrarily chosen to honor (it would be impossible to include everyone). Out of all the music being made, all the books being written, all the films being made the world over, one cannot possibly, with any honest objectivity, claim something is “the best” - only “the best” out of whatever is being offered to be judged. It’s easy to look at Justin Bieber and decry the state of music today but right in your own backyard (never mind across the globe) there is a wealth of great music being made but it’s up to you whether or not you want to widen your perspective and seek it out or just accept whatever one particular industry - who has something to sell - hands to you.
So we approach our particular art with a tendency to look over our shoulders and see what is handed to us and it’s easy to lose perspective of the wider world around it. And when we tend to get distracted by this. It’s easy to become discouraged and think what you do isn’t worth anything or your pursuits meaningless. We use what we see in front of us as the standard to measure our own output and success. Our culture is such that exposure, monetary value, awards, fame, chart standings, etc, are the yardstick we use to measure success and since we do, in reality then, very few are actually “successful” and the rest are still floundering around looking for some attention, which is largely true. Because of this, we have a tendency to discount much of what people do, dismiss them as “failures” or at best, participating in a “hobby” (which to me always had an insulting, dismissive assertion to it).
I don’t consider myself a “success” or a “failure”. I’m well aware of where I stand in the hierarchy but then again, I also don’t feel that I am even part of that world to begin with. The Literary World may as well be a parallel universe. I consider what I do a “success” if I can merely get it out of my head and on to the page at all and if I feel good enough about it, put it out there hoping that someone else may enjoy what I’ve done. And once it’s written and out there, I forget about it and move on to the next project, with the aim of trying to be better the next time than I was the time before that. I have no illusions that what I do will be everyone’s cup of tea. I know it isn’t. I don’t approach it with an eye on the New York Times Bestseller’s list. I don’t approach it with the idea of being invited to cocktail parties or literary salons. I don’t even approach it with the notion that I am going to sell a lot of books (though that would be nice, I won’t lie). What I do just is. It’s akin to this: A painter paints because he loves to paint. He doesn’t pack it in because no one bought his first work. A musician will write his songs, perhaps perform them in front of an audience. If the first song doesn’t achieve a standing ovation, he doesn’t immediately pack up his guitar and go home. These folks move on to the next thing in their head, try to improve, expand, and slowly, slowly, try to build an audience for their work - that is if they even can at all. And I may go to my grave languishing in “obscurity” but the truth is many of us will, but for many of us, our reason for doing what we do is because we must. Everything else is just a consequence, a wonderful byproduct if it happens to connect with others.
Of course others have much higher ambitions and that’s wonderful too and no one is more supportive of another artist’s success than I am, especially if it’s a friend of mine or someone else that I know. But I, personally, can’t get distracted by this sort of thing. I just want to do what I love to do, offer it up, maybe connect with another (the ideal) and not have to deal with the passive-aggressive bullshit that people often have a tendency to throw your way. I’ve always said that if you want to see who your friends are, try pursuing a passion - no matter what it is - and see how they respond to it. Are they supportive or are they dismissive? If they’re dismissive, its best to get them out of your life altogether (or at the very least, remove them from “the loop”). Life’s too short to deal with that - again, more distractions.
One last bit of “advice” for what it’s worth: There is also a tendency for others to think what they think you’re trying to accomplish to be your standards. Then, for some inexplicable reason, decide to worm their way into your life and toss a heap of insults onto you. Get rid of them. If they’re not willing to even listen to you but are willing to make fictional assertions about you in order to find a reason to criticize you, they’re not worth your time or energy. Make them non-entities because it’s obvious they harbor some hostile feelings towards you. They’re not your friends. It’s best to move on, do what you love, live your life doing what makes it meaningful to you. This, above all, is the main distraction in life. Don’t take the bait.
Articles of interest:
What Louis Armstrong Really Thinks, from The New Yorker.
Did John Steinbeck Spy For The CIA?, from The Christian Science Monitor.
Benedetto Croce: The Good Italian, from Magna Grece.
Neanderthal Study Reveals Language May Be Much Older Than Previously Thought, from Ancient Origins.
What Tree Rings Sound Like on a Record Player, from Live Science.
Reinaldo Arenas and a Visit to Havana in 1987, from The Paris Review.
Tollund Man: Evidence of Prehistoric Ritual Sacrifice, from Ancient Origins.
On Brazilian Author Clarice Lispector, from The Guardian UK.
Ancient Virus Removed From Permafrost Contains DNA “Not of This Earth”, from Ancient Origins.
The Working Class Origins of International Women’s Day, from Portside.
1800 Year Old Egyptian Letter Deciphered, from Ancient Origins.
“To Tell or Not To Tell” by Tim Parks, from The New York Review of Books.