I wonder if there’s a difference between a poet and a writer. They speak of the poet’s heart, but what do they mean? There are times when prose feels so stilted to me, When I crave the fluidity of line breaks, The freedom to not be understood fully, The convention to break convention, The magic of diving underwater To retrieve a poem from within the weeds, Rather than sitting at a desk, Keyboard at the ready.
I’ve never allowed myself to only be a poet Because I’ve always felt that wasn’t enough, But I am starting to wonder if I’ve been wrong.
I moisturize, prepare my tea. I turn on my music, put my phone on a box of salt. I send my cryptic messages about the moon and rust. I change into clean clothes, remember I have laundry to do. I allow a song to play through in its entirety. I open my notebook, realize my lips are chapped. I get up and go to the bathroom. I check my phone again even though I know better. I pause over my desk, lost for a moment. The blank page is daunting, But I cannot avoid it any longer. I am faced with what I have to do. With every distraction but my mind removed, I must write.
You hang s-hooks on the baker’s rack One after the other, quick quick, Before running out the door With another bag packed. I look at the hooks rocking in place And want to see them as a sign that you’ll stay, But of course, the message I know is coming Arrives on my phone a few days later. You’re moving out. Once again, I’ll have to look for someone else. The baker’s rack and its rocking s-hooks Will be going with you.
Maybe you don’t have to be special, talented, unique, different, or all that interesting.
Maybe you’re not one of those people they’ll tell stories about. Maybe no one will make a movie about your life.
Maybe you’re an average Joe, just some guy out here trying to get by.
Maybe you don’t have to prove anything about yourself to be valuable.
Most of us are regular, average people who aren’t going to do anything outstanding with our lives, and that’s fine.
We’re fed all of these stories about outstanding people, and sure, these people deserve to have their stories told. They can be noteworthy, interesting, and inspiring. Their lives make for good stories! I wonder, however, if this leads many of us to develop a complex where we believe we have to be special. I think most of us regard ourselves as unique and different. Ours is the only consciousness we experience. This can give us the impression that we’re special because we experience ourselves in a special way. But we wouldn’t have the concept of average if most of us weren’t average. We may be under the impression that we’re different or destined for greatness, but does the rest of the world agree? Likely not.
I understand why we celebrate outstanding people. I understand why we’re fascinated by the geniuses, the prodigies, and the gifted. I do worry, however, that our fixation on these folks can lead us to believe that we have to be one of them to matter.
I’m almost thirty. If I were a genius or prodigy, I’d probably know by now. I have about average intelligence, talent, and skills. I’m probably not going to make a huge impact or change the world. My impact will likely remain small, mainly affecting the people in my life, but that’s important too. I still matter. My life is still valuable.
Also, being an outstanding person looks fucking exhausting, while being average is pretty comfortable. I don’t have to prove anything. I don’t have to put a lot of pressure on myself to perform. I’m just a regular guy who’s trying to survive and get some enjoyment out of life. I think I can live with that. I think that’s all most of us need.
As artists, most of us are sensitive to criticism. We can feel terrified of putting our work out there. Our art can represent the most vulnerable parts of ourselves, and the last thing we may want is to make that available for public consumption. It doesn’t help that we regularly see other creatives be eviscerated online, their art trashed and their humanity hung out to dry.
I’ve heard so many creative types say they want to share their art, but they’re terrified of online mob harassment. They don’t want to accidentally say the wrong thing, have their work taken out of context, or expose a shred of ignorance and become the internet’s next villain of the day. It makes me sad to think about all of the art we’re missing out on because people are (rightly) afraid.
If you put your work out there, you will be criticized. There’s no way around that, but a reasonable amount of constructive criticism can actually be a good thing. It can help expose weaknesses in your work and areas in need of improvement. It can help you refine your work and create something better in the future. Constructive criticism can help you learn, grow, and develop as a creative.
It’s the harassment that’s the problem. The bad faith critiques. The personal attacks. The degradation and humiliation. The demands. The threats. The massive tidal wave of angry comments and messages. None of this is justified.
I can’t promise that you won’t be harassed, but what if we, as artists, collectively stopped doing this to each other? What if we focused on supporting each other’s growth and development instead? The internet will never be a safe space, but we can build communities that bolster rather than punish each other. We can create little pockets of support and safety.
As artists, we are deeply familiar with the tenderness and vulnerability involved in putting our creations out into the world. Let’s keep this in mind before writing a comment, sending a message, or joining a tidal wave targeting another person’s work. Before you act, think about how it would feel to receive such a response to your heart. Would you want to be subjected to this? Would you want to be treated this way?
As artists, I want us to focus on finding ways to support each other. This can mean offering constructive criticism at times. Overall, it means operating from a base desire to help our fellow creatives be their best selves as opposed to trying to tear each other down or apart. The larger world may never be a safe container for our art, and that will always be scary, but I believe we can hold each other’s work, and each other, with care.