extribulum

Posts Tagged ‘fear’

Fucking Up

In Uncategorized on June 12, 2015 at 10:00 am

I’ve been trying to work out how to talk about fucking up for a while. I think I’ve finally managed it, but the discussion comes with some subjective clauses, particularly at the end. My defense is complex but my thesis is simple:

If you work in the arts, any of the arts, you are eventually going to fuck up.

Scientists and mathematicians fuck up, but they’re trained to fuck up, because they’re dealing with the natural world outside of their control. So when an experiment goes wrong, they generally say “Well, dammit, the physics/numbers/gorillas/particles didn’t do what I thought they were gonna” and while they might feel bad about getting the science wrong, there is an entire system of thought that goes “Science is writing down what happened when you fucked up” which forgives them. I’m making a vast generalization here, and I’m sure there are special science snowflakes who for whatever specific reason don’t get quite that much support for fucking up, but in a general sense, the STEM fields are a lot more forgiving of fuck-ups on the back end. They are in direct pursuit of knowledge, and covering up an error does not contribute to knowledge; in science, there are fixed and permanent provable things, and getting to those sometimes requires missing the pitch a few times.

When you’re an artist, you are told that you’re a Creator, that you control everything, and that’s heady and spectacular. And also the reason so many artists and writers have drinking problems and a history of divorce.

Nobody explicitly tells you that you can fuck up, though. Like, you know through common sense that not every artist is perfect all the time, probably even Jackson Pollock sometimes went “No, no, these particular splatters are all wrong” but the fact that you can fuck up and still benefit from fucking up is an apparently closely guarded secret none of us want to talk about because all Creators are also secretly super insecure. (This probably says a lot about my relationship to religion.)

So here it is: In the creative arts you can fuck up in school and you can fuck up in life, and here’s how you deal.

In any arts-based course, if you fuck up, it’s a chance to talk about your process and to get advice from teachers, who secretly love to give advice. If you like your work, or even if you don’t but you know it doesn’t suck, you should own that, no false modesty. Be proud of the good work you do. But if you don’t like your work because it’s genuinely bad or you know you fucked up or you didn’t get what you wanted out of it, school is where you get to say “Oh man, this is AWFUL, here’s what was going through my head, how wrong was that, right?” and then either “So here’s what I learned from it” or “Please help me, Professor, I fucked it up.” And then you either get points for learning or you get the help you need.

This whole process, the process of owning what you do whatever the quality, is what prepares you for when you get out into the post-academic world and no longer have a safety net. Because at that point you are educated and experienced enough to yell OH SHIT I’M FUCKING UP at yourself, and immediately stop and think about why you’re fucking up and how you can fix it.

I mean, the system isn’t perfect, but by the time you’re my age, as the saying goes, your motto is “It’s okay, I’ve fucked this up before.” Plus at 35 you’re too tired to stay up all night fixing something, so your best bet is to make sure you catch the mistakes before 6pm. For real, I need me some sleep.

Now of course there are exceptions, because some people have depression, or manic episodes, or anxiety, or other mental issues that mean that you cannot fuck up, ever, not even a little, not even privately, without suffering your own emotional self-abuse, and I get that. I do. But the above is meant to help stave off that thinking as much as possible. The rest is up to you, to find a way (be that medication or cognitive therapy or something else, what works for you) to tone that down to levels that your more rational mind can at least shout over.

And I don’t think artists are told any of this nearly as often as they should be.

So this is my message to you, creators, this week: it’s okay to fuck up. It has to be okay to fuck up. It’s okay to own that you fucked up and to ask for help.  In fact, it’s what makes fucking up okay.

Go forth and create (and fuck it up once in a while).

Reappearing as A Writer

In Uncategorized on May 29, 2015 at 10:00 am

Poof! Like magic. Hey, I’m writing fiction again.

There are two problems with not having written in a while, whether it’s because of writer’s block, or other distractions, or a conscious break you took that may have gotten out of hand.

One is admitting you haven’t written in a while. There’s a lot of shame that’s attached to it, because it’s seen as an essential failure of a creative person to do their job. Creative people don’t contribute tangible, quantifiable value to society; it’s difficult to measure the worth of an emotion, or of a revelation. So if we don’t contribute something — a painting, a piece of music, a book — on a regular basis, then are we worth anything to our society at all? Why should society foster or support us? The creative process can take years to produce work which then can’t be valued easily, but after a year or two of nonproduction, people start to point and whisper.

It’s not like writers don’t do this too. Particularly those who make their living off of writing have very little slack to offer people who take longer to produce less. One of the most popular stereotypes for the creative person in media is the guy who’s “working on a novel” — who’s been working on a novel for seventeen years. The frustrated writer looking for a revelation who hasn’t done any real work since his (invariably his) big one-hit wonder is a popular trope in cinema in particular. Perhaps this is because writers who make their living as writers are immersed in the idea of commodifying creativity, and it twists them up. Perhaps they’re just scared of what happens if the writing goes away, and fear motivates them. It’s not super healthy, but then nobody has ever called writers healthy.

And yeah, it’s a little funny when someone who’s been working on something for a decade plus has little to show for it. But we shrink that time frame and we enlarge what “little” means until it feels like if you don’t write a novel every year, you’re behind on your output. I wrote four novels in four years, and then I didn’t write any novels for two. But that’s still averaging better than a novel every eighteen months, and that’s not chicken feed.

Still, it is hard when someone says, “What are you working on?” and you answer, again, “Nothing.” So, as people who basically tell stories for a living, which are kissing cousins to lies, we temporize. Nothing solid yet. Nothing right now. Got some irons in the fire, waiting to see what pans out. I’m brainstorming. Really cool idea, just not sure where to take it yet.

Admitting you’re not writing, however, is implicit in admitting you’re writing again. Which is the second hard part of reappearing as a writer. It’s a bit like saying you’re quitting smoking or starting a diet; there’s a lot of “Oh, isn’t that nice” with an underlayer of deep skepticism. And you do feel foolish taking the risk; what if you start writing and then can’t get anywhere? Better to wait, right? Keep the pressure off until you’ve got something to show for it. But the positive reinforcement one does get, when other people know you’re writing again, that can be a huge boost to creativity — without it, you might just keep…not writing. So there’s no real good way to play it.

Creativity is a process, and that process includes peaks and valleys, periods of high activity and lulls. I don’t really have a fix for either of these problems; they’re issues I face just like any writer does, especially a writer who is very public about their craft. I just think it’s important to talk about them, not only so people can see their fellow writers deal with it too, but also so that writers who may not have been able to put a name to their worries have a little more data to work with.