I’ve reached a crossroads. One path leads me to continue creating new ideas, writings, music, photographs, and such just as prolifically as I always have (literally thousands of creative works over half-century career of sorts. The other path leads me to create far less – to have just as many wonderful ideas and inspiratons, but not to develop them or document them, or post them.
On the surface, it would seem I should take the path of prolific creativity. But that is no so obvious when I look into why I create at all. What do I hope to get from having created? What drives me to make.
In the past, in my youth, I wanted to invent new thoughts and experiences and from that to garner my fortune, fame, and validating artistic recognition. I’m thinking there’s nothing inately wrong with that, but fifty later, I’ve achieved none of that. And at some point you need to ask yourself, what if I knew in advance, from this point forward, that I would never achieve any of those things? Would I still create? In other words, how much of what motivates me to do the work of developing and distributing an idea is the expectation of achieving fame, fortune and artistica validation (recognition)?
Turns out, none of those things have motivate me for a long, long time. At some point I realized I really didn’t want to be rich in material wealth, but rich in my relationships and experiences. And I didn’t desire fame as I was far more interested in having people appreciate the art than the artist. And as for artistic validation, turns out I only needed that from myself as I have come to see that some folks like chocolate and some vanilla, and if I like Brown Butter Bourbon Truffle (which I do), well that’s just fine. I should never create what I think people will like, just what I myself would like to create.
That being said, what, then, has been motivating me to continue to produce like a fire hose for all these most recent years, if fame, fortune, and recognition are no longer drivers?
This was a hard answer to find. But I did discover what has driven me of late: sharing. Simply put, I love to give Christmas and birthday presents. I love to show my eclectic collections of all kinds of things to everyone I can buttonhole, not because I want to show off or show what I own, but because I want to share. I want them to feel the wonder or the joy I do from that oddly shaped branch on my shelf, or the strange little ceramic man I found at a yard sale.
In short, I empathize greatly, and my greatest joy is when I can give a gift or a smile or an idea someone’s never thought of before that makes them say, “Well, that’s interesting…” and off they go a-pondering, and all because I was able to give them that gift. And the joy runs through me like an electric current that they and I are resonating together and that I accomplished something really special – I made their mind expand or their emotions dance.
It is the expectation that what I am creating will have that effect on others – that something that I created that excites me will excite them as well, and we can share the moment together – THAT is what truly drives me. Always have, though I never saw it until my later years, hidden as it were behind making a name for myself.
Just a moment ago I threw some peanuts out the door next to my desk – out into the backyard where our daily visitors, the squirrels and crows, come to feast. The feeling I get from providing them with sustinence is the exact same feeling I get from publishing something new, and is also the same feeling I enjoy when I recently gave a special cake to a family member for her birthday.
I didn’t grow the peanuts, I didn’t bake the cake. And on Facebook I have often filled my feed with ten or twenty reshares of other people’s ideas, memes, musical performances, or artistic work for the same reason – to share, to bring the smile or the surprise moment of new knowledge.
Honestly, I don’t have to create at all to get that feeling, but as creative individual by nature, new original thoughts and artistic expressions come to me all day long, enjoyed, but unbidden. And once I have them in my possession, I want to share them, just as I might get a really good burrito and offer half of it to a friend because having them experience the same thing that brings me joy is better to me than having all of it for myself. It just is. Just the way I’m wired.
So if I am to truly be happy, I must share. But here’s the rub… What If I threw those peanuts into the yard each day and nobody came to eat them? What if the squirrels didn’t stop by, the crows just flew one, and the nuts I tossed out just lay there until they rotted into the earth. Where would my joy be then?
In such a scenario, not only would I not have the peanuts for myself, but I wouldn’t have any emotional reward for putting them out there – no sharing, no seeing them joyously consume the sustinence of life. Nothing.
And that is what has happened, in general, in my career. Of all the thousands of things I post (just like this note), not one single person looks at it, much less clicks on it. And I never realized until recently just how empty that leaves me.
At first, many years ago, I tried to drum up an audience so that I could share these wonderful things with them. I spent countless hours building websites, publishing books on Amazon, tending Facebook pages, blogs, and newsletters, all so that I could lure people in so I could give them my gifts and then enjoy my resonance with their positive feelings.
Today, I find myself standing on a street corner with a sign that says, “Free Diamonds” and not only does no one stop long enough to look them over and take one, not even do they not grab one on their way by, but they don’t even look over to see the sign.
For a time I thought that the best solution is not to look for immediate return, but to put it out there so that someday the valuable thing might be found and shared by others to others. But that is a false motivation. It is based on a fantasy. And it misdirects my desire to participate in the immediate sharing so that I am only indirectly interacting by imagining a pretend future in which one of my creations is discovered by one person and shared with another, and as I imagine their joy in sharing, I try to become motivated to continue to produce based on that vicarious experience that is by no means certain, and is actually belied by the lack of interest now.
As that was not a satisfactory solution as to how to motivate myself, I considered the message in a bottle approach whereby I could imagine that each thing I created would drift on the cyber sea until it found its way to just the right person who needed to receive it, or at least to someone whose life would be enhanced in mind or passion.
But again, that is all make-believe, daydreaming, and trying to force myself to accept those things as tangible and certain so that I continue to produce at the high volume that has defined my efforts in the past.
Still, there is one other alternative: don’t publish at all. That’s pretty severe, but it is an option. What if I create my music and books and photographs and never share them with anyone, powered only by my own internal Muse and not by an expectation of ever enjoying sharing with others.
That’s pretty much what’s driving me in writing this article. I truly feel that many artists might find something in these words of enough insight and value into their own audience-related issues that it would be worth their time to read the post.
Yet it is my expectation that no one will ever see it – just another drop in the black hole, just another peanut rotting on the ground, just another diamond nobody takes. Strangely, that is not a bad thing. I am motivated to write this, therefore, not because I think anyone will read it, but because I want to document these thoughts while they are fresh and full of passion.
So why am I posting this, rather than simply saving them as a document on my computer? Simple. If you don’t buy a lottery ticket, you can’t win. If you buy one ticket, at least you’re in the game. Meaning, that if I don’t publish at all, this valuable gift will likely be lost forever. But if I publish only here on my blog, at least it is preserved.
I am not being motivated by sharing, because I don’t expect anyone will ready this. I am not being falsely motivated by imagaining someone will someday find the post and see it as valuable. I am motivated solely by my desired to build this gift, and then to preserve it so it won’t rot.
Nonetheless, all preservation is eventually corruptible. Once I have passed, this blog will likely not long remain, and all that it contains will vanish when my estate stops paying the web hosting fees.
And yet, even Facebook may someday delete non-active pages, and my books on Kindle might be removed when my bank account is closed after my death and Amazon has no way to send me any royalty payments.
I had been trying to post everything as many places as I could so that there was a greater chance to share this fine things. Time, however, has shown me that I am no promoter and no marketer. I am a maker of thoughts and experiences, and that is my skillset.
Does this mean I will no longer publish to YouTube and Facebok and Kindle? Probably it doesn’t. There may come a time in which I want to stand on that street corner once again. But for now, I have been burned by the lack of fulfillment that comes from so deeply desiring to share the best of what I have to offer and not only having no takers, but no one even stops by my stand to see what I have prepared.
For now, this is it. Someday I may again gather the best of what I have and bundle it into videos on YouTube and booklets on Kindle. I’m probably done with Facebook for good. And I do hope to eventually find a way to more permanently document my work so that these wonderful things aren’t lost forever.
In the meantime, here I have purchased a single lottery ticket.
Melanie Anne Phillips