These feelings of self-indulgent inadequacy have been deepened by me looking over a partial rough draft of a project I have been working on for years -- a partial rough draft I sent out to several people, which received minimal feedback -- and being struck by the typos and other problems it contained.
In the midst of all this self doubt, I happened to turn to my most overused resource these days, Facebook. And there, among shares of funny pictures and links to liberal leaning news stories, I found Neil Gaiman's speech at the University of Arts commencement. The entire twenty-minute speech is well worth listening to, but one section in the middle struck me particularly hard:
And remember that whatever discipline you are in, whether you are a musician or a photographer, a fine artist or a cartoonist, a writer, a dancer, a designer, whatever you do you have one thing that's unique.
You have the ability to make art.
And for me, and for so many of the people I have known, that's been a lifesaver. The ultimate lifesaver. It gets you through good times and it gets you through the other ones.
Life is sometimes hard. Things go wrong, in life and in love and in business and in friendship and in health and in all the other ways that life can go wrong. And when things get tough, this is what you should do. I'm serious.
Make good art.
Husband runs off with a politician? Make good art. Leg crushed and then eaten by mutated boa constrictor? Make good art. IRS on your trail? Make good art. Cat exploded? Make good art. Somebody on the Internet thinks what you do is stupid or evil or it's all been done before? Make good art. Probably things will work out somehow, and eventually time will take the sting away, but that doesn't matter. Do what only you do best.
Make good art.
Make it on the good days too.
And ... while you are at it, make your art. Do the stuff that only you can do.
...[T]he one thing that you have that nobody else has is you. Your voice, your mind, your story, your vision. So write and draw and build and play and dance and live as only you can.
The moment that you feel that, just possibly, you're walking down the street naked, exposing too much of your heart and your mind and what exists on the inside, showing too much of yourself. That's the moment you may be starting to get it right.
The things I've done that worked the best were the things I was the least certain about, the stories where I was sure they would either work, or more likely be the kinds of embarrassing failures people would gather together and talk about until the end of time. They always had that in common: looking back at them, people explain why they were inevitable successes. While I was doing them, I had no idea.
I still don't. And where would be the fun in making something you knew was going to work?
And sometimes the things I did really didn't work. There are stories of mine that have never been reprinted. Some of them never even left the house. But I learned as much from them as I did from the things that worked.
So there it is. I have heard this message before, and failed to internalize it, but maybe this time it will stick.
I don't know to what extent this blog (or either of my other couple of projects) is good art, but I am pretty sure it is art, somehow. Maybe it is art only in the most general sense, just as making sweaters from cat hair is art, but it is art nonetheless. I have a responsibility to make it as good as possible. I also have a responsibility to myself to get the other projects into good enough shape that I can do something with them. Telling myself that they will never be good enough for the world to see is unfair -- especially given how much drivel ends up out there in the world.
I do feel like I am walking down the street naked, sometimes, but who knows? Maybe that's what I am supposed to do.
Now, about that mutated boa constrictor...