It happened in the middle of a cheering session that a friend and I engaged in after I got some excellent news for my writing career (my first publishing contract, y’all).
“You did the thing!” she cheered, and I cheered along, because I had, indeed, done the thing.
“You arted!” she cheered, and I cheered also, because I had, indeed, arted, and everything is a verb.
“People said you couldn’t do the thing, yet you did the thing!” she continued. And I paused.
“You know,” I said. “They didn’t. I mean, not really.”
It’s true. My social circle isn’t divided into those who support my writing career and those who try to sway me from it. Rather, I have the few, the precious,
the privileged ones the ones who give me the privilege of being with me every step of the way, those privy to every success and every failure. And then there’s everyone else: acquaintances, friends, even close family who, well… don’t give a rat’s ass if I ‘make it’ as a writer. They wish me well and will cheer for my successes – but their volume will be the same whether I end up on the New York Times bestseller list or accept the kind of high-paying corporate gig I’ve run away from in the past.
At first glance, compared to adversity, indifference is toothless. No-one is actively trying to hamper your progress, no-one is pouring poison into your mind (“It’s not a real job,” “You can’t support yourself with that,” “But it’s just a hobby, right?”). Yet there’s much to be said for external adversaries.
It’s true that there are healthier motivations than spite. It’s true that at the end of the day, you should do as Hannah Hart says and succeed to prove yourself right, not others wrong. But there are days when the Zen batteries go flat, when the pen is heavier than the sword, days when you can’t keep going or, worse, days when you can, but you really don’t want to. And on those days, spite can come in handy.
So you feel you can’t do it? That’s what they all say! Well, you’re going to prove them wrong! You’re going to show them all! They’ll see! (*cue a play list of power ballads*)
But what if there’s no ‘them’ to be showing? No-one will laugh at you if you fail, because no-one’s watching. And if you’ve ever struck out on your own, be it in art, or a start-up business, or any other field where you need to make your own way – then you know the one person who is the best at pouring poison into your mind. The one who lives in the mirror and likes whispering in your ear around three in the morning.
Indifference may be toothless, but doing art gets difficult when that gummy bitch is busy slobbering all over you.
So, how do we work around this?
Well, you need to care more. And also less.
Let me elaborate.
Care more about your art. Just as indifference can extinguish anything, passion can ignite. Love your art so much that when you talk about it, people will find themselves listening. We humans are empathic by default – we tend to get swept up in the strong emotions of others. So if you want someone to care about your art, start by doing the work yourself: both creatively and emotionally.
Do you love what you’re creating? I don’t mean the imperfect product, always a far cry from what you see in your head. I mean, do you love the HEART of it? The characters at the center of your story, the subject of your painting, the feelings behind your song? If you don’t, perhaps you need to switch gears, and find something you love, and then make your art about it and around it. And if you do, don’t hide it.
Don’t ever apologize for your art! Don’t talk it down, don’t shuffle your feet, don’t post it on the internet with the disclaimer ‘I kinda hate it, but I guess it’ll do.’ By Apollo and all the muses, do NOT do that! Even if doing so helps you hedge your insecurities. Surprise, we’re all insecure about our art. I often wonder if my stories are good. So, according to his twitter, does Neil Gaiman. (That is, he wonders if his stories are good. He hasn’t read mine. But he did like this blog. Just sayin’.)
So don’t talk your art down. Also, don’t talk it up too much. Yes, I said you need to be passionate about it, but being passionate doesn’t mean you have to brag. Talk about things that are true about your story, but talk about them with enthusiasm!
“The magic system in my story world is basically a mix of classic alchemy and modern-day genetic engineering – wanna hear about it?”
“This drawing was actually inspired by April, a girl I knew in highschool, because I always thought her true calling was to lead troops into battle – seriously, doesn’t she look awesome on the back of that dragon?”
Is that bragging? Not really. Will that get people’s attention? Possibly.
And if you don’t have it in you to sell your work like this, then keep it simple. “This is my book / comic book / drawing / song. I worked really hard on it. I hope you like it!”
(Also. No matter how much you care about your art, don’t talk yourself up by bringing others down. Ever.)
Care less about the fact that some people will never care about your art. Yes, after all this talk about how much you should love your precious art-baby, I am telling you to not care if others don’t share your passion. Sucks, dunnit?
It’s sad, but true – sometimes, no matter how much passion you throw at the world, it will not budge, and you will run face first into a brick wall of indifference. (Which will then slobber on you.)
You will be hurt. (And sticky.)
You will be discombobulated, discouraged, and disheartened. (And sticky.)
And then you will pick yourself up, accept the fact that the wall is still there, and take the door.
Because there’s always a door. Whether or not someone cares about things you do actually has zero impact on the work you produce, on the art you create.
I mean, of course it does have an impact. Otherwise, I wouldn’t be writing this post. But others’ indifference does not impact your art. It impacts you. And then it’s up to you what you can be. You can be the channel that lets that indifference affect your art, and your own caring about it be diluted by it. Or you can be the armor that keeps the slobber out and the fire that burns it away, keeping your precious art-babies protected, and warm, and loved.
Love your art-babies! Protect your art-babies!
And screw the indifferent ones! You get what you give, and if they give you indifference, don’t dignify it with emotion!
(She says, with far too many exclamation marks!)
Finally, remember that the slobbery wall is only an obstacle if you choose to bash your way through it. Otherwise, there are millions of doors. Take any of them, and be on your way. You’ve got your precious art-babies, and the rest of the universe.
P.S. During the writing of this blog, the Ukrainian hero Nadiya Savchenko returned home after a long political imprisonment in Russia. Among her first words on the Ukrainian soil were:
“I want to thank those who wished me well – I survived because of you! I want to thank those who wished me ill – because I survived to spite you! And I want to thank those who didn’t care – thank you for not getting in my way!”
She said in fifty words what took me over a thousand. And if it’s good enough for someone who survived war, imprisonment and multiple hunger strikes, and was released from a Russian prison even after she called Putin scum – it’s gotta be good enough for the rest of us.