As I've gotten older, and God has graced me with 2.3% more wisdom, I've learned to lean on others to help me understand where I'm going and how I'll get there. Others often see us more clearly than we see ourselves.
I wrote my previous blog post about a dear friend and mentor in Miami, who's now cleaning up after Hurricane Irma. He's consistently given me the best feedback of my life. I was lucky to have him come into my life when we were both teaching colleagues in Boston.
Another friend of mine, a brilliant actor and editor/writer from New York City, was kind enough to share feedback with me this week about this blog. What he actually did was express some of the exact same feelings I'd been having. Feelings not just about blogging, but about the larger struggle to be creative in a world that (more often than not) couldn't care less.
The central idea my friend shared was that my writing is best when it expresses personal experiences and feelings about the topic at hand, whether it's working with editors, or being creatively stuck, or managing client relationships, or being my best self (hard to write that last one without chuckling).
He also noted that the blog posts can feel routine when that personal and emotional urgency is lacking. How do I respond to this? In the best, most useful feedback, the giver puts a finger on something the receiver had been feeling but hadn't been quite able to articulate and accept. This feedback did that for me -- it was dead-on target and couched in caring and experience and (I'm not afraid to say it, though he will reject the word) wisdom.
I struggle every day with what it means to be creative, but I suspect it involves being fully oneself, as my friend suggested. So I ask myself what makes me unique and different from the other 325,367 writers who inhabit the same space in content marketing as I do? How can I develop the courage to reveal truths about myself that can also reflect the universal experiences of others? What do I have to share that's uniquely mine, that nobody else can express? I think all creatives ask themselves these questions, and somehow accept that they may never find the answer.
Without a compulsion for self-exploration, for questioning, along with a belief in human dignity, there would be no art (and certainly no decent content marketing). We need to say things about ourselves and the world, and art can be a vehicle for doing that across time and space.
It's hard to struggle with unanswerable questions. It is harder still to accept the central truth of this inquiry -- that one will never find an answer that satisfies. I feel melancholy more than I'd like, but I've also gotten better at just sitting with the larger questions. No creative person worth a damned can ever stop asking themselves big questions.
The best art moves beyond self-expression and contains a profound desire to connect, to reveal beauty, to transcend human pain, to heal oneself and others.
What drives me to create ultimately remains a mystery. If I had every advantage of confidence and money in the world (believe me, I do not), I'd still find myself in the dark, feeling along the walls for that light switch that might illuminate where I am. Meanwhile, I'm sitting with some big questions, maybe having a cup of coffee as I ponder them.
Irish playwright Samuel Beckett once asked writers to "fail better," meaning that the reality of failure was unavoidable. Maybe that's pessimism, but it can also be liberating, removing some of the sting of failure.
I've come a long way in this blog post simply to say that I'm still unsure what I want to do or can become. But I'm following my emotions, my rational mind, and the wisdom of so many friends who care about me to get there (destination unknown). I don't think it's the creative person's role to focus on triumph, conquering the world, making a boatload of money (how much is a boatload, anyway?), and reaching the mountaintop.
I've always been trying to connect. Not just because that's what writers do, but because it's what I need to do to be healthy and to thrive in every area of my life. Yet the eternal questions beckon. What do I have to express that may be of use to others, and how then do I express it? How do I work with people who allow me to be the kind of person I want to be? What will I leave behind, and will anyone notice, outside of my circle of dear friends and family, that I'm gone?
I feel the urgency of these questions every single day. I'm learning NOT to have the answers, to believe in the creative struggle.
How about you, reader? What questions do you struggle with? Do you find answers and/or gain from the struggle of seeking them? Share in the comments . . .