Today I thought a lot about fear and about joy. About the urgent desire for excellence, and the weight that driving force puts on the shoulders of anyone who seeks to create.
There are a lot of people out there who think, if you’re not brilliant, if you’re not bringing your A+ game every single time, then you need to shut up and sit this one out. I read an article today bitching about the ease with which people are able to share their writing with the world, and how that has resulted in a whole lot of crap. The article made me angry. It made me sad.
The author of this article was one of those skeptics who seems to blame all the world’s mediocrity on medals for participation, as if only the winners of a game are deserving of recognition and praise. This mentality crushes me, because I truly believe it is the death knell to real creativity.
In order to write, or sing, or dance, or paint, or cook, or do anything even slightly creative, you have to first accept the fact that at some point in time you are going to suck. Your work will be dreck. You will read your words, or listen to the playback, and cringe.
Trust me. I know this.
And yes, there are some people out there who have committed atrocities against the creative arts (some have made enormous sums of money doing so). And there are people out there who reach a certain level, get comfortable enough, and never again push themselves to improve.
But to say “bring your best or go home” and then appoint yourself as sole judge of what “best” is? That’s bullshit.
During the 90s, I enjoyed a modest amount of success with a singing group called The Duras Sisters. We were (as we put it) three fat chicks from Phoenix who liked to sing about science fiction. We were completely clueless that what we were doing was difficult, so we just did it. Sometimes it worked out brilliantly. Other times, we fell on our asses. But we loved singing, we loved writing and arranging music, and we loved the way our music made us feel.
There are a lot of people who would listen to those CDs and rip them to shreds. I say fuck em. We had fun and we did the best we could.
One of the great parts of being a filker (sci-fi/fantasy folk singer) was participating in filk circles, either at conventions or in friends’ homes. There’s an old joke in filk–“Talent is greatly appreciated, but hardly a requirement.” Over the course of seven years, I sat through a great many filk circles. I’ve heard songs by people who could have easily gone pro, and I have heard performances by enthusiastic amateurs (often in the key of R-flat minor).
The beautiful thing about filk was, unless you were in a crappy circle, the person who warbled out a seventeen-verse Bardic ballad a cappella and off-key was usually given the same respect, courtesy, and kindness as the guy who ripped out guitar riffs like Eddie van Halen. It was about the joy of singing, and the joy of science fiction and fantasy, and the creative and communicative force of music.
Many of those filkers I only saw once or twice a year, but I still consider them friends. Some I consider family. The author of the article that ticked me off today would have probably sent half of us (myself included) home.
I think what I want to say is that there has to be a balance. Yes, you want to be the very best you can at your craft, but you should never get so wrapped up in your craft that you forget the joy of just doing it.
Like anything else, what is the kindest thing you can do? Berate yourself or someone else because they have not reached a level of proficiency to your liking? Or rejoice in their creating, celebrate the courage it took to present their work to the public, and encourage them to continue learning and growing?
We are all works in progress. We are all going to be crappy at things from time to time.
But no one should ever get sent away from the table just because they suck. If you don’t like the performance, go to the bathroom. If you don’t like the blog post or article, click a button. Nobody says you have to endure something that makes your teeth itch.
But don’t tell them to go home. Even if they’re really, really bad. That’s just being a douche.
Peace, ya’ll. I’m off to Skype with my former singing partner.
P.S. Here’s a track of my singing group, from our CD Rubenesque.