I'm back from around two weeks of traveling and vacation. Still getting up to speed on this end, but here's a post for now.
One idea I come back to often is how what is popular is not always a good model for an aspiring creator. There are many reasons not to do things in the mold of a blockbuster movie or best-selling novel, not least of which being that when you start by trying to please others instead of yourself, you end up pleasing no one.
The other day, someone else put this question to me: What if what I want and what other people want really are the same thing? Well, that just makes me drop back to the original question: do you really want those things, or is that just what you'll settle for because it's convenient, because it's popular, because it's an easy thing for other people to plug into?
I circle this idea a lot, the idea that people need to know what they're really interested in, and how that's often a more difficult process of discovery than it might seem.
When you tell people, time and again, do your own thing, don't listen to what other people tell you to do, follow your dream, find your passion, that sounds less to me like a formula for personal liberation and more one for heedless self-indulgence. It amounts to a protracted excuse to — as someone once parodically paraphrased existentialism — just "you do what you goddamn please".
What does it really mean to please ourselves? The formula I've brewed up over time goes something like this. For one, it means you've looked into your motives — that you want to do something because it has a true appeal to you, not because it makes you look good or gets you in with the right people. But real, fearless introspection is difficult; few of us do it, fewer still act on what we learn from it.
To that end, we need to start with the question, what am I actually interested in and why? Get honest with that and everything else will click. If what you like happens to be things that many other people like, great. If not, don't worry about it. Trying to engineer success makes you more worried about the engineering, and the success, than the work itself.
Most of what interests me deeply and truly is difficult to communicate to others. Sometimes I come across a book or movie or album or what have you that seems to point in the general direction of such interests; sometimes I try to make something that is itself such a signpost. I hate the idea that this kind of inarticulate speech of the heart (to use Van Morrison's great turn of phrase) makes me seem like I am just being difficult for its own sake, or avoiding casting what I want to say in some definitive form because that kills its magic. But I do feel like that's the only way I can make progress. The things I really care about are not easy to sum up, and I suspect that's why I care about them as much as I do.
New York City
Other Lives Of The Mind