A lot of the questions I get asked during Q&As have to do with the feelings and emotions around creative work. Questions about fear, imposter syndrome, jealousy, etc.
For years, I dodged, or tried to dodge these questions. “Eh, you just have to work!” “Show up!” While in the back of my mind, I’d be thinking, welcome to the club, friendo, or worse, Get over it!
Part of the trouble is that I’m not a particularly feeling person. I write to know what I think, and I make art to actually know what I feel.
I’ve been thinking lately about how many of the feelings and emotions creative people are trying to deal with are just symptoms that they’re, well, human.
In other words: I’d be more worried about you if you weren’t feeling some of these emotions.
Feelings and emotions are a form of information.
The question is what you do with information.
What’s handy, as an artist, is you can find a way to channel these feelings into the making of the work.
Fear, for example, is often just the imagination getting out of control: you can imagine every single thing that can go wrong. But on the flip side, if you can imagine the worst, you can train yourself to imagine the best.
Imposter syndrome is a sign of extreme humility: we know we’re really not that good, especially to the people we look up to and idolize! (“Some sort of self-deception is necessary simply in order to start.”) But if you turn it the right way, extreme humility is good: it means you can learn to play the fool and learn what you need to know to get to the next thing.
And jealousy, even, though it can eat you up if you let it, can be also tell you what you really want.
People often ask me how I got the courage to put my work into the world.
I’m not sure I have any courage, but I do have rage.
This may come as a surprise to readers of my books, who tell me they’re rather helpful and upbeat. (Not words my friends and family might necessarily use to describe me!)
My secret is: the books are positive because I take a negative approach: First, I see something I feel negatively about, something that aggravates me, something that pisses me off, something that infuriates me, and then I spend some time trying to articulate an alternative vision. (I’m angry, but I’m curious.)
This negative process seems to be infinitely repeatable for someone like me.
Whenever you are out of ideas, there’s someone, somewhere, with bad ideas that need to be corrected. But you don’t necessarily have to talk about the bad ideas, or take them on directly, you can just articulate the good ideas that cancel them out. (See: Identifying poison vs. seeking nourishment.)
A lot of people I know right now are angry or furious or enraged. And rightly so!
“Fatigue and outrage are appropriate emotions,” Sarah Smarsh wrote in a recent op-ed, “What to Do With Our Covid Rage. “But those feelings, if not properly channeled, can themselves take a heavy toll. What do we do with our anger?”
Anger is a contagious energy that jumps quickly from one person to the next. It will seize your mind and body as its host. If allowed to explode, it will hurt others. If allowed to implode, it will hurt you. I had to learn early how to transmute it for the sake of my own survival. I found that it can be the source of a powerful alchemy. If we are up to the task, it could help us create something good together…
I’ll give the last word to The Clash: “Let fury have the hour / anger can be power / did you know that you can use it?”