I’ve written about this before. I know I have. It may not have been addressed directly, but the subject underlies much of what I think about. The reason, I think, is because I was trying to reach an understanding of how this relates to me.
During a panel at NerdCon Stories last year, one of the panelists asked the audience something to the effect of, “Raise your hand if you’re a performer.” I didn’t raise my hand, thinking, “well, not really.” She then asked “raise your hand if you’re not a performer,” and I once again kept my hand down, thinking, “no, that doesn’t sound right either.” My conflict in that moment centered around my identity – was I a performer, or was I not? Not do I perform or did I perform, but was I a performer?
Questions like this around performance or art or creativity are questions I’ve been grappling with rather deeply since this past summer (but probably, more broadly, since high school). I’ve resisted thinking of myself in creative terms (I’m a writer, I’m a musician, I’m a YouTuber) because it wasn’t and isn’t what I do primarily, even though I’d like to push further in that direction. I couldn’t call myself any one of these things because of their lack of centrality in my working life. The question at NerdCon, though, began the process of turning these thoughts on their head.
I’ve recently begun watching a creator on YouTube named Tessa Violet, and she posted a video at the beginning of February regarding depression and creativity. The first portion of the video, though, is a discussion of identity, and how labels can affect how we see our identity. When that identity gets tied up in a label (in this case, more specifically, a creative label), how we understand our value becomes directly correlated to the identity and the label:
…so the labels become tricky when you don’t realize that you might also subconsciously be asking the question, “Why do I have value? What is my Worth? Who am I? What is my Identity?” And if your answering that question with, “I have worth because I’m an artist; I have value because of what I make, or because of what I do” (it doesn’t even need to be tied to art), you see how that can land you in a tricky spot, because if you are what you make, then who are you if you’re not making anything.
In my case, the important thing to think about here is the subconscious questioning of where my value and worth were coming from. This is what was challenged at NerdCon, as the subconscious thoughts were pushed into consciousness. However, the importance of the quote has been shifting toward the question, “who are you if you’re not making anything,” along with “if the purpose of making something is for it to be seen, who are you if what you’re making isn’t being seen?”
This second question is one of my own making. I have found that being creative for the sake of being creative is a worthwhile endeavor, but I must admit to a desire to be in a creative field vocationally. In order for that to happen, large amounts of people need to watch or read what I make in order for that to happen. That is not the place I’m in right now, which will prompt my mind to start working:
“you can’t call yourself a writer or a YouTuber; look at how few people are seeing what you make. And, quite honestly, let’s get real for a second: is it worth making anything if no one, or, sorry, almost no one is seeing what you make? I mean, if it’s not successful the way you want it to be now, who knows if it ever will be. Might as well just give up now.”
Suddenly, and quite often, daily, I’m left not wanting to create because who knows how many people will see what I make; the decision not to create leads to questions about how I could think of myself in creative terms; this is followed by a spiral of hopelessness regarding doing something I enjoy doing that keeps from from doing these very things.
At the start of December, I put out a post called “Giving Up My Rockstar Dream.” I talked about how I wanted to be a rockstar drummer growing up, eventually coming to the conclusion that becoming a rockstar drummer wasn’t really a career path anymore because of a lack of practice. After posting this, I found myself setting up my practice pad and a bass pedal and having the most fun playing the drums I’ve possibly ever had. Somehow, this decision not to consider music as a career path freed me up to enjoy doing it again because there wasn’t any self-inflicted pressure or regret in relation to drumming. Once I got back up and running with the practicing and I saw myself getting better, though, these thoughts began to creep back in, and suddenly I began regretting days I didn’t or couldn’t practice not because I hadn’t done the thing I enjoy doing, but because it was setting me back in my pursuit of greatness that would lead me on into…
So far I’ve been able to shut these feelings down with regards to drumming, but they continue to manifest quite strongly in the arenas of making videos and writing. Setting the challenge to write daily has gotten me writing, but before then I would go through a cycle of thinking I should write, regretting I wasn’t writing, wondering if anyone would read what I wrote, and then not writing, a process that would work itself out in no particular order. With videos, I stopped a regular schedule because I wanted to try new things, but then found myself with no ideas…or, perhaps more accurately, with ideas I felt were to grand to potentially be made by me. This would lead to not doing anything for long stretches of time, dragging my feet to do things I wanted to do…suffice to say, I took less and less joy out of doing what I love doing because of a pressure to do and make and be good at the doing and making, leading me to wonder how I could ever think of myself in creative terms when, not only was this not my job, but I wasn’t even making anything.
Once again (refer to the post linked above), I know where my identity and value lie, but even though I know these things, the desire to feel value through what I do is still a strong one. The challenge here, a challenge I’m still working on, is understanding what value means in terms of worth and identity. The creative work itself can have value in and of itself; it does have value, but it is not my value.