I wrote this Thursday, April 10th…and then never posted it! Ironic, considering its contents. Here it is.
My biggest personal takeaway from the conversation with Maria Popova, AKA the force behind Brainpickings (at the Hattery) was her insistence that she writes for herself, and that her blog is for her and not for us. It is a catalogue of her becoming and the process of her learning. She posts what she finds interesting, what makes her feel alive and the things that make her feel like life is worth living. She posts the things that make her feel smarter and dumber at the same time—the things that make her realize how tiny a part of the universe she is, and yet that much bigger for having understood and digested something wonderful. That gasp of understanding.
It makes pitching your project to her useless, since changing the framing of the thing doesn’t change the substance, and she’ll only post the substance that she finds interesting.
It means she was super broke the first 4-5 years of Brainpickings, eating oatmeal and tuna every meal. She didn’t make Brainpickings to make a living; it was a by-product and not the objective. It felt important to her life at the time, and that’s why she was doing it.
“I write for me,” she said more than once over the course of the evening.
She also mentioned that one of her favorite books is Alice in Wonderland (her other favorite is The Little Prince), and one of the last questions of the evening was why Alice? She recounts the part where the Mock Turtle says “The master was an old Turtle…We called him Tortoise because he taught us.” Maria’s takeaway from this was that we tend to hear what we need to hear based on what we are seeking.
And tonight I needed to re-affirm for myself the belief that artists need to create for themselves and no one else. Worrying about audience or monetization or the medium before the message are all paths to paralysis.
I’ve been fighting “shame gremlins” for the past few months (to use Brené Brown’s language) about my own creative output. I’ve been stifling my own creative energies — haven’t been writing, haven’t been making comics, haven’t been taking photos. And Brené Brown’s research has shown that unused creativity is not neutral—it metastatizes and turns into negativity, resentment, shame.
What has been stopping me from creating? I’ve been paralyzed: worried about audience and caring too much about whether other people care about what I have to write and say. Questioning the worthiness of my own voice in an age inundated with everyone’s voices.
Social media can seem overwhelming these days because everyone may seem like they’re on their soapboxes. My theory is that it’s because a lot of people are posting with ulterior motives instead of from a place of sharing something they’ve created as part of living the life of meaning that they are meant to be living.
Now, that doesn’t mean we always have to be “pure” in our artistic intentions either. That’s unrealistic. Living a life of meaning and making a living are not mutually exclusive. I just think we can tell the difference. We connect more when people are putting work out there that genuinely comes from the space of, “I do this for me.” (Example: Humans of New York creator, who stuck with it through the lonely phases because he “was obsessed.”)
I know I feel it when I’m jiving, when I’m in the zone, when I’m following my gut, when I’m doing what I’m supposed to be doing, when my actions are aligned with the universe’s path for me. Just gotta practice following that more.