Arbitration; Or, the Nature of Subjective Accomplishment

It’s often said that writers are of an arbitrary nature, that as a species their opinion of themselves waffles between enormous ego and debilitating self-doubt. It’s something I heard a long time ago, before I understood what writers actually spend most of their time doing; I thought writing meant seclusion and contemplation, presumably sitting by some body of water that might make a good name for a book.

I once met an author that I thought fulfilled this stereotype perfectly. They were obsessive not only about the value of their work, but also the perception of it, something that theoretically no one – at least without a mega-million publishing corporation at their back – has any control over. To the person themselves, I can only imagine it’s exhausting, and to an outsider it makes no sense.

It’s beginning to make sense to me, and I’m only disappointed to say that it’s taken as long as it has. I know I haven’t updated this platform in a long time. Just over three years, to be exact. To be painfully honest I ran out of money to continue buying supplies and ingredients, got a full-time job, and ran out of time to continue writing posts at all. The other reason is that although my secluded corner of the internet seems content to let me ramble on for eternity about whatever random thing pops into my head, it’s not unlike standing at the edge of a dark cavern, yelling into the blank and empty space, and counting the number of times my own voice comes echoing back. It’s both freeing, in that I can say whatever I want, and mind-numbing, in that it’s not that different from being inside my own head anyway. And it has no impact.

What does impact even mean? Does it need to have impact? No, except that sometimes impact comes with things like income, and health insurance, and sometimes it doesn’t.

Someone recently encouraged me to update this blog, and I do actually have some exciting things to share in the future, so just bear with my melancholia for the moment, please. The subject that my brain is currently stuck on is this idea that it’s actually a punishment, or at the very least a denigration, of people who work in the arts and culture sector, who are reliant on continuous creative output to make their living, to expect that the nature of that work in the current world we live in should not have an impact on the way they create, or the expectations they feel regarding their creations’ worth.

I think it’s generally agreed upon that art is subjective, that we assign value to art on an individual level, unless the “art” has stood the test of time and become apotheosized into something beyond the touch of the individual – funny how this only seems to happen to things that align with a white, western point of view.

I think, that although we understand in theory that the worth of the individual who created the art is not subjective, we don’t remember that in practice. We expect creatives to drive their art with their personhood as the boat and their talent as the sail, and then we pat them on the head and say “what a fantastic mug you’ve made, we’ll copy half your idea and it’ll sell like hotcakes at Anthropologie for $15.” (I might’ve mixed metaphors there, but that last bit is only half a metaphor).

My point is that it is nearly impossible to succeed as a creative, especially as a freelancer, and the way that you succeed is by accumulating failures, and failure, despite the old adage about being the best teacher, sucks shit. More importantly, it teaches you to protect yourself. And the way you protect yourself is by becoming obsessive about the quality of your creations, setting increasingly higher bars, and eventually either succeeding to a level where you don’t have to worry about failure (impossible, and arbitrary), or no longer putting yourself in the position of potentially failing.

I don’t fear failure, but I fear failing to the point that I fear trying again.

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