The other day, Erika posted about her decision to be an artist, and it made me think about my own creative life. People seem to have very strong reactions, negative and positive, to those who decide follow their creativity. My family has always been whole-heartedly supportive of my creative pursuits –from ballet recitals to violin recitals to performances in plays and performances of my own play to photo exhibits– probably because being creative is the only thing I’ve ever shown any aptitude for. It’s not like I’m a math whiz (I’ll pause here for those of you who know how long it takes me to calculate tip at a restaurant to have a laugh) who abandoned it all to try my hand at writing. Growing up, there was of course an emphasis on the importance of financial security, but it was thankfully never drilled into my head to get a degree in something that would guarantee me immediate, well-paying employment (or employment at all, for that matter). What mattered was that I was doing —am doing something that made me happy, something I was good at.
But it got me thinking, because while my own family gave me such a positive foundation, and while 99% of the people I tell I’m writing a novel are really encouraging and supportive, there have been several hesitant, “Oh”s along the way. “Well…what are you planning on doing with it when you finish?” as if to say, “This isn’t going to be a full-time habit, is it?” And none of it has been intentionally mean-spirited; I just never realized some could view my decision to give in and be a writer as unconventional or risky, something to be met with confusion.
All of this reflection reminded of Elizabeth Gilbert’s TED Talk. Have you seen it? Spare 18 minutes and watch it.
This quote in particular really stuck out to me:
Is it rational, is it logical, that anybody should be expected to be afraid of the work they feel they were put on this earth to do? And what is it specifically about creative ventures that seems to make us really nervous about each other’s mental health in a way that other careers don’t?…And not just writers, but creative people across all genres it seems, have this reputation for being enormously mentally unstable…Somehow we’ve completely internalized and accepted collectively this notion that creativity and suffering are somehow inherently linked and that artistry, in the end, will always ultimately lead to anguish.
Why is it, do you think, that people worry about those who choose to have a creative life, but never question why someone would want to become, say, a urologist? Is it purely the lack of a steady income that makes people nervous for creatives? There’s a reason, after all, that the term is “starving artist”, not “starving scientist.” As a society we seem to place a large importance on the money that can be earned from a job, but we also definitely value literature and art, so it’s not like we’re entirely discouraging people from being creative or living a creative life. I’d love to hear your thoughts.