Cringe and Repeat

Creative Angst: Tuck It In Your Teeth And Let...It...Go.

Carlyn Lynch
Lately, I've come across an unsettling number of weepy Facebook notes or blog posts by many an aspiring tortured artist, all lamenting the same woes and frustrations. These public rants, the written equivalents of Kevin Bacon's embarrassing, rage-filled punch dance sequence in Footloose, strike a chord with me. As an amateur writer, I'm not immune to the urge to assault Web 2.0 with a fire and brimstone condemnation of my inadequacies in my field of choice. Many of us young creatives are hypercritical of ourselves and have this nasty habit of constantly seeking validation that the work we produce has some hint of brilliance and originality. The truth, for most of us, is that it probably doesn't.

Once we realize this truth, it can be a bit of an emotional bitch slap. But hark! There is another truth. We're not supposed to be brilliant yet. We can become brilliant. We should all take comfort in the early histories (often riddled with failure and self-doubt) of the creative geniuses each of us admire. The best (and healthiest!) way to feel better about yourself is to take comfort in the failures of people you envy…right? Any kid who's ever tried out for a basketball team they didn't make is told the story of when a young Michael Jordan was cut from his 7th grade basketball team to later become the greatest player of all time. Pretty soon, the kid stops sulking and starts dribbling again. If these types of stories can spawn resiliency in a 13-year-old awaiting a growth spurt, they can do the same for us.

One of my own personal Michael Jordans is Ira Glass, host of the very brilliant and original radio and television series "This American Life", and nothing gives me more comfort than listening to some horribly awkward audio clips from when he was an intern at NPR interviewing the cast of M*A*S*H. He sort of stammers his way through each question in a whispery, timid voice that could only belong to a kid who wears glasses and keeps all of his college textbooks rather than selling them back to the bookstore for beer money…God love him.

By sharing these clips with his adoring listeners, he's providing a huge service. He's letting all of us struggling storytellers in on the secret that he was not born knowing how to conduct interviews and build stories with a perfect blend of simplicity, humor and tenderness. What allowed him to become what I consider to be one of the most talented storytellers of our time was not prodigal ability, but perseverance, vision and good taste.

So don't despair if the love song you wrote last week sounds like it should be sung by a melancholy Big Bird on a Sesame Street soundtrack. Being able to recognize when something you've produced is crap is a good thing! It means that you have some level of taste and a discerning eye or ear or mind. Keep reading great authors, listening to good music, watching awesome films, etc. and keep churning out crap until all the genius inspiration you've soaked up allows one of your not-so-crappy ideas to hold on and float. Your creative adolescence, like your physical adolescence, may not be pretty but you will outgrow it and have lots of things to look back and laugh about.