Many years ago I felt like my efforts to create were going directly into the void. I struggled to find my voice and my niche in the creative sphere. I realized then that while my work is an amalgamate of all the things I’ve encountered, experienced, researched, discovered or been exposed to—so too, is nearly every artist’s body of work.
Hence the phrase on my business card, “Inhale life, exhale story”.
I decided then, that whenever I became conscious of an influence in my writing, storytelling, sculpting, or cooking…I would make a good faith effort to reach out and say thank you to the creative inspiration that lent me that particular bit of tool/nudge/craft/energy/wisdom.
I wasn’t sure at first how it would work. I sent emails, notes, cards, and thank you treats to chefs, songwriters, performers, directors, and most importantly—my teachers and mentors. I knew most of the letters would be skipped, or dumped in a fan pile bin. Some would be read and likely tossed. Others would be wrongly addressed as it’s difficult to find a way to deliver what is essentially fan mail to the proper recipient.
Even knowing that, it seemed really important to let other artists and creatives know that they are not producing into a void. The void can be a lonely uninspiring place. At the very least, I hoped a thank you note would get through to any one of them if they were in a space to really need it at the time, because I know what that feels like.
When I realize I’ve been influenced or inspired by a creative who has passed away; J.R.R. Tolkien, Marilyn Monroe, or Audrey Hepburn—I try to add a piece of gratitude to the Universe for their contribution, and quietly acknowledge they had a part to play in my humble creative hodgepodge.
Whatever collective amniotic fluid I drift in as an artist, I consciously know nothing is original. Still, there are days I sit at my computer and bang away believing I’m a regurgitative hack. I worry everything I’m writing is crap, and I have the rejection pile to prove it. Some days are better than others with the internal battle of originality versus circular creation.
Then a funny thing happens. Usually at my lowest point, a reader walks into the restaurant where I work, and they want to talk about the books while I serve them beer. It’s weird. I don’t look anything like my author photo. I still work a part time job to pay bills, yet somehow they recognize me right away.
At first they’re confused about why they’re seeing me out of context. Then, they change and become super talkative, and encouraging.
Perspective is not letting positive or negative feedback become an ego challenge or boost. It is only feedback, and must be calculated as any data would be tallied.
But I’m not ashamed to say that after these encounters I feel much less like I’m writing into a void. The story went somewhere, it found a home. Once it’s out of my hands it doesn’t belong to me anymore—but knowing it landed in the reading pile of someone who took it in makes me feel somehow like the world is a conceivable size…an understandable circumference. I am a small, nobody artist---who touched someone somewhere I’ve never actually been, and they touched me in return.
Connection is the antithesis of the void.
Usually, this encourages me to double my efforts to say thank you, to express my gratitude for my experiences and influences. So, I rush home and write a pile of thank you notes, because gratitude is as contagious as creativity.
And this world could certainly use more of both.