Sunday, June 26, 2016

Creative Fulfillment and Me

I am very happy I am a creative person. That is what I have always said:  I am a creative person. I have never called myself an artist, so I decided to think about why. (Prepare yourself: I am going to generalize, that’s how I express theory.)
To be an artist is something many seek. It is a highly admired profession. People use the word to describe themselves based on their lifestyle, source of income or ambition. (I believe “source of income” is the only valid reason of the three.)
But perhaps because I write, I like to use words precisely. The word “artist” is a fuzzy descriptor that can be earned or self-determined or earned. When I use the word, I usually precede it with the words “professional” or “amateur.”
I prefer the word I use: Creator. It’s a good one; it’s the one we use for Him or Her.
Creators seek two things: Mastery of their chosen medium and respect/praise. They passionately and obsessively do little other than invent/create. Praise/respect sneaks up on the greatest of them, it seems to me, and yields its rewards — respect, wealth and fame.
Those lesser blessed are more strategic about obtaining their respect. Consequently, it is often they who make the most money; their commitment to financial success or media visibility is equal to, or dominates, their creative drive.

My talent is average but diverse. At least I was able to professionalize it. Modestly endowed artists like me can easily earn fame or money but it is hard for us to earn respect and, therefore, to feel the hot flame of pride.

My creativity is best expressed in the alphabetic medium. I earned my living as a technical writer; my most lucrative contract lasted twenty-seven years. My thousand-word monthly editorials earned me almost three-quarters of a million dollars. A (text) book I wrote earned me well over a hundred grand. (I still cannot believe that.)

I took pride in my earnings but self-respect eluded me. The ebb tide of the Bay of Fundy is nothing compared to the depth of my low self-esteem. That may be one reason, but there is another: I felt my success was based on the content of my writing, not the writing itself. Technical writing did not fulfill me no matter how much it earned me. Why? The content came from my brain.
I took math at a local university when I was eleven. I knew I had a good brain, but the recognition I earned from the creative writing and art I made in school gave me far greater pride — hence my career decision.
The soul is a mysterious thing. It’s often referenced in conversation and in the media, but what is it? And where is it? If we “accept” the concept of a soul, I find it to be the right repository in which to site our creativity. Although intelligence certainly enhances creativity, I cannot site the brain as the home of imagination.

That is why my most satisfying income, a mere $1,500, came from licensing my screenplay. Although the film won’t be made, I sold entertainment, not information. The pride, the fulfillment, coming from selling the rights to Uncle Gus’ Monkey (SGM) is largely because the buyers came to me. I did not go to them. It was incredibly rewarding to receive praise I did not seek.
However, it was autobiographical and that feels a bit like a cheat to me because autobiographical writing is technical writing when it is not absolutely masterfully written and technical writing gets no respect—not from me or externally. It’s when writers use their experience to create fiction that they earn the respect that all creators seek (or so it seems to me).
So … if there were one thing left for me to accomplish, it would be to write something even more abstracted from my own life than SGM. I’m trying to do that now. But if nothing comes of it, I don’t care. That’s how great selling SGM was for me; my pride in that accomplishment is enough to get me into artist’s heaven.
Thank God for that. I ‘ll be going out content.

(Click on an image to see them better. Pause on the New Yorker cover.)

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