So create

“When you don’t create things, you become defined by your tastes rather than ability. Your tastes only narrow & exclude people. So create.” 
~ Why The Lucky Stiff

A friend shared this quote with me. It was tweeted by a guy who called himself “Why The Lucky Stiff.” I know. It’s quite an alias, and the guy was, apparently, quite a computer programmer (prolific writer, cartoonist, musician, artist). He’s very enigmatic and mysterious, and I spent way too much time learning about him and his virtual disappearance in August, 2009.

But this post isn’t about him. It’s about that quote, which has been rolling around in my head ever since I first read it. It feels very powerful to me, even though I’m not sure what Why meant when he wrote it.

Here’s my stab at it though…

Creatives need to create – to feel whole, to feel purposeful, to feel alive. Every writer I’ve ever known feels terrible when they aren’t writing. And maybe “terrible” isn’t even a strong enough word because I’m not sure it gets at the guilt, self-loathing and existential angst that writers who aren’t writing face every day. I’m going to go out on a limb and say that this is true of all artists. Painters need to paint, musicians need to play, dancers need to dance.

When we don’t, we must define ourselves by lesser things – our “tastes,” which are, by definition, narrow and exclusionary. For example, if I say that I loved, loved, loved the Twilight movies, I will find my tribe, no doubt, but I will also lose a bunch of people, because that’s how tastes work. We naturally align ourselves with like-minded beings and to some degree judge the ones that don’t share our preferences.

I sincerely believe the reaction would be different if I were to say that I made the Twilight movies. Even if you didn’t like them, you might be interested in how I got into making movies, what drew me to the Twilight project, what’s next on my obviously enormously exciting horizon.

If someone tells me that they read mystery novels, our discussion will be short. I don’t read mystery novels, and I can’t think of very much to say on the subject. On the other hand, if they say they write mystery novels, I’m suddenly full of interest. I want to know if they’ve been published, how many books they’ve written, how does one write a mystery – beginning to end, or the other way around. I’m interested in the process, the experience of being a mystery writer.

There is a certain excitement around the act of creation, almost no matter what is being created. “I made a film.” “I painted a portrait.” “I started a company.” I danced, acted, sewed, knitted, wrote, built, launched… I created. There is passion there, and it’s the passion as much as the achievement itself that is fascinating, big, inclusive.

Of course I’m not saying the reason to create is so that we can be more interesting at parties; that’s just a bonus. I’m saying (or I think Why was saying) that in the act of creation we expand ourselves. We give expression to our ideas and passions, and in bringing them into the world, we are able to connect with each other; in the words of Michael Chabon, “Every work of art is one half of a secret handshake, a challenge that seeks the password, a heliograph flashed from a tower window, an act of hopeless optimism in the service of bottomless longing.”

Yeah. It’s like that… so create.

I’d love to hear your take on the quote, if you like it or don’t, what you think it means.

(Important Note: I’ve never seen or read Twilight. I have no opinion.
Please don’t yell at me.)


  1. Mr. Walz on March 1, 2012 at 12:13 am

    That’s why I write the poetry I do. It shows me in a manner in which I can express creatively and freely. It shows my emotion and strength through words. Which I actually wrote a page as to why I write poetry. It makes me who I am and I can expand as a poet, as a person and as an individual. It defines my character and who/what I am. if you don’t believe me.

    • j on March 1, 2012 at 9:06 am

      Amazing how long I went back on forth about whether to post the link to your site. I have mixed emotions about using comment threads to self-promote. I think if you’re going to do that, you should write an incredibly kickass comment that drives traffic to your site because you’re awesome. I decided to let your comment through as written because I thought this discussion might be worth having.

    • Mr. Walz on March 1, 2012 at 4:07 pm

      Well it was late and my mind was falling behind in my writing; so I toned my writing down a little, not only for my own clarification, but simplicity and an easy to read comment that would drive their attention away with possibly being seemingly endless. But thanks for allowing my comment to go through! I greatly appreciate it. Like I said on my page, “[Poetry is] a lost art form that I embrace.” We all have that inner creative aspiration in our heart, and you just have to write till the ink runs out or the pencil breaks. And even then, you still have more to create. You inspired me, and last night I finsihed another poem.

    • j on March 1, 2012 at 4:45 pm

      Thanks for popping back in to clarify. I’m not a poet, but I suspect this, “you just have to write till the ink runs out or the pencil breaks,” is true for all of you.

  2. Doreen Cox (@mothersitting) on March 1, 2012 at 8:13 am

    Why’s words (pun intended-wise) gave me pause, too. I always think of diversity whenever finding my focus on “these people vs. those people,” these vs. those books, movies, opinions, religions….I had not considered a link between creativity and diversity before. Usually, my mind shifts to the word preference. I prefer this, you prefer that…What truly interests me, though, is beneath the surface of preference: What is the story behind a person’s preference, especially one different than my own. Is this interest the creative aspect of my mind? Your points have given my mind some fresh air!

    • j on March 1, 2012 at 9:10 am

      “Why’s words” made me smile. Very clever!

      When I was thinking about the quote myself, my thoughts ran down similar lines in that what we create is obviously also based on our preferences. I write what I read – literary fiction and nonfiction – which means that my tastes are involved. But in the act of creation, I think we reach beyond the boundaries of taste. The act itself is transformative and helps us to connect to each other meaningfully.

      I’m glad you found the quote intriguing. Me too. Could not get it out of my head.

  3. C. Fassett on March 1, 2012 at 8:53 am

    Interesting guy…Why.

    I love this quote, and it got me thinking, which of course I love. I agree with your take on it. Yet I see something in it I can identify with in my present situation of experiencing an in between time in my life, (job, home, et al.).

    For example, I know that I PREFER writing sitting at an organized desk, (okay well, organized to me:), with all my little notes, and pens, and the like in some semblance of order, tea or coffee sitting beside me, or writing with notebook and pen while sitting quietly in the sun on a chair outside, all at a certain time of day (morning), etc. When those things or times aren’t available, I can feel a little thing inside me kinda freaking out, because my little world has been rocked.

    That’s taste

    …and when I don’t have all my little ducks in a row, everything just so, something inside wants to say, “well, you can’t write then.” (create) …which has me feeling panicked and a little paralyzed, like there’s some little battle going on between the left and right part of the brain, and where I eventually get to the point of inserting a sneeze. (Whenever my dad used to sneeze, he’d do so loudly, so the entire neighborhood could hear, putting a word with it, “Horseshit!” As a teenager, hanging out with a friend, say, in her yard down the street…well, yeah, embarrassing.) I’m not really sneezing, but mocking one loudly, with a “horseshit” in it, which I’ve discovered has the effect of having the right and left part of the brain stopping short in mid-duking, saying, “wth?”

    And in that space of silence, right there, is where I decide, “to hell with it, it’s about the writing, creating, not all this other horseshit. Just write.” Which…now that I’ve written this response, with stuff still scattered all around me, some of my things still in containers, a to do list a mile long, sitting at a desk not my own…(it’s working as a kind of sneeze ), I’m going to go write on my blog, and connect with whoever reads it.

    Thanks j :), for sharing the quote and all that you do. You help me stay true to my north.

    (Sorry this is so long. Can you tell I need to go write something? lol.)

    • j on March 1, 2012 at 9:18 am

      I love, love, love your take on this! I hadn’t thought of it in this way, but it’s such a great interpretation. Powerful. I do that too. Just yesterday, I was waiting for The Boy to finish a class. I reached into my backpack to write some notes about this post, but I didn’t have the right notebook. I had a notebook, but not the notebook where I muse about things I may write about later.

      It’s amazing how frustrated I felt. I actually thought, “Well, now what am I going to do? I don’t even have a book to read.” (Laughing as I write that to you.) At some point, I did have the WTH moment you referenced, and I wrote down my thoughts in the “wrong” notebook.

      Thank you for writing your long comment. It totally made my day. I’m so glad I decided to post Why’s quote and see what other people thought of it. xo

  4. June O'Reilly (@LunaJune) on March 1, 2012 at 9:08 am

    For sure… dancers need to dance… and you can see their bodies swaying to their internal movement even when they look like they are standing still, same with writers… even in a block .. they push… they search…for just one that one thought that pulls the plug and lets their wonder out :~) and musicians.. oh I don’t have to go there .. the musical magical pull of song.. ahhhhhh
    oh where was I going… yes creating… like learning it is in the exploring and finding and growing that we really shine… and some things that we create can not be held… like those that fill us with reminders of how awesome we are.. those that lift…and shine…who create around them a beautiful light
    that just flows into you whenever you are around them… sometimes no words are needed to share the experience of these type.. just that smile that comes from deep inside and easily flows out… those are my favourite creative people.

    following the flow … giving the world your glow…and growing with every knowing…
    so write… and paint… and sing…and dance…and play and do it with love
    now that’s shining…

    as for the quote… tastes verses create …
    interesting quote… I don’t define myself or others by tastes…. some of them are pretty weird LOL
    but the world needs those who go ooooohhhhh and aaahhhhhhh at the wonders those that create make…..their passion flowing all over the place..

    • j on March 1, 2012 at 11:12 am

      To some degree, I think you’re rare. Despite my efforts not to, I do make presumptions based on what people like, especially when they’re enormously different than my tastes. I’ve often learned that the people I’ve made those presumptions about are not at all what I thought they’d be. Live and learn, and learn, and learn.

      I love the idea of “passion flowing all over the place.”

  5. alvlewicki on March 1, 2012 at 9:58 am

    I love the quote. Here’s my take on it, fully biased by my own little world.

    I think we are either drawn more naturally to input or output — readers vs writers, if you will. We all do both, but one comes easier, and one is more interesting. The key is balance.

    I go through periods of intense input, voraciously reading 4 or 5 books at a time, getting lost in internet hopscotch from one site to another. And it always turns into a giant mind fuck and I have to stop. I turn to output. All different forms. I write. I draw. I noodle and connect the dots and come up with ideas I never had before. I create a new piece of jewelry. I get the urge to repaint a room to experiment with a new color here or there.

    And then my creative juices stop flowing, and I’m back to input. This year I’m making an effort to balance, to avoid spending too much time in one extreme so I can ship stuff and put things out into the world. What I find happening is the swings get shorter, more modulated. I still feel creative, and my imagination still feels nourished.

    Yep. This comment is all about me, I admit it. But I love you to pieces for sparking the thought that brought it all out and let me ‘say it out loud.’

    • j on March 1, 2012 at 4:57 pm

      Well, you know I love you to pieces too.

      Thinking in terms of input and output, I’m reminded of the two things that Julia Cameron says people should take away from THE ARTIST’S WAY: the practices of “artist’s dates” (with a focus on input, or “filling the well”) and “morning pages” (a sort of drastic, messy output that clears the way for a more controlled and artful output).

      I’m trying to be a little more even keel this year too. Let’s hold hands. 😉

  6. Tricia on March 1, 2012 at 10:24 am

    I don’t recommend starting with Breaking Dawn if you ever decide to watch a Twilight movie. You’ll end up being a hater, like me. Oh, wait, dagnabbit, that’s what you were talking about: defining. You are so absolutely correct. If I met Stephanie Mayer (Meyer?) today, I would see an artist, a creator, a person of high esteem. I would pick her brain. I would be in humble awe. I would act foolish. I would be thinking, “Why That Evil Genius”.

    Crazy, isn’t it? Just think how I’d behave if I were in the presence of an author whose books I actually did like. I’m too embarrassed to think about it. (I know you were thinking the same thing by throwing in a little Michael Chabon in your post). And I don’t think it’s all about successof the artist, either. If I stumbled upon Mayer’s books hidden in some library archives, I’d feel I made the discovery, and I’d like them better.

    • j on March 1, 2012 at 11:15 am

      I used the Twilight series on purpose, because I know the series is polarizing, and whatever (uninformed) thoughts I may have about it, if I met Stephanie Meyer, I’d be full of questions (and even awe) for what she’s created.

      And, yes. When I met Michael Chabon, I managed to say about three words… none of them coherent. 😉

  7. Annie Neugebauer on March 1, 2012 at 12:23 pm

    What an incredible quote! That’s a good find, and the mystery man behind it only makes it seem the more intriguing. I instinctively felt that the quote was real and big, like you did, and I perfectly agree with your interpretation of it. To my core, I believe creating expands us. It’s why, I think, our art is so important to us — why we need the people who love us to also love what we make. Because when you think about it, we’re not just creating new worlds and stories and characters; we’re creating more of ourselves.

    • j on March 1, 2012 at 5:02 pm

      I agree that our art feels as though it is an extension of ourselves. That’s why criticism and rejection are so, so hard.

      I’m finally getting to a point where I’m okay with people I love not loving what I create, as long as they love THAT I create. It took me a long time to get to the point where I realized (or accepted) that not everyone I love is part of my audience. But I do think it’s vital that they appreciate the passion and dedication that fuels my creative work.

  8. Christie on March 1, 2012 at 1:37 pm

    I did like the quote you posted yet I found that I resonated more with the way you expressed it “Creatives need to create – to feel whole, to feel purposeful, to feel alive”.

    I love my writing yet if I could never write again I would definitely need to find another creative outlet to take it’s place. I think I equate creating to purpose, that creating IS my purpose and if that is not happening in one form or another, I feel lost and barely alive.

    Great discussion here at the lovely Zebra Sounds!

    • j on March 1, 2012 at 5:08 pm

      Awww! Sweet talker!

      I think you’re right about creativity and the urge to create. If one way gets stifled, others pop up. I’ve also found that the more I indulge my creative urges, especially in ways other than writing, the more of them I have. Which is cool. (Though exhausting.)

  9. Dan on March 1, 2012 at 8:07 pm

    This boils down to Risk, Don’t Judge for me.

    That’s something you and I have talked about outside of the comments. So I’d point out that when someone makes a categorical judgment about the work you are doing, they are making a fundamental kind of mistake. They are judging without appreciating the risk.

    I’ve done that. I remember years ago walking into a friend’s studio and seeing the direction his art had moved in. He had stopped painting and was making sculptures of things that looked like they were melting, or something. I got all bolloxed up inside, couldn’t see where he was going, got intellectual about his work and said all kinds of damning faint praise things.

    He was a pretty remarkable guy. I was a pretty poor friend. Life took us one way or the other and we fell out of touch. (Which happened to coincide with my 15 years of writer block, but that’s another story.)

    Then one day he popped up on Facebook when he followed the artist page I set up for my mother the painter. I clicked through and looked at his work.


    Just this summer he launched a show in Paris. The pictures take my breath away. He’s so sensitive to the empty space of things, and his work has moved steady and far from where he was a long time ago.

    He kept risking. I judged. The moral here is pretty clear, I think.

    Now, about you…

    You have this wonderful talent to risk by asking, and then people share things. It’s a creative skill that complements your writing — where you take risks too — and that profiles the generous and sunny nature that you contribute to the world.

    Great job, J.

    • j on March 1, 2012 at 11:46 pm

      I’ve had similar experiences with writers, and I think in a way, you are speaking to that the distinction that Why is making between our (narrow) tastes and our (wide-open) ability to create. (Or if not Why, me.)

      I’ve felt similarly flummoxed, asked to comment on (critique) a manuscript in a genre that I don’t read. I found it hard to separate my preferences from my judgment of the piece. Whatever else is true about art, its worthiness is a highly subjective determination. But the impulse to create… that transcends genre, I think. We can connect to each other there… in our shared desire to communicate something larger than ourselves.

      Thank you for the kind words. I’m very fortunate to have the community I have here, willing to tackle the questions I pose, which are almost always the ones that won’t let go of me. Today I read a post by Justine Musk in which she talked about being vulnerable online. She said, “your vulnerability is also your strength. It shows who you are. Your right audience can’t recognize you until you step out from hiding.” I believe that… even if it means I lose some audience members along the way.

      It’s been a hard truth for me to come to, but not everyone will love me, and that’s okay. (Most of the time.)

  10. Michael on March 1, 2012 at 9:27 pm

    I think everyone is right so far, to be clear. I’d also say this, for myself, so I can sleep well:

    Yes, people who identify as creative are probably more in touch with that desire to make things, whatever it is that they have a personal affinity to make. They’re makers. Words, pictures, sounds, movement, buildings, community, whatever… they have to, love to, make. It drives us, no doot aboot it, as they say in Eastern Canada.

    I think there’s a wider application though, one that has a universal implication. When we don;t make – something, anything – then all we’re doing is consuming. It’s the consumption-only dynamic that makes taste our primary may of communicating who we are to the world. We also end up defining ourselves by what we purchase/own/covet. When we make, whether what we make is art, or artisanship, or labor, and we do that thing with love and integrity, not only does our projected self become more about what we are adding (instead of subtracting, because that’s all that consumption really is), who we see ourselves as becomes about what we make.

    Compare, say, a manager. Not exactly the paragon of creative roles. But consider the manger that creates community, inclusiveness, fosters goals and aspirations, and seeks to continually grow as compared with the one that hides in an office, counts beans to the exclusion of fostering trust, and cuts to save money as they shrink and shrink and shrink. I’d call the first one a maker, even if the idea of managing a team or business (ever again) makes me cringe.

    When we make, we add. When we don’t, all we can really say we’re doing is practicing subtraction. I’m no big fan of math, but I know I’d rather add.

    Another great discussion, j. Community is one of your gifts, in case you were wondering.

    • j on March 1, 2012 at 11:12 pm

      I like the add and subtract analogy.

      I think that’s true. And if we define “creation” as the things we do that are infused with love and integrity, then it’s clear that we are all capable (and I would offer morally obligated) to create. (Or love, which, by this definition, may be the ultimate act of creation.)

      You won’t get any argument from me!

  11. Pam on March 1, 2012 at 10:08 pm

    I like your take on the quote more than the quote. I think tastes are exclusionary when we want our lives to be simple and homogeneous (if you’d told me in high school that you LOVED a band I hated, I would’ve been very sniffy and exclusionary about that.)

    As I’ve gotten older I’ve found that it’s fun to discover that someone shares my taste, but it’s also interesting to find that someone just loves something I don’t. It’s intriguing that something (a song, a movie) did not work for me at all, but speaks to another. Also, the discussion of “x is great” vs. “are you kidding, x is awful and here’s why” can be very entertaining. (There are limits to this, I admit. If your favorite movie in the world is Faster Pussycat Kill Kill Kill, I would be hard put to engage in a good discussion about that. “Do you like the sneering? The leather? The low camera angles?”

    With all that said, yes, creating gets one to a place that is quite different, and I think everybody needs to go there sometimes. (Sweeping statement.)

    I love the Chabon quote.

    • j on March 1, 2012 at 11:17 pm

      “Creating gets one to a place that is quite different…” Yes, I think it does. And it’s a place worth being, worth using in our definitions of ourselves… however you define creation – artistically as I was, or in the wider, more geo-social-political-universal sense that Michael used.

      I love the Chabon quote too. But we are not surprised by that, are we?

    • j on March 1, 2012 at 11:17 pm

      p.s. “Faster Pussycat Kill Kill Kill”? *googling*

    • Pam on March 2, 2012 at 9:24 am

      I hope you’ve turned off your Google search history. I hate to think of the ads you’d get after searching for that movie.

      P.S. WHAT?! YOU’VE NEVER SEEN NOR READ TWILIGHT? (Someone had to shout a little.) Truth be told, neither have I! And I feel just fine about that. (There’s only so much reading time in this life.)

    • j on March 3, 2012 at 12:24 am

      I’m fine with it too. #twinsies

  12. jb on March 1, 2012 at 10:51 pm

    I’ve never thought of it that way before, but I will from now on. Thank you both. 🙂
    P.S. I laughed so hard I nearly spit out my coffee when I read you “loved, loved, loved the Twilight movies”. Ha!

    • j on March 1, 2012 at 11:19 pm

      Ha! That’s because you DO know me. xo

  13. Giulietta Nardone on March 3, 2012 at 6:19 am


    I took me awhile to figure out that participating in life is way more fun than observing from the sidelines. They teach us to sit at our little desks and observe instead of releasing us back into the woods where we can experience life, where we belong in our natural state. That’s why middle-agers feel reborn when they do something with their hands, voices, feet, mouths, bodies in the act of creation.

    It’s like we’ve come home … G.

  14. j on March 3, 2012 at 8:40 am

    Wow. If ever I do a post of my favorite ZS comments, this will be there. LOVE this response. (And yes, it’s just like that.)

  15. Estrella Azul on March 5, 2012 at 8:37 am

    You are spot on with your take on the quote, j!
    So often I found my horizon broadened, my mind wander, my tastes change and my abilities built upon while I was creating something – that I think yes, creation equals with expanding ourselves.

    • j on March 7, 2012 at 10:48 am

      Thank you, Estrella!

  16. tree peters on March 6, 2012 at 8:19 pm

    Honestly, it took me a few reads to get the quote. I only needed to hear “create!” But I get it. And your post helped me understand.
    I’ve been talking to my husband a lot lately about how important it is for both of us to re-commit to our creative selves. He suffers so much from depression…and it’s vicious cycle of depriving him of his creativity or energy to create and that in turn depressing him almost into oblivion.
    The need to create is equal to the need to breathe. It’s a much slower death, but I’ve felt the beginnings of the draining of my vitality whenever I abandon it for too long.
    I’m making it a priority again.
    This post tickles me in all the right places.

  17. j on March 7, 2012 at 10:56 am

    Reading your comment, I was filled with… well, recognition. I agree with you that the need to create is equal to the need to breathe, and yet… since most of us are not fortunate enough to make a living creating our art or indulging in creative silliness like my book spine poetry, we let “create something awesome” fall right off our to-do lists. And then wonder why we feel so listless and uninspired.

    Yes, yes, yes! Make it a priority. And your husband, too. (Maybe you guys can create a perfect date or dinner or Sunday.) 😉

    And, just to be clear, your comment tickles me in all the right places. xo

    p.s. Jumped over to your website and it’s all new and pretty! Can’t wait to spend some more time there.

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