“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.)