So much of The West Wing is, of course, unsurpassably excellent. But I especially like one early episode in which the ever-reliable, super-smart, amazing and handsome Sam Seaborne fucks up. I can’t quite remember how or why, but can’t get enough of the considered reaction of Sam’s boss, Leo McGarey, who says, “I know it was a screw-up, but I loved how he stormed into it, full throttle, like there’s now a Sam Seaborn-shaped hole in the wall.”
Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m certainly not trying to claim that I’m ever-reliable, super-smart, amazing or handsome… yet I do like the idea that some part of my personality doesn’t really mind leaving Jon-shaped holes in the wall. Trust your instincts, I reckon, and do and say what feels right even if it’s not the surest way of safeguarding someone else’s affections or advancing your career. Or whatever else. Life’s too short to only ever let safe or popular opinions rattle around in your head. Yes, try not to be a dick. But don’t always tow the corporate line, either. And don’t be a sucker or a suck-up.
I put it to you now, challenge the status-quo every now and then. Shake up the facts of your life and see how they settle. Take heed, in other words, of this, from Ralph Waldo Emerson (my idea of a nineteenth century Aaron Sorkin):
The other terror that scares us from self-trust is our consistency; a reverence for our past act or word, because the eyes of others have no other data for computing our orbit than our past acts, and we are loath to disappoint them.
But why should you keep your head over your shoulder? Why drag about this monstrous corpse of your memory, lest you contradict somewhat you have stated in this or that public place? Suppose you should contradict yourself; what then?
What then? Isn’t that just one hell of a brilliant thing to ask? So I changed my mind… so what. I was one thing yesterday, now I’m something else today. Keep up!
All of which gets me to sharing the most unexpected thought I woke up with a couple of day’s ago. One I didn’t see coming, before it hit me like a freight train:
Creativity is overrated.
Boy. Forever and a day, I’ve wanted to be creative. More specifically, to write and write and write until I become damn good at it and other people read what I write and go, where did that come from? – are you some kind of genius?
Only now (at last?) I’m thinking, sure, but what’s in that for me? Writing – creativity – surely ought to be a heaping lot of fun if it’s even the littlest bit worth the effort. When it gets to be too hard, for too long at a time, why bother? If you appreciate the challenge, do it. If you love getting better, do it. If it fills you full of joy and helps you builder a ladder up to the stars, do it.
But if the time isn’t right for being creative, or if you’re only really dragging your head and heart along, screw it, put a record on or read… Spend some time with your family. Laugh at something silly. Get outside and go take a fucking walk.
Don’t by force make something beautiful a slog. Don’t labor under illusions that ‘suffering for your art’ is a decent use of time. And don’t ever do it for the benefit of strangers (in my case, would-be readers I’ll never meet).
While we’re at it, let’s not look the other when taking full account of what creativity can do. It can lead to bitterness, frustration, and narcissism. It can keep us from getting a good night’s sleep. And it sure as hell can clamber over good-intentions and turn just about anyone into a wretched bore. Our IMPORTANT insights are not sacred gifts the rest of the world is dying to receive. We’re not the only ones with FASCINATING families, or hearts that once were broken.
Creativity is overrated. I was one thing yesterday, now I’m something else today. An unwritten book really ain’t a hill of beans. So, at last: if now, or next week, or next year, is not the time for me to write mine, well, what then? Maybe in the meantime I’ll never feel more alive.