From A Matter of Scale, today’s Penny Arcade newspost by Tycho Brahe (Jerry Holkins):
You have to get back on the horse. Somehow, and I don’t know how this kind of thing starts, we have started to lionize horseback-not-getting-on: these casual, a priori assertions of inevitable failure, which is nothing more than a gauze draped over your own pulsing terror. Every creative act is open war against The Way It Is. What you are saying when you make something is that the universe is not sufficient, and what it really needs is more you. And it does, actually; it does. Go look outside. You can’t tell me that we are done making the world.
Say whatever you want about Penny Arcade, but this man writes truths. This cuts to the heart of why it’s hard to go through with something, or even to begin. It’s the temerity of telling the Universe that you have looked upon it and found it wanting. Of deciding that the fault is not in YOU for wanting something the Universe As-Is cannot provide. And then, most audacious of all, asserting not only that this should be made, but that YOU should be the one to make it.
At each step, it’s more logical, more reasonable, less vain, to shut up and think you’re in the wrong.
“It’s probably a stupid idea.”
“If it was a GOOD idea, it would have been done by now.”
“Maybe it’s already been done, and I just can’t find it.”
“It’s not like anyone else would want this, anyway.”
“Maybe it’s an okay idea, but it’s not like I could actually pull it off properly.”
And you can think all these ideas at the same time. The cognitive dissonance is barely noticed: on some level, you realize it’s all saying the same thing. In different phrases, with different gauzy veils of “reason,” they’re all just saying NO.
Even if you’ve tried anything before, you can so easily use all your prior failures against yourself – any and every other thing that never got off the ground, never got finished, was finished but never got the recognition you hoped for.
This is even before the stumbling blocks of What Other People Would Want, or What Other People Would Think Of Me, and What If Screw Up. This phase seems like a confrontation between You The Creator and the Concept, or You The Creator and the Universe. But it’s only a confrontation between You The Creator and yourself. Trying to justify – or argue against – inflicting your will on the world.
But each idea is its own. Each day, each hour that goes by, you have learned something, gained something. Your perspective is slightly different. Whatever the success or failure of anything else you’ve ever tried, you were a slightly different You then. You’re a slightly different You now. Maybe that doesn’t mean you’re better overall, or good in general, or worthy to even have the ideas you’re having.
But you have the ideas anyway. Your brain is the one with the set of associations, the attitudes, the experiences, that would allow this particular idea to be sparked when a few seemingly-disparate chunks of brainmeat all light up at once. And this might seem to be proof that you shouldn’t go through with the idea, because who else could understand? Who else could grasp the idea?
Maybe this is the trick. It takes a certain kind of mind to generate the idea from nothing. Or, if you prefer to think of inspiration as coming from Somewhere Else — and, logical as I may try to be, damned if it doesn’t sometimes seem more logical — it takes a certain kind of mind to catch and hold that idea, a certain weaving-pattern of thoughts and emotions and experiences and attitudes and associations that can sift that thought from some collective-unconscious ether, that can catch it and hold it long enough to act upon it. But while other people might never have that idea on their own, that’s not to say they wouldn’t get it when presented with it, once fleshed out. They might not have the idea — but they could get it, as soon as you show them.
Others never do understand, of course. And others get it, but have more refined experience and knowledge, and will tell you all the ways in which you’ve done a disservice to the idea and to the Universe in general. But you can learn from that and apply different techniques in the future, or choose to let certain ideas slide because they’re unworthy.
Or you can just keep doing as you do, as best you can, because you can.
Which seems like the very height of selfishness. But it’s almost all or nothing: if you don’t try, then what are you? What are you for? I know what it feels like to think of myself as The Thing With The Ideas In It. That nothing else really matters about me except for my ability to have ideas, analyze them, express them, and relate them to each other. To love my ideas but loathe myself, and to doubt that I could adequately perform what seems to be my only natural function. And I know it’s way too heavy to think things like “Who am I, really, if I do or don’t do this? What kind of person should do this, and am I that kind of person?” Whether or not you have an accurate self-perception, these thoughts only bring on doubt and guilt and fear.
But maybe it’s easier to address the negative: “Am I doing this, or not doing this, because I’m trying to be somebody else?” Whatever you think you are, whoever you think you are, whatever you might want to be, whatever you might think you deserve, you still probably have some sense of self, and some awareness of whether or not what you’re pursuing is You or not. Listen to it. Maybe you’re only doing the idea, yourself, and the Universe a disservice if you’re trying to stomp yourself down, or view yourself and your accomplishments through somebody else’s filters.
And yes, it’s terrifying. Yes, it opens yourself up more than you may be ready for. Yes, it’s possible that you won’t be able to handle it. It’s easier to assume you’re going to fail, and it sometimes seems more logical, too. But if you’re going to insist to yourself that you will inevitably fail, maybe it’s better to think that you’ll fail at your success. That you’ll make something awesome and fail to market it well, or you’ll make something awesome and say something stupid about it, or you’ll make something awesome and be unable to communicate the meaning clearly, or you’ll make something awesome and otherwise embarrass yourself and objectively prove yourself unworthy forever.
But maybe that’s still better than not making anything at all. Because, regardless of what you may think of yourself, maybe the Universe needs more You.
Maybe it even needs more me.