I know that millions of people draw or paint or scribble out poetry. Some do it for the love of it, and it is a fulfilling, enjoyable hobby. Maybe they give their work away as gifts, and it is loved and appreciated by family and friends. Maybe sometimes they look for deeper acknowledgement of their talent and a wider audience, and their poems appear in the church newsletter, or their paintings win ribbons at the County fair. Are they content with that? Is that enough?
Maybe they yearn for bigger things, or, like me, find the creative process a compulsion, and doing something with the end product becomes almost a necessary evil. How many thousands and thousands of us are there out there, I wonder, sending our words off in envelopes, or tramping around to galleries with canvases under our arms or photographs in portfolios? And how similar, or different, are our dreams of the end result? How many of us really believe that we are special, and with what hopes and dreams are we doggedly pursuing recognition?
So few really achieve any success. For every million male adolescents dreaming of being a rock star, perhaps one will actually hear his own voice on the radio. In every city in the world there must be a dance studio run by an aging artist whose biggest dreams were never realized. There must be thousands of unpublished novels in cardboard boxes in dusty garages, and every thrift store has a stack of framed canvases leaning against the wall.
But we keep doing it, those of us who feel we must, or those of us who really enjoy it -- singing in the shower, dipping our brushes in paint, choreographing the middle school play, paying someone to bind our poems so that we can peddle them ourselves at small book fairs... or at the very least give them away as Christmas presents.
And despite our all-too-often blighted hopes, we can share that tiny, private satisfaction of having created something. We can stand back from that piece of art, or read that poem aloud to ourselves, and know that sweet, real kernel of joy that says "yes, this is what I meant, I have done this myself, and it is good".
If we can't have that, then maybe the rest of it doesn't really matter. The world-renowned concert pianist who is never pleased with his own performance, who never experiences that rare moment of creative pleasure is bereft, while the elderly woman who smiles with intense joy at the little painting of tulips is blessed, however poor her product may be in someone else's eyes.
Sometimes, too, there are the admonitions of others, who either genuinely see a talent in someone else that they admire, or who have their own private ambitions that are inexplicably bound up in someone else's success. They often intend to be supportive and encouraging when they say things like, "this is really good... why don't you publish this?" or "why are you working here when you can paint like this?" And in their naive way, they probably really do believe that it is only false modesty or lack of self-esteem that stands in the way, and are puzzled when their comments sometimes produce irritation.
But who wants to be reproached for not having "published" something when he is the not-so-proud owner of enough printed rejection slips to paper a room? Who wants to be told that she should "do something" with her talent when she's foot sore and dejected from knocking on gallery doors? "Oh well, just keep trying", these well-meaning mini-patrons say, and launch into (usually highly embellished) stories about famous artists and their long hard struggles to fame and fortune.
It might be better, I think, to look on someone else's creative output with a healthy dose of sympathy. It might not be as flattering, but it is certainly more realistic.