Shame and the Creative Arts

I’ve never been good about talking about what I do creatively.

I have a radio show, but do I publicize it? No, not really. Why would anyone want to know about it? It’s just a little thing I do online, it’s not a big deal. I do photography, sometimes. Do I talk about it? Well, the projects that I do with other people, those do generally make it on to Facebook, at least. The rest of it? Not so much. I don’t want to clutter up people’s feeds. I like to write. I write kind of a lot. Do I ever share it? Well, not really. I’m trying to learn how to, but I’m not very good at it.

Why?

Well, it’s a good question. Part of it is just privacy- creating a thing is a very personal act, and I’ve never developed thick enough skin to deal with sharing it very widely, I guess. It feels like putting my heart on my sleeve, to share something I’ve made with someone else- it’s intimate in a way I’m not very comfortable with. I also don’t have a particularly strong ego in relation to my creative endeavors, so it’s very easy for me to just assume that everyone will hate what I’ve done, because, well, it’s obviously not very good, is it?

This leads into the shame bit, though- for some reason, (and I’m not sure if this is cultural, or familial, or because I’m socialized as a woman, or some delightfully toxic combination of all of the above) I have a really deep-seated embarrassment about showing anyone anything I’m passionate about creating, even about admitting that I create anything, really. It feels like something Unseemly, like  Something We Don’t Do. Is it as simple as trying to have a stiff upper lip? Did I just really internalize that it is Impolite to be passionate about making things? Would I feel less this way if I didn’t have a solid case of Impostor Syndrome? Or if I had majored in music, would I still be literally shaking with nerves every time I sang alone in front of people? I don’t know. I can’t pull it all apart to tell you.

A very wise friend of mine told me recently, “This is not high school, where the most aloof wins.” She’s right, of course, but it sure bears repeating.

The reason this comes up is that, over the weekend, I finally made a Patreon account, because I really do want to get to the point where I’m able to make a living by being A Creative Person. I have no idea if this is even feasible, because heaven knows frustrated artists/writers/musicians are a dime a dozen, and the odds dictate that I will fail along with at least 90% of them. But… I’m tired of saying I want something, and then not trying, so now I’m trying.

I initially wasn’t going to post it on any social media, because sheesh, I sure wouldn’t want my friends or family to know. How embarrassing! Ugh! But then I said that to my husband, who very reasonably pointed out that, if I don’t mention it anywhere, no one will know, and then even strangers can’t give me money. So, I compromised- ok, I said, I’ll put it on tumblr. There are only maybe three or four people I know in real life who follow me there, so it’s fine, they can just reblog it, and then people I don’t know will see it, and that’s all I really want. I’m fine with taking strangers’ money; it’s not my concern if they want to throw it away! (I’m pretty sure he rolled his eyes, but he’s nice, and didn’t point out that marketing yourself is a pretty big part of being a Successful Creative Person.)

Then, today, I got a notification that I had my first patron, and that it was a co-worker.

Oh. God. This was NOT what I was going for! Strangers, I want to take money from strangers, not from people I know! They might feel obligated to support me even if I suck! What if I let them down! What if I’m just a charity case! What if they start to resent me because I’m depriving them of the cost of two lattes, and only posted one short story in six weeks?!

It was all too many feelings. In a move I’m not proud of, I sat down on my couch, pulled my shirt over my face like a two-year-old, and cried .

The culprit, as it turns out, was social media- a very dear friend, one of those who does follow me on tumblr, had posted my link to Facebook, because he is a wonderful and generous person, and is totally rooting for me to succeed. Several co-workers had seen it, several more had re-posted it, and the response was universally kind and supportive, because I am actually friends with really terrific people.

How is it that such an truly lovely thing could get me so discomfited? Well, the simplest answer is, “because I don’t think I deserve it”. But one of the things we’re supposed to learn as adults is to graciously take what people want to give us. It doesn’t matter that I don’t really believe that my work is worth the price of two lattes; it matters that my two friends do, and that they have decided for themselves, for whatever reason, to encourage me. It’s my job to gracefully accept, without apologizing or cringing, and then do that thing which they are supporting me to do.

So, fine. My bluff has been called on account of social media, and I must rise to the occasion and be the Successful Creative Person I’m publicly claiming I want to be.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I think I’m supposed to be writing a thing.

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