Last week, Seth and I made a killing at Goodwill, dragging home a big bag of cheap fashion finds. On the way home, we talked about how we used to feel like we weren’t “cool enough” to wear the clothes we really liked. We talked about the different ways we came to embrace the idea that we were “cool enough” to finally wear the fashion we loved, because “cool” wasn’t a matter of what others thought of us at all--it was a choice we each made, to wear fashion confidently until that confidence seeped out of the clothes and into us.
In that spirit, as I was getting ready to go see Seth perform with Maryjo Mattea that night, I took out a white pleather jacket I’d bought five years ago, but only worn out once before. I’d liked the jacket too much to give it away, but I’d been too afraid of how bold it was to wear it often. Many, many times I’d tried it on over an outfit only to reject it for something more conservative. But that night, I loved how it contrasted with the flowy blouse I wore, and it didn’t seem too over-the-top after all.
Then I started noticing the flakes. At first, I thought just a small patch on the shoulder was peeling, and I’d be able to fix it up. Then I went to the bathroom and noticed that the entire back of the jacket was peeling, too. My plans to salvage it went down the tubes, and I realized that the second time I’d worn this jacket in five years was going to be the last.
That made me really sad. I realized that even though I’d come a long way in terms of confidence and self-expression, I’d still been so afraid to wear a really cool jacket that I actually liked a lot, that it had literally rotted away in my closet without ever seeing the light of day.
We let that happen to creative ideas, too. I’ve had many students who’ve told me about the ideas they’ve been sitting on for years, afraid they aren’t good enough writers to tackle them yet. I’ve also been approached by many friends with story suggestions, when I can tell that the reason they’re suggesting these stories to me is because they’re afraid to write them themselves. I also help a lot of students deal with a crippling self-consciousness that holds them back from writing with the kind of abandon they dream about, resulting in stories that feel stunted and unsatisfactory to them. And then there are the people who quite simply don’t think they’re “cool enough” to pursue art at all. We all have a lot of cool pleather jackets moldering away in our creative closets.
Sometimes I’m afraid I sound manic when I share all the ideas I have swirling around in my head--events I want to organize, stories I’m writing, collaborations I’m pursuing. But I’m learning not to be afraid of sharing my ideas anymore, because I don’t want to let any more pleather jackets turn to dust before I get a chance to wear them out. It sounds like a superficial problem, but losing that jacket hit me hard, because of all that it represented to me.
This applies to participating in a creative community, too. It can be hard to approach other people with our work, because it opens us up to criticism and humiliation. The criticism is hard enough to deal with, but at the heart of the humiliation is the fear that people will look at our work, or listen to our ideas, and think, “Oh, you really thought this was good enough to put out there? That’s pretty foolish.” So we let our ideas rot in the closet, because of this contradictory fear that we are not cool enough for the jacket, and the jacket itself isn’t cool enough to wear out of the house. It’s a really efficient way to never make anything.
But if you’re a maker, you have to find the courage to fully commit to it. I’m not talking about quitting your job or getting into debt to pursue your dreams. I mean it in the emotional sense--you have to be willing to take those ideas out of your closet and wear them around, because they won’t get better by sitting in there forever.
Every Wednesday, I share action-oriented tips for building arts communities. View all the community-building posts here.