Friday night after dark found me at a friend’s home in the lovely Surprise Valley area. It had been an especially long and difficult week, but the gorgeous view, fire-pit smiles, baked clams, and a seemingly endless supply of red wine quickly turned things around.
I had brought a bottle, of course, which was promptly enjoyed. (To show up empty handed would have been a social sin, in my book.) The Toscana blend, from “Santa Christina” (which sounds quite fancy—read, expensive—but really isn’t, as I rarely break my self-imposed ‘ten dollar and under’ rule when buying wine) came highly recommended by my local co-op’s wine shop, and who was I to argue? My adult beverage of choice is often the kalimotxo, a signature Basque drink made with inexpensive red wine and coca-cola. My palette is hardly refined.
Either way, I arrived to the gathering with a tangible contribution to the effort. But that got me thinking: In what other areas of my life am I a little less prepared to arrive with something in hand, so to speak? How do my relationships, my creativity, and, ultimately, my life suffer because I’m doing more taking than giving?
Particularly, as a creative, how frequently am I partaking in what others have offered up to the world as opposed to offering something in which others can partake?
I stumbled upon a quote the other day that went a little something like this:
“Either write something worth reading or do something worth writing about.” -Benjamin Franklin
I consider myself both a reader and a writer (one of which I get paid to be, the other is an insatiable hobby), so the words hit home. I had also read a recent article on Cracked (6 Harsh Truths That Will Make You a Better Person) that conveyed a similar insight: “How much of your time is spent consuming things other people made (TV, music, video games, websites) versus making your own? Only one of those adds to your value as a human being.”
Isn’t every film, every book, and every piece of fine art a creative work in and of itself? But I had to ask myself, When was the last time I did something worth filming or writing about, wrote something worth reading, or created a painting worth hanging on the mantle?
After recently reading Don Miguel Ruiz’s book The Mastery of Love, I was struck by one of his metaphors. He describes a “magical kitchen,” where you can have any food you want from any place in the world in any quantity, and you never worry about what to eat. You can have anything you wish for, and can share it with whomever you wish. One day someone knocks at your door with a pizza in hand, and says, “I’ll give you this pizza if you let me control your life. And you’ll never starve because I can bring it to you every day.” How ridiculous would it be to take that offer? You can have your own pizza, even better. You’d obviously laugh aloud and say, “No, thank you.”
And yet, in reality, we so often accept that pathetic, inferior proposal. There’s so much we each have to offer the world and yet we absentmindedly take someone else’s crusty old pizza—their ideas, their affection, etc.—when we have everything we need for a delicious feast, right in our own kitchen.
While the author is illustrating self-love versus love from others (you have an abundance of love in your own heart, not just for yourself, but to share with the world, so why rely on someone else’s to sustain you?), I think the same can be said for our accomplishments—our creative efforts, if you will.
Due to my vocation, I spend much of my time online, so I’m bombarded every day by a tremendous amount of written and visual information: curated articles, cat memes, stunning new research, brilliant commentary—the list goes on and on, beyond information overload and into another more dangerous realm. A realm where I feast on the spoils of others’ creativity, rather than my own.
I can’t remember the last time I picked up a paintbrush, yet ten years ago, I painted more hours in a day than I slept. But am I a fan of MoMA on Facebook? Absolutely. Can I name off a handful of local artists, whose work I have in my home? Yep. Also, within the last year, I’ve read about a dozen books, and have about a dozen more on my nightstand. But have I finished writing my own? Nope. (This may sound neurotic, but one of the only reasons I’m afraid of dying is due to the inevitability of friends and family finding several half-written manuscripts and wondering why on earth I never published them.)
As with most bloggers, my posts are as much for introspection as they are for sharing. So in acknowledging my own need to create and offer something of value in my lifetime, I’m in turn inviting others to do the same. In confessing my shortage of art production, I believe that someone who hasn’t painted in years might pull their canvases out of storage and start again. In mentioning my unfinished manuscripts, I hope that someone who reads this might be inspired to finish theirs.
Let’s get our arses off the couch and away from the television, and show up to this party with something in hand. We’re not just in this world to partake, we must contribute.