I remember the first time someone who was not an immediate family member or close family friend complimented one of my photographs. I was is in high school, participating in a summer program called Governor's Scholars, and had a black and white photograph of some morning glories in a student show at the end of the program. These were the days when we shot film, and developed it ourselves, and printed it ourselves. The morning glories were growing against the exterior of my parent's house - the soft curves of nature juxtaposed against the hard lines of human settlement. An older gentleman came up to me and commented on the image, noting that I had quite an eye. Later, my mom told me who he was - the director of the College of Fine Arts at Ohio University.
There is nothing quite like getting the approval of someone who isn't obligated by blood or relationship to provide it to you. That is not to say that encouragement, love, support, and kind words from friends, colleagues, and acquaintances isn't important, because it really, really is. It's amazing to me that my friends and family somehow seem to know just when I need a boost. I can be feeling really, really low about the blog, or about my writing or photographs, or things in general, and out-of-the-blue I get a lovely encouraging comment, a complimentary email I wasn't expecting, a vote of confidence from someone who doesn't even know how much I need it. But when someone outside of your circle gives you that boost, it feels a little bit different, makes you feel like maybe you do have something unique to say, or something special to offer, or an eye that brings new perspective to the world.
About a week ago, I approached someone electronically who I don't know well and asked for a chance to chat with her about being a writer. I love writing this blog - and am committed to continuing it - and I also feel like maybe I have something more to say, something that I'd like to see reach a wider audience. We all dream about doing something different - and for me, I dream now and then of making a career out of my creative aspirations - writing, crafting, photography. I don't think it's a bad thing in any way to want to do something you love every day - in fact, isn't that what we should all be aspiring to? And aspirations aren't a bad thing either. I thought perhaps chatting with someone doing just that would help me sort through some ideas.
Though the initial response was positive, the next day I was surprised to find a blog post by this author ranting - and that was a word she used - about people who want advice about writing. Of the many opinions and frustrations aired in the essay, the one that most caught my eye was critical of people who want to publish books. The author asks why people can't be satisfied by writing for the sake of writing. I found that to be an interesting comment coming from someone who herself is a published author, no doubt making a living from writing, speaking about her writing, and the like.
I felt disheartened by this response, mostly because it hadn't been given to me directly - I'd much rather have received an honest answer about a busy schedule, or a plain disinterest in talking to yet another aspiring author. But it also hurt because, at least for a few days, I contemplated her words with the sort of negative self-view that is easily sprouted from someone else's criticism. Criticism, it seems, is equally as powerful as encouragement, if only in the opposite direction.
The truth is, I've done a lot of creative things for the sake of doing them - and for other reasons - for a long time. I've been a photographer since I got my first camera - a red Pentax point-and-shoot - from my parents as a kid, when I shot frame after frame of every animal around me. I've been a writer since I got a letter to the editor published in Cricket magazine when I was about 8 years old. I've been an artist since I sat at the kitchen table drawing, or painting, or making something out of playdough. I've been a knitter since I sat by my mother's bedside while she battled cancer, searching for a pastime we could explore and share together even as her strength waned. I've done all these things for the sake of doing them, for the love of the people who inspired me to do them, for the pure enjoyment of putting pen to paper, or light to photographic emulsion, or needle to yarn. On rare occasions, I have done these things for profit - even successfully. There has been value - and pride - in doing those things each time, no matter what the reason, no matter what my motivations might mean to anyone else.
I'm married to an artist - a musician who is making his way in the world peddling his craft. He plays music because he loves to - for the sake of playing - and because he wants to make a living at it. I have no illusions or romantic misunderstandings about how difficult this is. Owning your own business is hard. Making a living creatively means working, every single day, and sometimes losing a bit of your love for your craft because you have to do it even when you don't feel like it.
In spite of that knowledge, I'm about to being a new venture I'm very excited about - creating for more than just the sake of creating. With the support and partnership of my great friend Mandy, I'm branching out into a little side business - a craft venture - to see where it can take us. Stay tuned for more information on how we'll be peddling these wares - and in the meantime check out our website. I'll be doing this - as well as my regular job, and writing this blog, and taking pictures (and being a mom and a wife and a friend and a foodie) - for the sake of doing it, and to pay the bills, and to answer some unanswerable question within, and to see where it leads. To me, that's something special, no matter what anyone else thinks.