The life of a creative is not easy. We are sensitive, constantly doubting our amazing abilities. We struggle to prioritize the time to grow our talents or we devote hours to songs, poems, and stories we never put out into the world. But mostly, we are afraid. We think there is no room for our creations; they are not good enough. How do we know?
To be fulfilled as a creative, we need to share our creations to find our voice. Rejection is a part of creativity. A wonderful part.
I first learned I was a creative while studying poetry in Nikki Giovanni’s first class at Virginia Tech. I learned simple basics like “show it, don’t tell it.” I learned how to find my voice by imitating the literary greats. And I learned I could write about anything I wanted, but it would serve me well to try to have it make some sort of sense to others.
We had one student in our class of eleven who thought himself particularly witty and obscure. He presented a poem in class and was delighted to announce that we could read the lines in any order we wanted.
He read his lines, jumping from one column to another, top to bottom, then to middle of each list. Poetic ramblings along the lines of:
My heart, tossed like gubbins in a dumpster
Droplets of lackadaisical melted my salt heart
Shut the mouths of yawners
Wanton wants won wonderful rebellion
He’d spent the afternoon flipping through a dictionary, locating interesting words and turning them into sentences. He then put the sentences into two lists that filled half a page. Voila! Poetry.
Three minutes into the discussion of his piece, a classmate, a gentle linebacker with a south Virginia twang, grunted.
“You ain’t brilliant just because you write something that don’t make sense!”
The author of the piece had entered the class triumphantly impressed by his own ingenuity, and left slicing us with his side-eye.
I often wonder what became of the dictionary poet. I imagine him standing in front of a Berkeley classroom challenging his MFA students to push the envelope by shouting, “Don’t be afraid to tick people off!”
He wasn’t afraid to try something different and share it.
I hope the dictionary poet took the feedback from the group and allowed it to nurture his style of poetry. He was just a few steps away from those amazing writers who create things like reverse poetry; poems that are discouraging when read from the top line to bottom, but inspiring when read from bottom to top. It’s shocking that they make complete sense when read either way. Dictionary Poet was on to something. He wanted to create a poem that could be read in any order.
Professor Giovanni encouraged his effort and also encouraged him to consider the class’s feedback.
Without feedback and critique, we creatives will race into the Avant-Garde, slashing and splattering to our heart’s content. But people grew tired of that. They lost interest in bizarre Spam sculptures sprinkled with Fruit Loops and Pepto-Bismol. They grew weary of perplexing prose and pointless poetry.
People don’t mind being shocked or forced to consider a new perspective, but nonsense is different. But was Dictionary Poet’s concept nonsense?
As I consider my own creativity, everyone doesn’t get me. My sense of humor can be delightfully dark and complicated, my view of the world as a Christian, therapist, creative, black woman is off-putting to some and just nonsense to others. But, I am finding my tribe. People who care enough about my art to tell me what they think. I love finding out why my art doesn’t resonate, as much as I enjoy positive feedback.
I want to grow as a creative. A friend once told me that she was annoyed after reading a story I wrote about my ex. I soothed my insecurities and opened my heart to her reaction.
“Why?” I asked.
“You’re intelligent and attractive. Why!?” she said.
I danced with excitement. That was exactly the emotional charge I sought to evoke in my readers. I was on the right track; her annoyance was shaping me as a writer.
I have studied and written enough to be confident in my writing ability. I am a writer. I will become better by hearing praise in addition to hearing the annoyance. Or, as the Dictionary Poetry likely called it, the tick-off. I welcome it.
I hope it’s okay to say tick-off. Oh, who the H-E-double-hockey-sticks cares.
What creation can you fearlessly release?
Who can you tick off this week?