Scratching An Itch
This week we wanted to talk a little about obstacles that we put in our paths which keep us from scratching our creative itches. When we think about interests playing a significant role in our lives, the ability to explore various creative ideas seems pretty important, so what’s stopping us? We’ve got some thoughts about that.
It’s been 10 years since I felt truly creative. The last time I put stuff out into the world just because I thought it would be fun was in 2009 when Sean and I made Cat Workout. Sure, I've been involved in many creative endeavors since then, but those involved creating companies and following rules and being cautious. I have provided safe spaces for kids and adults to be creative and I am proud and find great joy in that, but I need to give myself permission and time to experiment and have fun too. When I feel inspired I want to throw off the bowlines and put it out there. Not for praise or likes (although I appreciate encouragement), but because it will scratch an itch. I don’t want to look back and be disappointed in myself for not finishing the second draft of my novel because I deemed it a waste of time if I can’t publish it. I don’t want to stop myself from developing guided meditations for tree lovers because I can’t make my voice sound like my favorite instructor’s voice. No, I don’t need to follow through on everything that pops into my head, but it’s worth jotting down in my journal as a record of where my head was at and how I related to the world. Having ideas makes us human and it’s the reason why I am not fond of the quote by Mary Kay Ash, “Ideas are a dime a dozen. People who implement them are priceless.” It insinuates that ideas should have a monetary value attached to them. How many times have you caught yourself saying, “that idea is worthless” and then never tried to give it the light of day?
Every time you worry that you could get trapped in some kind of work you don't care about, you're dealing with the problem of meaningfulness. I guarantee that in the back of your mind is the thought that somehow you have to make a contribution to something, be acknowledged, do something that matters--or you're just fooling around. -Barbara Sher
Youtuber niiyan1216 is a Japanese man in his 50s that lives in the Chiba prefecture (about an hour east of Tokyo). Every day for the past 8 years he has been posting videos of him feeding stray cats. As Joe Veix reported, “Cat Man” was receiving less than 50 views on each of his 20,000 videos (I’m not kidding), and then his channel got shared on Reddit and since then subscriptions and views have picked up a bit. There isn’t any evidence that niiyan1216 cares whether anyone else watches his videos. He doesn’t have anything on his About page, he doesn’t do the prescribed SEO work and he doesn’t reply to comments. He’s doing what brings him joy, caring for stray cats, and documenting them. Some refer to videos like these on YouTube as the “lonely web” and that labeling can be a barrier for many of us to find the courage to share our ideas. For-profit companies like YouTube have enabled us to share our creativity, but they don’t make us creators. In fact, they have prevented people from sharing because they’ve created a line between those that are “verified” as worthy and everyone else. Granted, some of us rely on those companies to make a living and if you want to get paid you have to play their reindeer games. But if you are interested in pursuing something creative and want to put it out there, then it’s imperative to set your own expectations beforehand. Do not set your worth by whether or not you can meet a company’s ad dollar goals. Your goal might be to simply hit publish on your video or upload your first set of street photos. Think about how incredible that is, you took an idea in your head and produced something. You just proved to yourself that you are capable and creative and anything is possible. Amazing.
Yesterday I hit publish on an ASMR bedtime story that I recorded with my cat. I did it because I have been exploring what noises negatively trigger me (I have misophonia), I thought it would be fun and yes, I like cats. Truthfully, I found it harder to hit publish than to move to a foreign country. Before I hit the red button, I made the goal to simply do it and that would be enough. An unexpected bonus came after my kid watched it and said it was amazing. As an idea alone it seemed insurmountable, but I was determined to face that fear and finish it. I took the scary idea and broke it down into several smaller steps that I could do one at a time, and once they were all done, so was the video. This process of deconstructing a goal into more bite-sized chunks is something we’ll talk about more in the future, but it was directly responsible for bringing this idea to life.
Do something today that your future self will thank you for. - Sean Patrick Flanery
I’ve been thinking about something I’ve been referring to in my head as the Kickstarter effect but googling that reveals a lot of people are talking about a “Kickstarter effect” and that’s not at all like what I’m referring to so perhaps what I’ve been thinking about would be more appropriately called the Kickstarter defect. In contrast to the idea that Kickstarter has allowed people to do things they couldn’t have done on their own thanks to crowd support, I propose that it’s also stopped people from doing things that they could have done on their own because they imagine there wouldn’t be enough crowd support. I’ve come to this conclusion after a lengthy and ongoing interview with a sample group of one, me. Join me on this personal trip down memory lane…
1990’s: “No one is going to do the things I want done, so if they are going to happen I need to do them myself.” The DIY ethic I’d been surrounded by since the 80’s really came together for me. In this decade I started a record label & put out almost 20 albums. I also started a distro company, a design firm, wrote and published lots of ‘zines, started blogging, made a lot of web stuff and helped open an art gallery. I did whatever I wanted and no one could tell me that I couldn’t.
2000’s: “The internet is awesome, I can do anything even faster than before!” For better or worse I started doing more things online because it was “easier” than doing things offline. That said I still managed to pull off a lot, and during these years I put on many art exhibitions, launched a global blog network, made tons of memes, blogged like a motherfucker, made a bunch of t-shirts and stickers, and started writing articles for various legitimate publications. I was “making it happen” as the kids say. If I had a fun idea, on my own or with other people, the timeline from concept to release was very short. Cat Workout in 2009 was a perfect example of this. Kickstarter also launched in 2009.
2010’s: “This is an awesome idea, I bet we can do a Kickstarter for it!” I started using Kickstarter early on. We used it several times with Safecast, I published satire and photo books and made music. I also helped a lot of friends with their campaigns and sung the praises of the platform far and wide. That’s not to say I did everything through, I also embraced my desire to make noise and photos. But as much as I enjoy those things, you’ll notice that they haven’t seen any updates in several years now. I recognize that doing a Kickstarter campaign made me feel accountable to other people, I had to deliver on the idea. But what I didn’t realize until recently is that with countless other ideas I’ve had, which in the 90’s or 00’s would have just happened, I’ve talked myself out of doing because I didn’t think a Kickstarter campaign for them would work. My thinking had shifted from “I want to do this” to “Other people want me to do this” which led to “No one else will care if I do this” which resulted in “There’s no reason for me to do this.” I’m not placing the full blame on Kickstarter really, as much as I’m recognizing how it played a part in my motivation.
The other day I lamented to Tara how it was a shame Kickstarter is in the middle of union drama which makes it a bad idea to launch a new campaign because I thought something we were talking about would be great for it. She caught me, and helped me recognize that I’d gone from “This is great, let’s Kickstart it” to “Oh well, without Kickstarter guess we can’t do it.” It was a simple and fun idea that can and should be done regardless, and I was subconsciously using Kickstarter as a block. When I think back how many things over the last 10 years that I thought would be fun to do, and then decided not to because I didn’t think they were right for Kickstarter… well, it’s an embarrassingly large number.
As an exercise, I did some in my head and thought back on some project ideas I’ve had over the last few years that I didn’t follow through on. I imagined a friend coming to me with that same idea and asking for help to get it done. In 100% of those imaginary situations, I jumped at the chance to help because I thought the idea was great. Why hadn’t I applied that same enthusiasm to the ideas when they were just my own? On some level, over the last decade or so I’ve begun putting more weight on ideas other people have and devaluing my own unless there’s some tangible evidence that other people would also be into them. Why is that? I never used to care about what anyone else thought and if you’d asked me yesterday I would have maintained that position, but if I’m honest there’s been some slow creep of outside influence that has messed with my internal motivations. That kind of sucks to realize, but at the same time, it feels a bit like relief. I was being blocked by something before without really realizing it, but now that I’ve identified that little naysaying voice in my head I can kick it the hell out and get back to doing things because I think they’d be fun to do.
The number one reason people fail in life is because they listen to their friends, family, and neighbors. -Napoleon Hill