I am one of those creative types. I usually don’t self-identify as a “creative type,” but it’s easier now that I’m slowly, much to my dismay, becoming an artist. Not that I consider myself an artist. However, you can only work on so many projects, write some many things, and conceive of so many endeavors that have no direct practical value before you start to lose footing in “I’m not an artist” arguments.
I’ve accepted, for now, the nomenclature. When I meet people, and they ask about what I do, I stumble over words, start the same sentence in several different ways, and finally drop my shoulders in defeat as I sigh and say “I’m a writer” or “I’m an artist.”
This has in no way changed how I am at all. Part of me always feared that if I ever began to say this, I would be called out as a liar. Part of me expected the insecurity to go away. But it hasn’t.
You see, as a class of people, these creative types are plagued with self-doubt. They all have an “I’m not X enough.” Creative. Clever. Skilled. Talented. Inspired. Artistic. Connected. This particular insecurity is good friends with “You’re just saying that.”
My versions of “You’re just saying that” have to do with people saying things are good–especially when there’s minimal criticism otherwise. I don’t believe them. If something is good, you have more of an opinion on it than that. This is, of course, a total lie. I’ve seen plenty of things to which I just can say “I liked it” and have few words beyond that.
My insecurity with producing good work has, I say, nothing to do with the fact that I write stuff or make things. That is to say, my damage is in no way associated with me being one of those creative types. When I cook, my insecurities and normally hidden perfectionism rises to the surface.
One night I was making dinner. We were going to have tacos because tacos are delicious, easily personalized, and not a big thing unto themselves. These were, of course, vegetarian and easily veganified. I also didn’t want to go to the grocery store.
First, we made seitan. Seitan’s actually really easy to make, as it is, in its most basic form, wheat gluten and water. The flavoring is the most important part. While making it, I fretted over having kneaded it enough. That I put enough flavoring in it. That the mixture of spices and sauces would taste good.
Then, we made tortillas. We didn’t have corn meal. I frowned and noticed the chick pea flour. It wouldn’t taste quite right, but it would change the texture. I used less than a third a cup in the total of two cups flour. I mixed it up, added salt and water, and tasted.
It tasted too much like chick peas.
G reassured me that it would be fine and we turned them into little balls that I flattened with a rolling pin. Then I worried that they were too thin. Then they were too thick. Then they were not cooked enough. Cooked too much. G eventually ate one and reassured me that they tasted fine.
Of course, I didn’t believe him.
“This is what you always do,” he told me, in reference to being overly worrisome about people enjoying their experiences. The experiences I am somehow responsible for. “It always turns out fine.”
The seitan, once cooked, was rather tasteless. I cooked it up in a pan with more flavoring ingredients and, in not trusting myself, proceeded to coerce everyone available into trying it. They all said it was fine.
I chalked it up to everyone being hungry.
When we were all at the table, I, jokingly, admitted that I really just want to hear them say it’s good. After I realized how it sounded, I stumbled over words trying to express that I only want to hear that if it’s true. I don’t want them paying lipservice.
Of course, they all say it’s good.
Of course, I still don’t believe them.
I find myself eventually accepting that maybe, just maybe, they’re enjoying dinner when there are no left overs.
This is more or less how I am with everything I make. I down play what it is. I down play the work that went into it. I down play my own involvement in the good parts and play up my involvement in the bad parts. I do this with my creative works, and I don’t believe any simple “It’s good” unless there’s negative, or constructive, criticism accompanying it.
If someone had told me dinner was good, but the seitan was lacking some flavor, or the chickpea flour was overbearing, I’d believe them much more than if they simply said it was good. In truth, I’m looking for acknowledgement of the experience. I want to know someone took a critical eye to what I produced and then reached conclusions about it.
This is why I love analytics.
Analytics fulfill a desire for recognition. Rather than looking to people for actual responses, I look to the internet to tell me how many people are reading my blog. I check out what search terms led them here. I look at referring sites. I consider this attention, at some level, to be a form of approval.
At least people are reading.
Analytics rather than serving any actual or specific use or point, merely placates some of the more irrational parts of my “creative mind.” It doesn’t mean what I’m writing is any good–not that I’d believe you if you said so anyway–it proves something even more important: you are reading.
According to Oddletters, people are less likely to trust the opinions of those who know them well–that those opinions are colored by the fact that people like you. Third party observers, near strangers, are more likely, we feel, to be “scientific” in their opinions, that this lack of emotional involvement is grounds for a more honest opinion. This instinct of ours discounts the idea that people who know us better know us better and understand what we’re doing. It also discounts politeness to strangers. As Matt says “I can be nice to anyone, I can only be a jerk to my friends.” With things like analytics data, we don’t have to know, or even care, whether you’re being polite because you’re a friend or you’re being polite because you’re a stranger. We know you’re there and that’s all that matters.