On the Anxiety of Success: Finding Self-Favor in the Arts

love your solitude and try to sing out with the pain it causes you. For those who are near you are far away… and this shows that the space around you is beginning to grow vast…. be happy about your growth, in which of course you can’t take anyone with you, and be gentle with those who stay behind; be confident and calm in front of them and don’t torment them with your doubts and don’t frighten them with your faith or joy, which they wouldn’t be able to comprehend. Seek out some simple and true feeling of what you have in common with them, which doesn’t necessarily have to alter when you yourself change again and again; when you see them, love life in a form that is not your own and be indulgent toward those who are growing old, who are afraid of the aloneness that you trust…. and don’t expect any understanding; but believe in a love that is being stored up for you like an inheritance, and have faith that in this love there is a strength and a blessing so large that you can travel as far as you wish without having to step outside it.A lot of the time when I am submitting my own writing into the world, I find there is a tinge of self-doubt in success. I have many friends in the poetry community who are becoming more and more recognized, winning awards, being placed in anthologies, and so forth. This year has been lucrative for me: I have published more this year than all of my other publications combined, have had two nominations for two separate essays for the Best of the Net awards/anthology, and have finally gotten around to shopping around a manuscript of lyric essays. I have a lot to be thankful and proud for.

However, as the great Leonardo di Vinci once said “Art is never finished only abandoned.” I fail to feel pride in my work because my work is never finished. Yet, it is important to acknolwedge that if your work doesn’t include the freedom for play, you may be too serious about your art. Self-doubt comes when a) one compares one’s growth to the successes of companions around oneself or b) progress is not made and the feeling of stagnancy occurs.

Therefore, never compare yourself to other writers and artists: they have their own rate of growth and the individual artist grows at his or her own pace. Acknowledge the successes of your work, even if you feel they are trivial. Part of this is finding good quality journals, new or prestigious, that enjoy and find worth in your work. Part of this is surrounding yourself with other generous artists who will encourage you, critique you in a genuine manner, and celebrate your successes. Part of this is remembering your solitude is one of the key mannerisms you can hold in your process toward growing as an artist. I keep coming back to Rilke who said in his Letters to a Young Poet . . .

love your solitude and try to sing out with the pain it causes you. For those who are near you are far away… and this shows that the space around you is beginning to grow vast…. be happy about your growth, in which of course you can’t take anyone with you, and be gentle with those who stay behind; be confident and calm in front of them and don’t torment them with your doubts and don’t frighten them with your faith or joy, which they wouldn’t be able to comprehend. Seek out some simple and true feeling of what you have in common with them, which doesn’t necessarily have to alter when you yourself change again and again; when you see them, love life in a form that is not your own and be indulgent toward those who are growing old, who are afraid of the aloneness that you trust…. and don’t expect any understanding; but believe in a love that is being stored up for you like an inheritance, and have faith that in this love there is a strength and a blessing so large that you can travel as far as you wish without having to step outside it.

One of the ways we as artists can grow is to appreciate the experiences we have to write with. Go in search of new experiences. Explore possibilities in your writing that you haven’t yet. As a bisexual poet/essayist, I am just beginning to navigate the underlying social perceptions and consequences of being who I am. I have many LGBT friends who have their own experiences I can draw from. Be human, for that is the goal of art: to reveal the humanity and miracles of the mundane moments of our lives. Experiment: once you have gained formal training (I am well versed in formal structured poems and reportive nonfiction) branch out into uncharted territory of the mind, of the social stratosphere, of format and unique language.

I encourage you to pat yourself on the back for being an artist. Others do not understand the joy, freedom, and struggle of being a creator. Others will not see strife and the feeling of dread in the slump of malnourished creativity. Read/enjoy your partners in whatever arts community you belong to and do not fear to reach out and ask for advice, prompts, inspiration. I leave you with a poem about poetry from Jane Kenyon, one that is beautiful and speaks on the power of art and poetry itself. Anyone who is growing in any art, keep going. Persevere and strive for self-acceptance: you will find a voice unlike any other for it will be your own.


Briefly it Enters, and Briefly Speaks

I am the blossom pressed in a book,
found again after two hundred years. . . .

I am the maker, the lover, and the keeper. . . .

When the young girl who starves
sits down to a table
she will sit beside me. . . .

I am food on the prisoner’s plate. . . .

I am water rushing to the wellhead,
filling the pitcher until it spills. . . .

I am the patient gardener
of the dry and weedy garden. . . .

I am the stone step,
the latch, and the working hinge. . . .

I am the heart contracted by joy. . .
the longest hair, white
before the rest. . . .

I am there in the basket of fruit
presented to the widow. . . .

I am the musk rose opening
unattended, the fern on the boggy summit. . . .

I am the one whose love
overcomes you, already with you
when you think to call my name. . . .

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