I have a difficult time throwing things away.
My late grandmother Sophia Brown survived the Holocaust, and sought refuge in the United States after her concentration camp was liberated. She married, bought a farm, and had three children. And since she arrived with literally nothing, she kept everything.
In the last few years of her life, my grandmother lived in an assisted living facility. We sold her house and everything that she no longer needed. The yard sale that we held took over the entire farm: power tools, toys from the 1970’s, clothing, dishes, farm equipment. There were eight different lawn mowers, all rusted and broken. In her mind, everything could be fixed: you never knew when you might need an item later.
Almost twenty years later, my grandmother has long since passed away, but her reluctance to get rid of anything lives on in me. I keep books, school papers, clothing. Thankfully I’ve gotten better, but when I am cleaning my room, I am often paralyzed by the fear that I might actually be losing something important. Even worse, I could be throwing away something that might be necessary later.
I feel this way about the creative process. I often will not even start writing, or drawing, or creating because I’m struck with the anxiety that I might be losing something. I tell myself that I have to understand every direction I want to take a piece before I’m willing to commit myself to putting it down on paper (or Google Docs).
The truth is that part of that is the anxiety that what I’m creating does not have value. That I’ll commit hours or days or weeks writing something, only to get to the end and throw it away. In my head, I understand that the act of writing is valuable: it can help me process ideas, or even allow me to workshop a piece. Inside my mind, I understand the logic of just putting in the work and the time, that is required to become a writer. I know that logically, I need to dedicate the time just to practice and to make mistakes and allow myself to just think without the pressure of publication or external review.
But anxiety does not operate through logical proceedings: to my brain, everything I produce needs to be perfect and refined. Everything needs to be a classic, and make everyone who sees it laugh, cry, and feel elated all at the same time. I put pressure on myself to make everything Hamilton, ignoring the fact that Lin Manuel Miranda probably has a library’s worth of first drafts.
I am cultivating a creative community, one that can give me feedback while also keeping me on track. It is a give and take situation, one that I am not always comfortable with: however, I want to become better and more open. I have to be willing to commit something to paper, and understand that nothing is permanent.
My grandmother never threw anything away. Everything was useable, everything would come in handy later. And while I understand where she was coming from, I’m not her. And yes, comparing physical objects to creative ideas is like comparing apples and oranges, the motivation behind the fear is the same: I can allow myself to clear my house, and clear my mind. I can allow my art to be shit.
I can allow my art to be in obscurity.