I have found what seems to be an unfortunate correlation: the more successful my incredibly talented group of artist friends get, the less we take note of and celebrate our successes. It happens all the time. One of my friends had a fantastic art show, but felt let down by the turn out following opening night. Another friend had a story accepted in a lit mag and then found out she wasn't on a writing prize shortlist in the same day. She spent more time feeling inadequate about the shortlist. I'm not telling you this because it's a criticism, it isn't. On the one hand, I get it. Acclimating is how we've survived this long. We get used to new environments. We also get used to a certain level of success. If we've hit a high note once, and we can't hit it the next time, we're down on ourselves, and if we don't hit a higher note, we're like, "well, yeah, I knew I could do that. Wake me up when I can shatter chandeliers."
I'm pretty sure it was David Hume who said that as artists, our taste is always going to exceed our capability. It could have also been basically anyone because I'll be honest, I got high during the break of every single one of my philosophy of art classes and the thing I remember most is making Kant puns on the back of a midterm I finished early. Because I don't want to interrupt my train of thought by googling, let's assume for the sake of argument that this guy said it.
Anyway this notion of Hume's* is something I remind myself of regularly. The reason I am able to improve (I hope??!?) as a writer is because my taste in writing is way ahead of the things I actually write. I love to read the works of Carol Shields, for example, but I write more like Stephanie Meyer of Twilight fame.
And that's good! If I liked writing that was exactly like my writing, at that same level, I'd feel like I beat the game, princess was in the right castle, checkmate, I'm out.
I think Hume's idea applies to more than just our capability, though. For a lot of us who want our art form to be our vocation, our vision for ourselves and our successes is also more advanced than our current situation. We're ahead of ourselves again. Once again, that's good. If you want to play this losing game, you don't win without pushing yourself on to the next step. Nobody's ever knocked on anyone's door and been like "hey man you look like you have a great book in you, here's $100,000 to write it, bye!" If you have somehow won by doing nothing and some eccentric publisher came to you, please message me because if there's one thing I hate, it's taking the long way around. The thing is, bizarre scenarios or not, I'm pretty sure the long way is the most likely way. It's also the way that gives you the most experience, and often the most clout, and if Pokemon has taught me anything, (and my god has it,) it's that you don't level up without experience.
If you've been published, or if someone has bought your art, or if you had an amazing choir solo, I'm asking you to think back to the first time you had that experience. Think about that bubbling elation you felt. Maybe you ran screaming through your apartment, flopped onto your couch, and kicked your feet into the air while singing Bruce Springsteen's Dancing in the Dark for reasons best known to David Hume. Maybe you called your best friend or your grandma immediately. Maybe you filled a bunch of balloons with drug store lubricant and threw them off a roof. I can promise you you were thrilled though. You're not Aubrey Plaza.
Now I know you know this, but in case you need to be reminded: when you hit those same accomplishments now, they're still the same accomplishments. Any yesses are you kicking ass. They're worth celebrating. Grab some fucking nachos. Go buy yourself a chocolate bar. Treat yourself to a new book. Call your friends and hit the town until your fists are bloody from beating bricks. You're doing what some people only talk about. You're doing it and it's paying off.
It can be hard to celebrate yourself. I don't know about your city, but mine has a huge Protestant Hangover and seems to think it's tacky to do things like accept compliments or feel proud of your work. I know you might feel like you're jinxing yourself, or like it's gauche or whatever, and that's fine. I'm not saying you should throw yourself a parade but damn it brag a little. It's good for you. Doctor's orders.
Now for my brag, cuz I fucking love bragging: I got two poems published in an incredibly gorgeous lit journal that I'd never been published in before. I'm in there with several authors I geek out about. And I'm GD stoked about it. I did an accidental jumping jack when I read the acceptance e-mail. You can read it here, too. And if you get an acceptance letter, and you want to share it with someone but don't want to seem too up on yourself? Send it to me, even if you don't know me. Even if you don't, I'll celebrate the ever loving fuck out of you. You already know I pick fantastic gifs.
[WRITING ACCEPTANCE 5/?]
Are these poems still available? If so, we would love to publish Tales from the Alley in our Bye Bye Vancouver issue! We were also considering Summer Rituals or Grains if they were also available. Please let us know!
All the best,
Send me those acceptances! You know I love to get excited about stuff.
Until next time,
- E.B. Kirsh
* If you find out who said the thing about taste exceeding let me know. I've been saying it's Hume for so long that even if it's not I'll probably just keep saying it is, but I'm curious.