In the last fortnight, something bizarre has happened. I took a large bundle of articles and stories that I’ve written over the last 6 months and published them on this blog. I did so for a variety of reasons, but the thing that I wasn’t expecting was for people to actually read them. It’s a strange sort of doublethink, because of course the reason you post things on the internet is so that people can see them. But I never actually considered what happens next.
In the last fortnight I’ve been sorry, embarrassed, moved and even proud – all because of people’s reactions. Mostly, as you might reasonably expect, people I know. Which makes sense. But as the people I care more about, they are the people who also have the most weight on what I say, or think about saying. It’s a good thing, I’m not trying to imply that it isn’t. But it is a weight non the less. All those things I posted, I didn’t write them for anyone else. I wrote them for myself – they are primarily the result of me simple trying to force myself to write, with all sorts of results. But I wrote them for myself, often in the form of an article – as if I was writing for an audience, but the audience was only really me. The written equivalent of having a silent argument in the shower.
But I did publish them. There they are, a tiny spot on the internet marked ‘me’.
Something else that I didn’t expect is that for the last fortnight I haven’t felt much like writing. I don’t know if it’s because my crazy mass-post was a big expenditure of work and I’m just mentally recovering, or because there are other things going on in life, or something else entirely. It’s also possible that I’m just being radically unfair to my own mind – there have been months where I have gone without writing, but since the only person monitoring it was me, I just didn’t notice so much.
All of this got me thinking about gestation. A particularly lovely and fitting word, one that I’ve had thoughts about for a good few years and which I now, unexpectedly, find myself actually in – even if it is only myself that’s putting me there.
In today’s media, there is an overwhelming culture of overnight success. The cult of celebrity, the sudden sweep of stardom. Justin Bieber was discovered on Youtube. X Factor and The Voice raise people up from obscurity. Anyone, anywhere can become a superstar, we’re taught. It Could Be You. There’s nothing wrong with this, in itself, but along with it comes something else – the idea and myth of effortless fame. The idea that anyone can become rich, for nothing. You could be famous, what for? For being famous. And that is much, much more dangerous.
Social media and technology integration absolutely feed into this. Anything you think, say or do can be caught on camera and be viral before the day is out. Everyone has a blog. Everyone posts their songs. It’s everything for everyone at all times. And I don’t have a problem with this either, really. As much as people gripe about things, and there is much to be justifiably griped about, there is so much to be gained. So much learning, so much sharing. A dancer in Chicago can record their practice moves, to be seen by someone in Shanghai, who can spin those dance steps and blend them and send them back, all in the space of a couple of hours. The reason the world feels smaller now is because it is. If time equals distance, then every continent is now in your back yard.
But something small can be lost; gestation. Part of learning something is doing it over and over again, and most likely being terrible. If you want to play in a band, the best thing to do is grab the first willing people you can find and go make some noise. It might be horrible. It probably will be, and that doesn’t fucking matter. You’ll be mashing your guitar strings and making the most godawful sound known to humankind, and you’ll have a great time doing it. Because much as we are taught that results matter, we’re rarely taught that those results aren’t the end product. If you spend five years practicing with your paintbrush, the result you’re after isn’t just the picture you finally paint that gets you into a gallery. It’s every thing you painted and thought and scrapped along the way.
This is where the internet age can become a burden. As much as you can be inspired and raised up by people around the world, it’s just as easy to feel crushed. You know you don’t sound like them, which means you’re bad. You know you don’t know as much history as them, which means you’re bad. From opera to accountancy, there are a thousand people on the internet who are better than you.
And if you think like that – and there has probably been a day where you have – you will inevitably be crushed under the enormous weight of your own inadequacies. Inadequacies that you invented – because you stood next to Thom Yorke and asked why you weren’t like him.
So. If there ever comes a time where this feels like it’s happening? Just unplug. Put down the smartphone, turn of the tablet. Stop comparing yourself to the entire fucking planet, pick up your guitar, and go make some excellent screechy wails. Let yourself gestate. Away from the cameras and microphones and insta-tweeting-social-scene. Let yourself fail, and learn, and grab a thousand tiny victories by yourself, for yourself. The internet isn’t going anywhere. When you want to come back, when you want to post up your thoughts, your sounds, your skills, you can. But you don’t have to. For all the magazines and headlines scream about this person or that, for all the adverts telling you you should be harder, faster, prettier, fitter, it’s all just jumble and noise. No one, however much they might pretend, started out brilliant. If you want to do something, just start doing it.
So I guess there are two things here, jammed together somehow. The first is that it’s okay to do something and not compare it to an Olympic standard. The second is that it’s okay to not look at the Olympic standard.
And yes, this is all tangled and poured out from my thoughts about my writing. Even my writing this, here now. I’m choosing to post this piece, but I didn’t post the four other things I scribbled out.