The Something in Nothing
Written by: Carrieann Cahall
I’ll say it because I have been desperate for someone to say it to me lately; it’s okay if you don’t want to make art right now. It’s okay if you might not want to make art for the foreseeable future. It’s okay if you’re questioning whether you ever want, or ever even wanted, to really “make art”.
You have not wasted x amount of years of your life or emotional/physical labor or finances on creative pursuits. It was never a waste. I’m simply glad you’re alive and surviving, pandemic or no pandemic.
What do you do that’s just for yourself?
Somewhere along the way, I became convinced that the things I worked on mattered more if they were recognized. I think I conflated distribution and social media with “sharing”. Yet, if I was only sharing, why did it feel so shitty most of the time? The negative feelings I had about this sharing made me feel like writing was something I shouldn’t pursue, like I had done with editing a few years ago. Regardless of the medium, I had lost sight of my true fascination, storytelling.
The most editing that I’ve done is happening right now. It’s not for anything narrative, experimental, or particularly moving. It’s for educational videos. I’m a contract worker in Higher Ed. normally hired for instruction and outreach or tutoring, and my colleagues have found out that I can use Premiere. To no one’s surprise, I am somehow in every video working group regardless of my familiarity with the subject. Is the work creatively fulfilling? Not really. Is the work creatively challenging? Sometimes, but rarely. So, how much do I hate the work? Actually, I’ve been enjoying it.
Freed from the pressures of reaching some perceived cinematic greatness, I’ve been learning more about editing than I ever allowed myself to learn before. My technical skill is starting to catch up with my theoretical interest, and the greatest part is that I’m having fun experimenting and exploring again. I used to think certain levels of expertise were beyond me and gatekept by others who seemed comfortable and assured of the positions and titles they held. The work I do isn’t conventionally regarded as creative expression, which is a debate for another day, but for the first time I feel competent on my own.
Despite rebuilding some technical confidence, I still never fail to have at least one tearful breakdown every other month about the state of my creative life. It starts maybe with a reminder of the toxic time during my MFA, or thinking too hard about all the factors stacked against a current project. The peak of this breakdown is a chorus of my worst intrusive thoughts. The downward spiral is almost a motto now: I have done nothing, and therefore I am nothing.
This is not true. I revisit my day and ask myself, what have I done? I may not have gotten around to revising a story or learning the most efficient way to animate assets, but I did bake macarons. It took 5 batches over 3 weeks to study and feel for the ideal consistency in the batter. “Molten lava” all the blogs said, ribbons of mixed meringue that sink back into itself in the time it takes to say a riddle—and don’t forget to age your eggs! Recently, I did my taxes and decided that, too, was definitely something. Things don’t always have to align with creative satisfaction to still be very much a part of life.
My therapist and I talk a lot about not getting attached to outcomes because they are not things you can control. You see, you can put your energy towards anything or anyone, applying for a grant or helping a friend move, but you don’t decide who gets the funding and your friend can choose to extend their lease. I can continue working on my manuscript, and its life beyond that is not something I can predetermine. Outcomes are especially potent when they remind you of how much uncertainty is actually ahead of us, all the time. It terrifies me, but I’m trying to learn how to be flexible. To be okay just kneading a dough or making infographics on Canva, until the storytelling returns to me.
Occasionally, I submit to the idea that maybe I just don’t have what it takes to be enough. Imposter phenomenon meets cultural stigmas meet my own personal traumas. It’s old news that subdues creativity and stokes my melancholy, and I continue to work on processing it. But as that processing progresses, at least I have the cheesy instructional videos, the adorable feet of macarons, and don’t owe the IRS.
Whatever project or craft/skill or basic human function you’re partaking in, you’re doing it wonderfully. Keep going. You outside of the art matters more than the art. It’s enough to just survive sometimes, and it’s okay if this one story is just for you.
Carrieann Cahal | Writer, Editor