Creation Isn't Easy

A while back, I started looking at all of this old footage I had accumulated my freshman year of college (when I still had hopes of vlogging consistently), and it used to make me feel so bitter.

I remember starkly, I was watching this younger version of myself blithely say to friends, "Can you imagine when we finally get the point where we can say, I'm a director? Like, when we can list that as our occupation!" and I couldn't stop myself from cringing inwardly, even as I felt myself bubbling over with envy.

It felt like I had lost something. Something I ought to have. It’s true that I’ve changed, but that’s just a part of growing up, right? You change. But I guess I look back on these old videos, hanging out with friends, exploring the city for the first time, and I’m embittered by just how optimistic this younger self was.  Even if I went back, knowing what I know now, I don’t think I could have preserved that. I could not have saved that bright, expectant aspect of me.  Because I was wrong, three years ago. About everything.

It all just seemed so clear back then. I had so much potential, right? I had books I had written. I was bursting with script ideas, teeming with the energy to put them into production. With all that talent, all that motivation, something was bound to fall into the works, right? It would be so easy.

I thought it was all going to be so easy.

And that’s it. That’s the difference between the one who’s writing this right now, and the one in the videos. I know.

Creation isn’t easy.  It isn’t thoroughly enjoyable, or utterly painless one hundred percent of the time. It’s not always a relief. It doesn’t always pay itself off. Sometimes it’s fruitless. Sometimes it’s agonizing. Sometimes it takes much, much more than it will ever give back to you.

I wish I could combine the knowledge of this truth with the motivation I had to create two years ago. It seems to me that this would be the optimal balance. The key to staying in that flow of creation, just constantly ricocheting between that ecstatic energy of genuine inspiration, and the bottomless fear of recognizing the climb it takes to get there. Making that energy sustainable, and not stretched.

Not constantly on the verge of snapping.

It seemed so easy. It seemed romantic. Just getting myself there seemed like the journey itself. Like I had done it.

I think I knew. Intellectually, I knew. So I could rationalize it. “You get out of it what you put into it,” I would say. I could believe in that sentiment because I believed in myself, I believed in my inspiration. I felt that I could put whatever was required into my work. It felt like I already had before.

I didn’t understand just how much of myself I would have to give before it finally became enough.

What I didn’t understand is that, when you’re a creator, it never stops. You just keep giving yourself, again and again and again, scooping out parts of yourself that you thought you’d emptied before, and after a while, that can leave you feeling scraped, and hollowed, and utterly disconnected from what it is you’re actually creating.

I don’t know. I don’t know how to get there, to that balance. I wish I could give you an answer, because God knows I want one. I think we spend a big part of our lives looking for answers and we keep coming up with more questions, finding out more and more what it is we don’t want, and running in the opposite direction, running towards something we’re not really sure is substantial. Or even there at all.

So that’s what you do. You keep running towards something, and you keep creating things, you keep creating the answers that best seem to fit the questions you’ve been given. And the motivation won’t always be there, because it won’t always be hopeful, because it won’t be easy, or comfortable, or cathartic.

But that's alright.

It’s alright that it’s not easy. It’s alright that I’m not there yet. It’s alright that the work itself isn’t intrinsically motivating. It shouldn’t have to be, there’s nothing wrong with wanting that external validation, of wanting some assurance that everything is going to work out, that everything’s going to be alright.

This is just what you do. This is creation. It’s not a destination. I’m not sure it’s a journey, either. It’s… endless. But not hopeless. This is just how you become you. It never stops.

Three years ago, when I thought of what I was "meant to be", I thought that meant what I was going to be forever. But that’s not what creation is, I don’t think. It’s not what you achieve, or what you sustain. It’s not the things that enter your life, that last and stay.

It’s the things that fall out of your life. It’s the things you gain from those lost people, those once-upon-a-lifetime experiences. It’s that constant process of having pieces chipped away, and picking up new ones as you go, until every atom of who you were is entirely replaced at one point. With all the old questions still intact.

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Shai Cotten