Year End: On what kept me going
In September of this year The Creative Independent celebrated our two-year anniversary, an auspicious moment that we barely recognized because we were so occupied with the day-to-day business of making TCI. In a way, this feels very right. So much of our work has been characterized by a common theme that also pops up in so many of our interviews: keep going. Looking back on 2018 and the interviews, guides, wisdoms, and events that populated our second year, the pieces that have resonated most deeply for me—particularly as someone who is juggling a variety of creative pursuits and projects myself—were those that celebrated the virtues of hard work and of being kind (both to yourself and others), and those which reinforced the notion that being creative is an inherently optimistic act. More than anything, these were the pieces that reminded me about what it means to be a good human during a year when that was sometimes easy to forget.
I think in general there’s probably a large part of mainstream society that feels that there’s something slightly ridiculous and suspect about talking about quiet joys, but I certainly don’t feel that way. I think empathy is a powerful thing.
I also hate the fact that creative people are expected to be to be drug addicts or impossible or divas. It’s just a dumb kind of pretext about creativity.
There’s a strength in feeling like, “Yeah, we’re making something positive.” I’m not being cajoled. I’m refusing to be weighed down by this atmosphere. I don’t want to feel crushed…I want to really make something that feels positive and good and alive. I think there is something defiant about that. It’s to do with that kind of resilience that’s been there all the time.
What does it mean to be an artist now? I mean, anyone who makes anything is an artist. Everyone is an artist…If you are in a position to make art, to wonder about whether or not you can call yourself an artist, then you’re already operating from such a fortunate place. It’s good to remember that.
For me, the fun part is just being at home and writing in my sweatpants. And then being like, “I wrote a poem and I like it.” There’s nothing that compares to that. Nothing. I feel like that’s something that sometimes gets lost in our culture, where everything’s about building a brand before you even have an established creative process. Please, don’t be a poet unless the number one thing you like to do is write poems. And read poems. You must love to write poems and read poems. Because, if you’re a poet, you’re going to have to have another job. And that job, whatever it is, is going to be your main job. And it’s going to be the thing that puts food on the table and pays your rent and makes sure you have healthcare occasionally. You know? Hopefully you’ll be writing all along, and doing things and creating. And that is going to bring joy into every part of your life.
Artists themselves can bring forth what it is they practice. I’d say our practice is the sun. It brings the sunlight into our life, and our practice can bring the sunlight into someone else’s life as well. And with this sunlight we can experience the pure, pristine, present moment of self. Artists who are working on themselves, who are either doing yoga, or meditation, or have their own way of going in and having introspective insights, are then able to take those moments and translate them into their art, whatever it happens to be.
It’s this idea that I’m sitting here, I’m ready to write, but I’m blocked, as if it’s a medical condition that you could see the doctor about. In reality, maybe it just means that you don’t have anything to say, so go away and come back, go away and read a book.
Sometimes you gotta throw all your old ideas out the window and do something new.
I think it’s important to remember that what you put out in the world is what brings work back to you, and brings responses to you, and brings opportunities to you. If you’re consistently putting something out in the world that isn’t what you really want to be doing, it’s going to take you on a path that isn’t right. It’s going to make you feel like you have somebody else’s life. I think the hardest thing, the biggest challenge, is being able to protect that. To protect yourself from those external ideas of what constitutes success.
I’m more willing to trust whatever that process is now. I had to learn that it’s OK not knowing in the beginning exactly what you are writing. In the past I would get frustrated and feel like I was beating on a door that wouldn’t open, but now I’m more like, “Well, let’s see where this goes.”
A big part of it is luck and a big part is also being delusional and trying to manifest this thing you want to happen.
Just being a human being is hard. You know, getting through life or getting through the day, sometimes, is hard. So finding a space where you can really be with your self-expression, that story is vital. Representation is vital. It’s so important that there is space for people of all colors and sexual preferences, that your creativity isn’t limited because of who you are as a human or who you choose to be. We should all be able to have our own space.
There’s no final, perfect state you ultimately reach—it’s all your own path.
T. COLE RACHEL is a writer, teacher and ceramic cat collector who lives in Brooklyn. He creates poems, essays, and all manner of culture-related journalism. His work has appeared in Interview, The FADER, Pitchfork, V Magazine, Interview, and The New York Times Magazine among others. He teaches a recurring poetry workshop, Poetry & Photography, via the Camera Club of NYC. His books include Surviving the Moment of Impact and Bend Don’t Shatter. He is currently Senior Editor at The Creative Independent.