The People Blocks

Posted by Deborah Atherton

In a recent email exchange with novelist Andrew Washton, we pondered the dismaying fact that sometimes the biggest obstacles to beginning to live a more creative life are the people around us.

They may actively block us by making fun of our aspirations (“Picking up those drumsticks again at YOUR age? Are you kidding?”) Or they may resent us taking the time away from them and their plans for us.  (“But we were supposed to go visit my mother today! You’ve been working on that screenplay for years; it can wait one more Sunday.”)

Or, most likely of all, they will be completely indifferent to our aspirations and dreams. (“You have a photography show up in the gallery downtown? Oh, sorry I can’t make it this month – it’s just not inconvenient.”) You offer to make it easy for them by sending them the photographs on Flickr; but somehow, they just can’t get interested. Any success you have is met with slightly embarrassed indifference. The family and friends you would think would be your most enthusiastic audience are a great deal less interested in your work than total strangers who wander in off the street.

We can analyze their motives to death. Maybe they feel competition (Mom always liked YOUR finger paintings best.) Maybe they feel envy at the creative energy and involvement that is recharging your life. Maybe the very ideas of creativity, art, or inspiration are alien and uncomfortable to them, and they’re just a lot more comfortable with worrying about who won Celebrity Apprentice this year. Or maybe they’re afraid that your new creative efforts will inevitably pull you away from them.

In this, they may not be entirely wrong. As you pursue the projects and ideas that truly interest and involve you, you’ll find other people who do support your work and the way you are using your time. Some of the strangers who wander in off the street and admire your photographs or your songs or your stories or your paintings will become fans, and even friends. Your Facebook page might start having fellow artists and creatives on it, as well as your cousins in Minnesota and your old high school buddies.

The people you see on Thanksgiving may never care about your next exhibit or your new book, but, as time goes on, other people will. And you’ll learn how to admire pictures of the new baby or gas grill without expecting appreciation of your creative life from people who, for many reasons, have no appreciation to give.

Although you may notice, as the outside world begins to pay more attention, that interest on the home front will also pick up, and requests for tickets, free copies, or prints begin to mount. And then it will be up to you to decide just how gracious to be.


One Response to The People Blocks

  1. Ruth Washton says:

    Deborah’s post, “People Blocks”, got to the heart of the matter for me. My husband, who has just completed his first novel, and which he worked on for almost three years, is heartbroken that so few of his friends have expressed any interest in reading even a small part of his work. He feels this shows they do not respect him, and it infuriates him.

    Yet, there are a number of people who have read parts of his work, and have commented favorably on it. Several cousins, a couple of friends and colleagues have given him very positive feedback, which does make him feel good. Recently, someone he does business with made a phone date with him so that she could comment on what she had read. “I love it!” she said. “I can visualize the characters and their development.” My husband felt so good when she said this.

    I thought this over and decided that my husband needed to change his definition of “success”. I suggested he measure it not by a book signing at Barnes & Noble, or an appearance on Oprah, but by the slow and steady acknowledgment he is getting, one person at a time. I also suggested he focus not on the people who were disregarding him, but on the ones who were acknowledging his existence as a writer, and to feel good about that. He smiled when I said that, so I can only hope that these shifts in his thinking will encourage him to keep writing.

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