I’m Not Okay, but I’ll Get There: How to Be Creative When Everybody Wants to Hate You For it

Every creative work begins with an idea. These ideas can be born of divine inspiration, verbal suggestion,  loathing of a person or concept, or really anything that causes you to see the world from outside of the box. For some people, this is as simple as stepping out the front door and immersing themselves into the daily grind. For others, it’s an exercise in impossibility, often due to creative atrophy or a severe lack of imagination. Those are usually the same people who hate Disneyland and other creative works that defy their sense of logic, which can happen to anybody depending on their circumstances. If you look at the word objectively, you might notice that by most definitions, creativity is the absence of logic. And as we grow up, get jobs, start families, and live out our lives, the veil separating these two concepts begins to solidify until it traps you in the mechanical loop that is surviving or getting by. If you somehow manage to avoid the schism of your imagination and the real world . . . or your head and heart as they say in romantic comedies, you have a whole other set of problems you have to worry about.

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The ’90s was an amazing time to be a kid. We had grunge rock, John Hughes, shopping mall culture, and Sega Genesis. It was an era of consumerism that was primarily marketed off a persons need to experience creative things. Whether you purchased your toys from KB Toys or Toys R’ Us (Rest in Peace) all of the hot toys seemed to involve creating something from scratch or from something else; Transformers, Easy Bake Ovens, Creepy Crawlers, Tamagotchis. All of these things helped us experience a base level of creativity at an early age, and it was great while it lasted. But much like the toys of the ’90s, creativity seemed to be age specific, and when you got to the later half of elementary school and then moved onto Middle School, it was almost frowned upon to be able to do creative things, because only “nerds” did creative things, and nobody wanted to be a nerd. When I was in the sixth grade, my school had a creative writing contest. We had to write these stories, and whoever won would have their story turned into a play by a traveling playwright company that was coming to perform at our school a few weeks later. My story won. It was called “Super Clown.” When word got out that I wrote it, my classmates started to shame me and call me a nerd. When I look back, I tell myself that I should have been damn proud to be a nerd, but even under the best of circumstances, growing up is tragic and difficult and tragically difficult.

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In addition to social pressures, reputation is another thing that can diminish one’s creative prowess. I spent the last four years working for a church in Southern California, and upon being employed there, I had to sign a contract that basically said I wouldn’t do or say anything on or off the job that would reflect poorly on the church. As you can imagine, those types of stipulations make being a creative person rather difficult, especially if you want to create something real and not something designed to blow rainbows up people’s backsides. Looking back, I see why those stipulations were put in place, and I don’t at all regret working for this church – I met a lot of amazing people and was given some really great opportunities – however it sort of put my career as a writer into limbo because there was always a voice in the back of my head saying, “You’re going to get in trouble if you do that.” And while I’m sure other places of business have rules like that for their employees (maybe not as strict), mixing religion with creativity is like having to perform synchronized swimming in a pool full of sleeping pirhanas.

When it’s not your place of employment that stifles creativity, it comes from those closest to you. In case I didn’t mention this before, I’m a writer, and I don’t mean that in the sense that I write things that never see the light of day. I mean writer in the sense that I write things that actually get read by people. Shortly after high school, I wrote my first novel. It wasn’t much a novel, and I wasn’t writing it in hopes of skyrocketing myself to fame and fortune. I wrote it because I was curious if I could. For those of you who know me, you know that when things become tough, overly complicated, or I grasp on to a new idea, I tend to leave the other things behind. I’ve been working on trying to finish things I’ve started, but that’s another blog entry for another time. This book was called “Something Like Normal.” It was about a guy who woke up from a coma and was having to deal with what put him there, as well as bridge the gap in the years missing from his life. There’s a lot more to it than that, but I’m hoping to rewrite it one day, so I won’t give too much away. Long story short, my family and friends read this book during its brief run as an e-book, and they immediately started to look for themselves in the characters and situations. Some of it was wishful thinking on their part, and others were right on the money. Perhaps I could have done a better job of masking my characters, but you tend to write what you know, and this was something I knew well. My sister wouldn’t talk to me, my brother-in-law made threats and referred to me as an emo kid publishing a diary, my relatives called and basically asked me not to kill myself or suggested I seek professional help, all while talking behind my back about what I’d worked so hard to create, and was so proud of. Everybody was angry and disappointed at me, which left me with only one way of calming the storm, I removed the book from the marketplace and issued apologies in mass. Now, when I look back on that, I absolutely regret taking it down. I love my family, but they love drama, and when that drama brings them together in community grief, they become a wrecking ball of despair. The situation could have been handled better on my part, but to this day, I hate the fact that everybody wanted to attack, and nobody bothered asking me why I felt the need to write those things, or asked if I wanted to talk about it. Their first instinct was to shame me for it. They wanted to shame me for feeling things, for creating something, for spilling my heart out on the pages of that book.

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For me, personally, the final place where creativity can be diminished in the presence of your friends. This is a weird one for me, especially since some of my friends are actually very creative people. First, let’s get back to the place where we grow up and your friends call you a nerd. While that’s really sad, it’s not as sad as the dawn of puberty. I remember those days vividly. There was a point after the sixth grade where everything changed. One day, life was all about staying out late, riding bicycles to Carl’s Jr, arguing about Star Wars, and spending countless hours playing Final Fantasy VII on the Playstation. Then we graduated and moved onto Middle School, where we were introduced to sex education. Almost as if somebody had flipped a light switch in our heads, all of the things we used to love so much were instantly buried beneath the crush of hormones, body changes, and an obsession with the opposite sex. I can still remember the day I saw pornography for the first time. I won’t go into detail about it, but if I could go back in time and stop my thirteen year old self from walking into my friend’s house, I would do it in an instant. I probably would have stopped my friends from going in there, as well, because that was the day the world lost its color and became the mono-themed black and white teen drama that lasted several years after. When it’s not the simple (yet complicated) act of growing up that destroys creativity, it’s being an adult in just about any social situation. I love my creative friends to death, but what I’ve learned in recent years is that when you put a bunch of seemingly creative people together, every one of them wants to be the most creative person in the room. It’s exhausting. And even amongst non-creative friends, there’s an assumption that they can use your creative gifts for their personal gain at little to no cost. Part of my living is made off of content creation, and if I had a dollar for every time a friend assumed I was going to make a video or write something for them free of charge, I would be a rich man.

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So how do you overcome all of these obstacles? I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about this. And the conclusion I’ve reached is that you don’t. My neighbor, who also happens to be a sports journalist and an old school actor gave me this advice, he said, “At some point you have to figure out what’s worth it and what’s not. Nobody gets through life without collateral damage.” While I don’t like the idea of collateral damage, he’s right. And trying to go through life without upsetting people is a sure fire way to cut yourself off from your imagination for good. Drama is the anti-thesis of creativity, and the world is full of drama. Anytime you interact with another human, the potential for drama rises exponentially. To once again quote my favorite author, Jonathan Tropper, “I totally remember what it felt like to be so full…Full of promise, full of dreams, full of shit. Mostly just full of yourself. So full you’re bursting. And then you get out into the world, and people empty you out, little by little, like air from a balloon…You try like hell to fill yourself up with fresh air, from you and from other people. But back then…it was so damn effortless to feel full, you know? All you had to do was breathe.” I suppose the real question one needs to ask is at what point do you stop letting people empty you out. That’s not a rhetorical question, either. I genuinely have not figured it out, and every day I feel like I lose more of myself to people in my life who continually deflate me. Releasing my new book, “Congratulations, You Suck,” is going to be a huge step for me. It’s the first time I’m going to be putting something out in the world, knowing that it might upset people or cause them to look at me differently, which is why it was such a huge pain the ass to write. It’s taken me a long time to figure out how to silence those voices. In the end, though, I don’t really care. I’m tired of the endless opinions of other people. I’m tired of being told that I can’t do things. I’m tired of the fear that I’m going to embarrass or offend somebody. Most of all, I’m just tired of being tired. Some days, it feels like my ability to be creative is the only thing in my life that moves me forward, and I’m terrified of losing that. To any other creative people out there, hang in there. I can’t say that it gets better, but maybe one day it will. Then again, art in any form can’t exist without pain, and to incorrectly quote John Green, “Pain demands to be felt.”

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