Accepting the Compliment
I want to feel the way everyone says they feel…
Most of ‘em are either lying,
Or been fed a pill…
See their faces want to go home
Where my shell can peel…
Dip in the cut and see what of myself is real…
This is going to sound stupid. I hadn’t actually counted on you reading this.
Not really, not at first.
I intended to write a weekly blog post for as long as I could keep it going. Despite (or perhaps because of) life’s little dramas and errands, I have kept it going since January.
A few predictable things happened. The structure gave me purpose. It showed me that I was able to commit to something, at least on a weekly basis. It became a quick win, and right at the jump or close of the week (depending on whether you follow the Gregorian or International standard).
Also, it wasn’t that hard. I know that I can write. I vaguely worried about coming up with content, but life is rich with drama and meaning at every turn if you stop and reflect long enough. I had a few early ‘seed topics’ or agendas to drive the reflection but it usually never ended up there, or I would start fleshing out an idea and end up saving the draft and turning to germinate an entirely different idea.
The most difficult part was deciding to start.
That said, in hindsight I could have probably told present self to expect a few other side-effects:
Turns out, writing a few thousand words per week for five months is good practice.
Turns out, I do have a writing voice, I just never put in as much energy into long-form writing as other shorter formats like songwriting or my excellent DM game.
Turns out, one of my key defenses against anxiety is understanding that it is happening. It’s easier to identify what anxiety is and when it’s happening when you can better articulate why it happens.
Turns out therapy helps, but so does deep self-assessment and reflection (thanks unemployment!)
Turns out, writing about these reflections attracts attention. Your attention.
Turns out, many people struggle with articulating their own anxieties and frustrations. They see my writing and my stories align with their stories. Maybe you feel seen for a few moments.
I’m truly grateful for all that’s resulted from this weekly writing exercise.
Frankly, I feel outrageously blessed there’s a you at all. A reader.
Fans have always been a weird thing for me.
I remember listening to either an Anticon compilation or a Sage Francis record and there was a soundbyte/intro to a song pulled from a radio spot where Sage says “All the good songs have been written, and most of the bad songs have been written”.
I embodied this musical snobbery for a brief period. Let’s call it my hipster 20’s (Hence the ANTICON COMPILATION).
But that quote stuck with me. It made me deeply self-conscious about the work I was creating. It made me measure up my saxophone playing to Coltrane or my rapping ability to Black Thought v. previous versions of my objectively poorer abilities.
It reminded me of the anecdote about Charlie Parker going to an open mic and being laughed off stage for his amateurish improvisations, so he fucked off to a cabin for two years and invented bebop. You actually don’t need to woodshed like that to skill up, as it happens, but I had this idea that it took some dramatic and seismic shift in your ability in order to find legitimacy.
To truly succeed I thought you had to do something that defies and then re-defines orthodoxy. Nope.
You just had to show up. Work hard. Have a few people listen.
Hope a few more listen next time. And so on until you make the next thing. Build the relationships with your fans. Give back. Build your brand. Spread your word.
Repeat ad infinitum.
It’s not rocket science. But most of that part also isn’t art (well it’s a whole different art).
If your goal becomes simply to create the art, regardless of how it’s perceived or consumed, you’re well on your way to redefining true success. And then you’re creating something more honest, and more likely to strike chords with others, and thus more likely to attract deep and meaningful fan relationships.
Author Tangent: I rarely critique within the genre of art I create (aka I don’t do rap record reviews), but I do have a general critique about the attitude of MANY rappers (and some other artists) who struggle to understand their relationship with their audience. I’ve seen too many rappers on stage who ‘demand’ respect that hasn’t been earned, and then huff and puff when the audience isn’t feeling their “yeah they’re ok I guess” bars after a funky attitude (sorry ladies, it’s always dudes on stage with this energy). One rapper I shared a bill with quit on song three, flopped off the stage and walked straight out the door. And you’d think this was just indie rappers but yo Busta Rhymes stopped his set FOUR TIMES because the crowd wasn’t sufficiently hyped. I get it with Bussa Buss but still I was shouting “DO YOUR SONGS!!” like c’mon it ain’t that serious Mister Rhymes... literally the only cats I gave a pass to this behavior was to A Tribe Called Quest because the resulting energy almost imploded the theater, but it was done out of pure hype not from some demand for respect....
For a while I thought my voice had no place…
Wrong upbringing, no emphasis, no bass…
Then I stared into the glass, and beheld a grown face…
And I started making choices that suited my own tastes....
People have been calling me brave to my face.
I don’t feel that way per se, but I smirk and thank them sincerely now vs. a time when I would frown and change the subject (accepting praise with grace is my #2021developmentgoal)
Then they begin sharing their stories.
The connections have been remarkable.
When I released Bonsai, I had great conversations with people who heard Henry and talked to me about family and their fathers, or they listen to How I Feel and share their struggles with anxiety.
Friends and family who have actively and objectively are KILLING IT in life, all opening up themselves to these beautiful empathetic conversations and validating that I am absolutely not unique but that is to say not alone in how I have been feeling and moving.
Creativity and anxiety have been a tricky balancing act in my life.
T.S. Eliot is famously quoted as saying "anxiety is the handmaiden of creativity".
In some ways, it is because of my anxiety that I found creative inspiration at all.
But then IT IS anxiety, and has also wrought havoc on my physical and emotional energy, thus sapping creative inspiration.
It never occurred to me that this recent rash of open and articulate vulnerability would lead to such visibility and community and shared storytelling. And I’m super grateful for it, and encouraged by it.
As I continue wading through networking and exploring my next professional opportunity, I am aware this level of candor and vulnerability may turn some people away. I have to allow my energy repel and attract as it should. We can't be friends with everyone, and the connections that survive will be deep and rich.
I hope it encourages you to lean in and start a conversation. I value those conversations and the relationships they cultivate. That said, I have no control over how my art is consumed. I can only commit to continuing to create, and continuing to be grateful for you, dear reader, for taking time out of the beginning (or end lol) of your week to reflect with me.
I sincerely value your support.
All the best, Doc Wattson
Native Stranger Productions