Can you create yourself to death? Is it possible to try so hard, for so long, to reinvent yourself and to produce creative things, of quality, that you perish in the process? Everything you make takes energy. If you keep pouring your energy into your work and into creating the best self you can be, without any tangible return, reward, recognition or success, can you burn yourself out and grind yourself into the ground? Can you simply use up all your resources, however you classify those, before you replenish them?
I think you can. I think it’s a real danger.
I think if you put enough of yourself out there, for a long enough period of time, with nothing much coming back to you, you exhaust yourself. You just begin to literally cease to exist – certainly as far as the rest of the world is concerned, in any case. The ability to create may, in fact, run out, for entirely practical reasons. When you are running on empty, you become detached and unresponsive. Your friends and family can no longer reach you. The path is one that leads to extinction, or at least extinguishment, ultimately. It’s possible to reach a point where there is just nothing left to give of yourself. It’s a very hollow and worrying feeling. You’re drowning, not waving.
Encouragement, appreciation, kind words and praise can fend off the full depletion of your creative energies for quite a while (even a long while), but unfortunately, it won’t sustain you, in a material sense. Practicalities encroach. You still need to eat. People still depend on you. If you are doing your best, making your best things, as diligently as you possibly can and there is no material benefit to doing so, you let everyone that depends on you down. They suffer for your lack of traction. They might begin to push back on that.
The more they need you to produce and provide, the worse you feel. They demand more from you, when you have less and less to give and there is no understanding that there is nearly nothing left. Well-meaning people, who love you, will try to distract you and ask you to pay attention to them, your health and happiness, and on experiences and relationships, but that has the effect of making you feel like your meagre creative outpourings are simply being lessened and minimised. Your talents were not enough, when working as hard as you could and now you have to find a way to continue to create, at the same level, while spending less actual time creating. It doesn’t seem like working less hard on your creative projects will cause them to be appreciated and rewarded more.
It also feels like people never thought much of your creative powers and their ability to sustain life, in the first place. In other words, everything you love to do best isn’t good enough. Your everything isn’t enough. Your finest work is not good enough. At least that’s how it can feel. It feels like total rejection.
We’re always told to be the best we can be and to try, each day, to better what you did the day before, without reference to other people’s achievements or judgements, but if you put everything of yourself out there, vulnerably, with heart and courageously, yet there is no appreciable place in the universe where your contribution is wanted or valued, it means that you have bet everything and lost it all. You placed all your own faith in yourself, done an honest job of presenting that to the world and had it utterly ignored or rebuffed. Talk about making one feel surplus to requirements.
I don’t think any creative being can keep doing that. I understand fully why so many creative people come to an end, with their creative endeavours and never pick them up ever again. It becomes too painful to face. There isn’t enough self-confidence or heart left to try harder or try again.
Maybe the magic ingredient you needed was some kind of “unobtainium”, which try as you might; you just don’t know how to get. It remains elusive and scarce. You don’t have enough of it to make it. Depleted unobtainium.
What’s the answer? Give up and go back to conforming to a world that values none of what makes you special, but will pay a nominal amount, if you do work that you don’t care particularly passionately about, but which you can do competently? Or do you just keep going until you drop? Not great choices, are they? Do you redouble your search for your own particular unobtainium, in the hope of stumbling over it, by sheer dumb luck? Do you accept the indifference that your work is met with? I don’t actually know the answer.
Doing your best and giving of your best can leave you bereft and depleted, until there is absolutely nothing left. It’s a real danger and not one that the popular, self-help, psychology books acknowledge or offer advice on. Nobody offers any practical, useful advice for how to deal with the complete and absolute exhaustion of your creative powers and I am afraid I can’t offer any either. I don’t think the available choices are very attractive.
This is a bleak post, but it’s a bleak reality, for many artists. Everything they make is met with a resounding “meh”. Nobody wants or cares about the best they have to give. The time to improve, to a point where people do, simply runs out, for purely prosaic reasons. They never get a chance to bloom, quite literally nipped in the bud. Meanwhile, the sacrifices and priority calls they made along the way, in order to focus diligently on their creativity, all mount up and the piper must be paid. Obligations reassert themselves.
Maybe the last things you produce will be the best things you ever make. Perhaps that will be noticed, one day, but maybe too late to prevent you perishing, as an active artist. There may be some wistful nostalgia for the work that you made, just before you no longer could, but that doesn’t take you very far. It’s not much good to you, after it’s all over.
I wish I could offer some good answers or some hope, but I just don’t have any to offer. I can’t see the answers. There might not be any, in a society that so massively and consistently undervalues creativity. Each artist in this position may simply be one of the inevitable casualties of a world that thinks it can easily live without any more art, innovation, beauty, invention and creativity. Maybe it can. Maybe there are more than enough of those things to go around and anything additional truly is surplus to requirements.
I doubt it, though.