Back to the super-cringe “Soundtrack of My Life” — and, thankfully a far less sappy and grim song/story.
This is a very new addition to the list… as in, it’s one that hit me like a pile of (lego) bricks just this week during this odd creative-malaise/crisis I’m finding myself in. We’re talking Everything to Everyone by Everclear – a nice poppy-sounding tune, but when you pay attention to the lyrics, it’s somewhat accusatory toward people who portray themselves as the victim. I think many of us fall victim to… playing the victim, consciously or not. I acknowledge that, when I’m in a certain frame of mind, I’m highly susceptible to that.
You put yourself in stupid places
Yes I think you know it’s true
Situations where it’s easy to look down on you
I think you like to be the victim
I think you like to be in pain
I think you make yourself a victim
Almost every single day
The song is about more than just that though. To me, it’s also about losing ones own sense of identity… shifting or amending what you’re passionate about, in the belief that you’re “filling a need”… or perhaps “filling a niche”. You forgo the self in service of the nebulous (and potentially nonexistent) “other”.
I hesitate at suggesting that anything I do here (or on the air) is necessarily “creative”… though, admittedly – there’s a lot of “creation” involved. When describing what it is that I do, I’ve often come back to the ol’ rhyming Chris chestnut, “Those who can – DO, those who cannot – reVIEW.” That said, reviewing/analyzing/discussing media does involve at the very least a slight measure of creativity. Even when done as poorly as I tend to do it.
I mentioned a few pieces ago that I’d done a bit of recent naval-gazing here at the site… started going down my own rabbit hole, and rereading some of my old reviews/discussions — something I very seldom do… something I very seldom have the time to do. What I discovered was that, back in the not-so-long ago, I was a very different Chris. I was passionate, un-cynical, and was very clearly having a good time. I wasn’t spreading myself too thin… the blog-hobby hadn’t yet grown into the monster it eventually would. It was just something I did… every day… and, back then — I humbly believe I was also improving every day. I was becoming better able to express myself through words… I still had some grammatical hang-ups… and still wrote in a somewhat busted New Yawk accent — but, (in my opinion) it worked. I wasn’t trying to be anything more than what I was… one voice among many… just an idiot with a keyboard and a desire to share his opinion/experience.
But eventually, that wasn’t enough.
Writing for an audience (whether you actually have one or not) can cause a weak-willed individual, such as myself, to begin to believe they’ve actually got something to say that’s worth listening to. Even as I write this self-indulgent sentence, I’m writing it FOR you… if, in fact, there’s even a YOU out there! You can get so wrapped up in it, that you forget that you’re “one voice among many”… and suddenly, you want to be “the voice”.
Focus is so easily scattered when you’re starting a creative endeavor — or, when you’re wanting to start one. F’rinstance, a blog. You want to write… about something… but what? This is where I stalled out many times. I’ve talked and written about how, for several years during my late 20s and early 30s – my New Years Resolution would be to start writing… start blogging. I’d get so lost in the weeds about what I was going to write about, that I’d never actually write anything. Even than, I would trick myself into thinking that I was being creative… because I was thinking about being creative. That’s a trap. I mentally reframed procrastination and inaction as actually being productive.
Eventually (in early 2016) I did act (I’ve told that story too many times already) – and clearly, my focus was comic books. And, while comics are a niche interest in and of itself — it (can be) a pretty wide one. I knew I wanted to discuss comics… but, what comics? Was it going to be the X-Men? Teen Titans? ElfQuest? All comics? Mini-comics? What was it going to be?
It was about finding a balance between constraint and freedom. If I became an “ElfQuest guy”, well — that’s quite limiting. If I was going to become an “X-Men guy” (which, eventually came to pass) — that’d be a bit less limiting, but still have a pretty clear set of boundaries. If I chose to discuss ALL comics… well, that’s a whole ‘nother kettle of fish in as far as limitations are concerned, and I’ll explain that in a bit. If you’re here though, you know that I chose to discuss DC Comics. A pretty wide berth of content, multiple genres, the ability to discuss pretty much every single creator ever to work in the industry — while, at the same time, giving my work a feeling of “focus”. Self-imposed rules to keep me “on task”.
I wasn’t trying to be more than what I was. I just wanted to write… I wanted to feel like I was contributing to the fandom… and I wanted to establish myself as a fake-ass expert in a certain subniche, while still maintaining a fair amount of creative freedom. In deciding to discuss the wares of a single company… I felt confident that I could do all that. And, for a half-decade… I did!
But then… my focus started to stutter. I wasn’t necessarily growing bored of what I was doing… I began wanting to be seen as “more” than that.
I mentioned a couple’a paragraphs ago that, had I chosen to discuss the entire comics industry — there would be “limitations” there as well. Lemme ‘splain. Even in just talking about DC Comics, I often found myself with an “embarrassment of riches” in what I could write/talk about. I’d stand in front of my wall of longboxes, paralyzed — there were just too many choices. Had I opened that up to include Marvel and the indies… I’d probably still be standing there. This goes back to the concept of procrastination-as (or in lieu of)-creation. I’d get so tangled in thinking about what I’d write about… that I’d never actually write — while, at the same time, fooling myself into believing I was still taking part in some sort of “creative process”. Fact is, if you’re not creating… well, you’re not creating. I’ve had screenplays in my head for decades now… none of it’s on paper — none of it has been written; so I’m not actually creating anything.
Where was I? Ya see, focus is easily scattered.
Oh yes, Soundtrack of My Yadda-Yadda. At some point during my “creative career”, I decided I would try and be… Everything to Everyone. I wanted to be seen as a go-to guy for all things comics. It’s a foolish desire… especially when coupled with my social anxiety and relative lack of ability in actually talking with other people about this stuff. And yet, I still wanted to be.
You jump through the big hoop
You play all the right games
You try to be
Everything to everyone
There’s a saying among (actual) creative types, that goes a little something like this (paraphrasing): You could lay a single brick for dozens of different houses and expect it to eventually become a mansion… or, you can lay brick after brick to build a single house, and eventually it will be. Recently, I’ve found myself falling into the single-brick trap. In an effort to be Everything to Everyone, I stopped paying attention to what it was that originally made all of this “work”. I forgot all about what this hobby used to mean to me.
I think you like to be their simple toy
I think you love to play the clown
I mean, I went from putting out a “DC Comics Discussion and Review” every day to… completely losing focus, and sometimes putting out three random comics-related pieces a day… in various formats and medias. I did so thinking that I was actually adding something… when, all I was doing was scattering the focus of what made this site “work” in the first place. And by “work”, I’m not implying it was ever anything resembling a wild success… but, it was consistent — and had a small-but-steady audience.
Consistency thru constraint is a highly underrated approach… that I stumbled upon a) by accident, and b) without even realizing it until after the fact. This method is almost certainly why I have such an easier time when I engage in a “project”. It takes the “choosing” out of the equation… it allows for less procrastination. It forces me to stay on task. I feel like, when I have a project that I can focus on, my work improves… and, might even break into the realm of “decent”. Action Comics Daily, Vartox Week, DC Bonus Books, X-Lapsed, X-Men Vignettes… projects like these are where kept me focused.
But, I wanted more.
I wanted to be… ya know, Everything to Everyone.
Spin around and fall down
Do it again
Thing of it is, it can be pretty obvious when someone’s heart just isn’t in it. At least if you’re someone who wears theirs on their sleeve, like I tend to. I went back and found exactly where it was that I began to lose focus here at the site. It was just after I wrapped up Action Comics Daily… and, was pretty “straw graspy” about what was coming next. I thought it would be interesting to keep up the anthology angle… and decided to go with seldom discussed DC’s New Talent Showcase. Mainstream-ish, but obscure enough to keep “on brand”. But — before actually setting digital pen to digital paper, I got stuck in my own head. I allowed myself to lose focus on what made this process “work”.
I stopped and thought — which was my first (and greatest) mistake. I grew concerned that these oddball New Talent Showcase stories… would cost me readers. I mean, readership is always a concern when you’re writing for an audience (real or imagined), but — up to this point, I’d never not written something out of fear that people wouldn’t wanna read it. And so, I awkwardly contorted the project into… something pretty stupid… and something which, ironically enough, did cost me readers. If you’ve been with me for awhile, you might remember this… though, it’s such a blip that I barely do.
Instead of nosing down into New Talent Showcase… NTS was relegated into being one-third of my “creative” output. It was to alternate with John Ostrander and Del Close’s Wasteland, and these Bizarro World one-offs from a hardcover collection. Scattered focus.
As mentioned, this was not successful. And, like any fella drowning in creativity-quicksand — I frantically reached for anything to keep my head above the surface. I actually pulled the plug on all three of these projects… something I’d never done before here at the site. I tell ya what, once you quit your first project — it makes it all the easier to quit subsequent projects.
Now, I started writing for other people. Thing of it is… those other people weren’t always interested. Sometimes they were… but, not every day. At this point, however, that wasn’t good enough for me.
You know all the right people
You play all the right games
You always try to be
Everything to everyone
From there, I feel as though my “creative” output had start to callous over… my hide got tougher, my face hardened… there was less joy in what I did. There was no more “focus”… it simply became an effort of chasing the high of engagement… followed by irrational bitterness. I internalized a lot of this… thinking to myself that I was now writing what other people said they wanted… and still, they wouldn’t come.
Come on now
Do that stupid dance for me
In the time between than and now, I found myself regaining focus every so often. X-Men Vignettes is a pretty good written example, while X-Lapsed is one for audio. But, even with those fairly constrained projects, focus can become shaky. I mean, I feel like X-Lapsed has become so diluted by “other stuff”, it’d a miracle that anybody would actually choose to listen to it.
So, is there a point to this? Probably not… but, if you are “a creative”, or a “wannabe creative” like me, maybe take this as a cautionary tale to stay true to your own focus. Do what you’re passionate about… and do it often. You may not realize it immediately (or ever), but you will improve… you will find your voice, your style, your tone… you will find your audience. It may not be a large and loud as you’d like — but they will enjoy what you do and appreciate your hard work. Don’t make the mistakes I have in overlooking these wonderful and supportive people. Maintain your focus. Maintain your passion. Don’t waver, don’t lose sight of why you do what you do, and don’t try and be Everything to Everyone.
I wonder if you will ever learn
Why won’t you ever learn