By Lila V. Singh - September 1, 2022

short poem written on Apple notes page entitled 'we live in outer space'

This is a poem written on my Notes app.

I won’t pretend that I think it’s a particularly “good” poem, at least by the criteria that I’m not sure I’d publish it if it crossed my desk. But, the point of this poem was never to be “good.” If it were, it would have graduated from my Notes app far sooner than my writing of this post. No, I wrote this poem because I was out for a walk in the quiet morning streets of my home—the seaside community of twenty-somethings known as Isla Vista—when I was stilled by a sudden appreciation of the natural beauty of where I live. 

Walking alone in the salt-scented morning air, my eyes flitted to every interesting shape around me—the jagged palm trees above my head, the faded triangles of the Channel Islands disappearing into the rectangle of the ocean, clouds like splashed paint in the blue sky—while my ears tuned into the local birds and their morning gossip. I smelt the kelp beached by sea foam under the bluffs and felt the warm sunlight on my nose juxtaposed with the coolness of the morning. 

Then, I noticed the moon still up in the sky, a white smudge, and was reminded of the fact that I’m just a tiny human on a planet in outer space; and I thought about how wild it is to be a creature so small in a universe so big; and I thought of all the ecological forces that combined to create the picturesque environment around me. I felt a sudden fear of losing the expansiveness of all these thoughts, which is why I pulled out my phone, tapped on a little white-and-yellow icon, and jotted my thoughts in my Notes app.

That translation of experience and observation into art—visual or written—is how I define what it means to create. The most beautiful thing about creating, in my opinion, is that anyone can do it. By virtue of being a human being on this planet, you’ve developed your own way of processing and understanding the world; creation is just a way of translating this perspective into a new medium, of bringing your observations from your mind into an outward expression, be that music, dance, painting, or writing. 

But in my personal experience and in conversation with others, there seems to be a misconception about who gets to create. I’ve been in many an art class where a frustrated student will set down their pencil in defeat, remarking “I can’t draw.” I’ve been at many a party where someone stands stiff-shouldered because, “I can’t dance.”  I myself often say, “I can’t write poetry.” On the surface, these claims come from a fear of not being able to create; implicit in each of them, though, is a fear of not being able to create well. We do not fear our ability to conceive things; we fear our disappointment in what we will conceive. 

Our fears can be linked to two things; the first is a hyperfixation on the products of creation. Rather than focusing on the enriching process of creating art, our minds have a foul tendency to default to anxieties about the art we will create. Sometimes before we’ve even touched our pen to paper or tried to move our bodies or held a viewfinder up to our eye, we talk ourselves out of our own capabilities. We fear that what we write or how we dance or the photo we take will be ugly. Due to real economic dependency on our art or capitalistic pressures to create artifacts with value, we become so concerned with creating something other people will be interested in that we, at best, create art which is a limited expression of ourselves and, at worst, do not create at all. 

The second basis of our fear is comparison. Out for ice cream one day, we borrow some of the paper and crayons set out for children, and draw a series of ice cream cones, as we see them, to the best of our abilities. Then, we notice the Wayne Thiebaud paintings on the wall, look back at our own dinky crayon ice cream cones, and feel a profound embarrassment. My drawing looks nothing like that, we cry, and whatever pride we had in our crayon ice cream cones evaporates. The joy we found in creating the drawing is gone. We’ve seen a “better” representation of ice cream, and we give up. Why even bother creating when there are other people out there who will create better things out there than me? Why even try creating when I’ll never be as good as [insert artist name here]? 

Obsessed with the quality of our creations relative to the creations of others, we create standards for ourselves that we demand our art lives up to. Intimidated by these standards, we either struggle unnecessarily with the act of creation or refuse to create at all. Before we even let ourselves experiment with creation, we deny ourselves the right to try. 

But what good does that do us? 

Create! Creation, remember, is for everyone. What are you waiting for? Make some art! Write lousy poems and give them to your friends. Draw trees you see while sitting in the park and laugh at how different your trees look from the ones you see. Write stories that dawdle through your imagination and don’t worry if the characters are cheesy or the plot shoddy or the prose bland. Forget about the quality of what you are creating, and focus instead on enjoying the process, the opportunity to challenge yourself to translate what you experience into another form. If something other people find beautiful comes of it, great! If not, still great! Remember—you are not creating for clout; you are not trying to make something that is perfect; you are not trying to be good. You are creating because you have a way of representing and conversing with the world that is distinctly yours and that is beautiful because of that. Do not let fear talk you into hiding that perspective from the world.

So go on a walk. Bring your phone. Open your Notes app. Have fun!

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