The other night I had a dream I was working on something creative, and a small group of people gathered around me. They kept saying things like, “Can you explain what you’re doing?” and “Are you getting paid for that?” and “What do you really do for work?”
I told them that, while it wasn’t really clear to them what I was doing, it constituted work. “Let me ask you this,” I said in the dream. “What is work? And is work always paid? For example, when you tell your kid, ‘Go work on your science project,’ you’re acknowledging the project is ‘work’ and its important work that matters, yet your child is not getting paid for that.
“What about when someone tells you they are ‘working in their garden’ all afternoon so they can harvest their vegetables. Are they working? They just said they were. And gardening is work. But they’re not getting paid for it. So, some important work is paid work and some is not. I think we can all agree on that, right? So, please, just let me do my work.”
And that’s where the dream ended. It’s odd to have a dream so realistic and so specific. Where were the dancing unicorns or the never-ending hallways? Also, isn’t it enough that I literally have to have conversations similar to that with others and with myself during my waking hours? Do I also need to experience them in my dreams? Give me a break, subconscious.
If you were to put a camera on a writer, most of what we do would not look like work to you. We spend half our time staring into space waiting for the next line, or making faces at ourselves in the mirror so we can figure out how to correctly describe a furrowed brow, or going on long walks to clear our heads. Sorry, but that’s just how we work.
It’s not uncommon to ask an artist of any kind what they’re working on now and have them tell you, “I can’t quite explain it yet, but it’s coming together.” You often follow up by asking us, “Well then, how do you know it will work?” We often don’t. Other times we are absolutely sure it will, but we can’t explain why. Call it a feeling. It’s true, we often operate on feelings. That’s just how we work.
Some of us get really good at working the systems. You’ve heard of us because we excel at marketing, or we entered all the right contests and won a few awards, or we worked every angle until we landed the right gig.
Others just hunker down and focus on the work itself, not really caring if anyone ever buys our art because the work is feeding our souls more than our pocketbooks.
And many of us fall somewhere in between.
Most people see a picture of a research scientist writing out difficult formulas and recognize they are working on something “important,” though most of us have no need or desire to try to understand how. We see a picture of a teacher in the classroom and recognize they are working, without ever knowing or caring about how many hours they spend grading papers at home, running to the art store to get more supplies for their kids, attending basketball games to support their students. Most of us don’t think about that as part of the job, but it is.
There’s more to everyone’s work than we will ever realize. There’s more to any artist’s work than you will ever realize. There’s more to my work than even those closest to me often realize.
I read once that we are every person in our dreams. If that’s true, that means each of those bystanders asking me a question was really just me asking myself whether what I’m doing really counts as work. So, here’s what I’d like to tell myself (and others):
I’m brewing up some creative new ideas. I can’t describe them yet, but I trust they will come together (or they won’t). I’m letting go of some things that feel too personal to talk about just yet, but I will when I’m ready. Last year was one of my most wildly successful years workwise, not moneywise, and that’s just the way it is sometimes. I’m not here to convince anyone, myself included, that I’m special or gifted or that the things I create are worthy. I know only one thing for sure . . . I’m doing the work I was put here to do.
So, please, just let me do my work.
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