“Make Me a Bicycle, Clown!”

So this is a strange post. I realize this. But you folks are here for a reason, and I sort of believe most of that reason is because I write some weird shit sometimes, and on some (possibly twisted) level, the bizarre connections I make are entertaining for you. Most of what I write is probably a little strange.

This is a post about anxiety and where it crops up, and this thing people tend to do that they (I’m positive) intend to be nice and complimentary and flattering, but tends to be anxiety inducing and pressure laden instead…
For me, personally, it goes something like this…

“This story is screaming for a sequel…”
“Omigosh, when are you going to write more about this couple?!”
“Did you ever think about expanding this story into a novel/series?”

I get it. That’s someone telling me they like my work a lot. They want more. They fell in love with the people I made up and the story I told. But to me, it kind of reads, ‘What you’ve done isn’t enough. Do more.’ I know that’s not what people mean. But that’s how it feels almost every time. And it’s not just me. I have a friend who is an artist. She draws and paints and does calligraphy and photography. She’s super talented. And in the past, she’s done some self portraits (and she is quite lovely, so they were popular with people who followed her art). And I saw that someone asked her for a self portrait featuring a particularly attractive feature of hers. And she was kind about setting a boundary…the creative process and the self worth/empowerment process ebb and flow and she’s just not in a self portrait featuring certain things kind of place right now. And I’m not her; the question clearly wasn’t directed at me, but to me, I just felt like it read demanding. ‘Give me this piece of you because I want it.’ It made ME feel gross to see someone ask HER for something like that. And I get that part of it is that I feel strange and wrong asking people for things…even things I NEED. I find it hard to imagine simply demanding that someone I don’t know (or even someone I know intimately) do something or make something or produce something for me or give me something just because I want/like it. What it must be like to just…tell some stranger to make something for you that you don’t plan to compensate them for and that they haven’t agreed to at least implicitly. Like, sure…if you walk into a sub shop and ask the worker behind the counter to make you a sandwich…that’s reasonable. You went into the sub shop for a sub…they work there…they’re in the uniform…you’re presumably going to pay them for the sandwich when they finish making it for you…
But this person asked my friend to give them a piece of her art and a representation of her actual physical being for free, basically out of the blue, because they wanted it. That’s just…weird to me.

And I have this other…friend? I dunno. I want to believe we’re friends, I guess, but he’s at least a writer acquaintance of mine, who has posted pieces of a very well written and entertaining story (for free) for anyone to read online, and he regularly gets solicitations from strangers to produce more. “Where’s new/more chapters of <Story>?!” “When are you going to write new parts of <Story?!” And I joke with him (I hope he thinks it’s funny) about how whenever I see someone ask him for new pieces of work (for free), I just see that scene from Wedding Crashers.
I know people are well meaning when they sort of demand more of the creators they like, but as a creator? That’s kind of nerve-wracking. And sometimes it can feel a little disheartening and maybe even disrespectful.

I’ve been feeling a lot lately like my value is only in what I can give to and do for other people. And this type of thing doesn’t help me personally. And I also am speculating (but I don’t think I’m far off or anything) that it doesn’t help many if any creators. Don’t get me wrong…we love feedback and we are certainly thrilled and grateful that people like the things we make…that people like US (at least in as much as what we make/what we can give to or do for them). But it also feeds that little voice (at least for me) that tells me I’m never enough; never good enough; I never do enough. And even outside of the creative realm…when people stack up expectations of me…
*This is the kind of friend Jen is…
*This is the kind of woman Jen is…
*This is the kind of person Jen is…
*Jen always does X; she’ll always be able and willing to do X forever…
*Jen makes the best Y; I assume she’ll always be able and willing to make Y for me…
*Jen is so responsive; she’ll get right back to me; she’ll do what I need/want her to right away…

I mean, I feel kind of used and taken for granted. And I know I’m not alone here.
I’m happy that people like what I do (whether that’s writing or listening to them or making pumpkin pie or whatever), and I’m happy when that is recognized. But sometimes, the recognition sounds more like entitlement and a list of demands and requirements. And now is a very fragile time to be making arbitrary demands on other people. Yes, don’t be afraid to ask for what you need (I’m saying that as much to myself as to anyone else). But when it comes to making demands of and placing expectations on other people? Tread with caution. Even the intended compliments can come across sounding like orders and petitions when anxiety is high.

1 thought on ““Make Me a Bicycle, Clown!”

  1. I was hoping someone’d make me a bicycle.

    On a more serious note though, hope you’re doing well and I wish you all the best on your personal journey. Thanks for sharing these vulnerable parts of your life!

    Like

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