A manifesto for a more wondrous age.

I like to think of myself as an artist who works across multiple disciplines—mainly writing and photography—but I don’t think of myself as limited to any specific field. Maybe I’ve just never learned restraint; I’ve never wanted to box myself in. At times, I feel like this is a blessing and a curse; perhaps more specialization would help me in some ways, but I don’t feel like I’ve compromised depth for breadth. I know my limitations as well as I can, and wouldn’t claim expertise beyond that. And beyond that, wouldn’t sticking to one lane be boring?

Still, my experience is only so deep. I’d love to try pottery or woodworking or learn to draw (beyond a single college course), but I haven’t managed to make the time yet. Yet when I find myself wandering the halls of the Art Institute, I’m always thinking the same specific thoughts. I feel motivated, and freshly rededicated to art in general: towards the pursuit of human expression, human connection. It makes me want to get back to work on my own art as soon as possible. And invariably, I always end up distinctly thinking, I have to learn oil painting. One day, I will.

I can’t say I’ve ever really felt what’s described as “imposter syndrome.” That’s not to say I’m not critical of my own work; I am, intensely. However these criticisms don’t manifest as a feeling of fraudulence against my much superior peers, but instead as a single flame I shelter close to my breast. It whispers to me: I have to work harder.

I’m proud of some of the work I’ve made, and hope it’ll start to be recognized wider. But I also recognize the continued gap between my ability and where I want to be. Yet I look at that summit and think, I can get there, too, if I work hard enough. Maybe this is just an outcropping of what my girlfriend and I jokingly call “white boy confidence.”

Lately, I’ve been watching some guitar videos on YouTube. I’m focusing on writing and my future right now, so my actual practice time has been minimal; mostly noodling around. But I still watch the videos, remind myself where I want to be going, why I started in the first place. It was in the comments of one of these videos, from famous bedroom guitarist Ichika, that I saw something that made me think more about “impostor syndrome.” In a comment and a reply, someone had written “Ichika is the guitarist that most makes me want to improve,” and another said, “Ichika is the guitarist that most makes me want to quit.” I don’t remember which was a reply to which.

I get the same sense in writing, as well. Honestly, maybe I’m too much of a snob, but most of the time books do not blow me away. If you’ve read some of my criticism, you probably see a pattern: I tend to be disappointed somewhat, even in books I’m looking forward to. But that just makes the books that really resonate with me all the more sweet. Yet regardless of how I assess the quality of the work, I find my response to be mostly the same. In work I find lacking, I think “I can do better,” and in work I find moving I think “What beauty! What clarity! What can I do to get there myself?”

If you’re wondering if I’m going to tie this into an anime episode, you’re in luck. In Hibike! Euphonium, a series about a high-school orchestra, there’s a sequence I think of often. In preparing for a concert, the band director added a new part to the euphonium section, the instrument main character Kumiko plays. She struggles with the part, practicing relentlessly, fruitlessly; until the director decides to have another member of the section play it solo (so Kumiko’s struggles don’t impact the performance). Of course, this is disheartening. But rather than wallow, or give up entirely, Kumiko uses this to steel her resolve, realizing she wants to rise to the expectation set for her.

Clip from Hibike! Euphonium S01E12

It’s natural to feel disheartened, especially if you’re trying to make art (I don’t think I need to write more about the Ira Glass “taste / gap” quote). But I think it’s important to put that in perspective. I read work by writers like Rachel Cusk, like Kawakami Mieko, and think “how on earth did they pull that off?” But they did. They practiced, and refined their work over years. And I can too.

A pitcher for the Tampa Bay Rays, Peter Fairbanks, has been struggling to start the season. Nothing’s working for him. It’s an “all-encompassing kind of suck,” as he described it. But the only way forward is through. “Sucking at something is the first step at being sorta good at something,” says Jake the Dog. A bad piece of writing exists to be revised. So give yourself the 16 minutes of sulk you need, and then get back on the bump.

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