The answer is “no”. Irrelevancies are hard to tolerate. Trivia rankles. You’re saying “no” because to say otherwise would take precious time away from doing what you need to do. You’re saying “no” because time disappears too easily.
You want to say “yes”, but there are satisfactions that go beyond pleasure. There are efforts that simultaneously exhaust you and leave you more alive than when you began. But no matter how generous you want to be (and, sadly, not everyone is generous) the creative process is ultimately about selfishness. You can try to pretend otherwise, but ultimately the subject will circle back onto itself. When you create something a part of you actually believes that your actions will contribute something to the world worthy of consuming someone else’s time.
In a microcosm you might be creating things because they’re means for enriching yourself. You can get paid for this stuff! If you've created a new highway construction schedule by winning a follow-on contract after some other successfulpublic works project, you’re happy; you’re going to get paid again. Clearly that was the goal all along. At its most fundamental level your creative momentum is your own self-interest talking.
But as a means for bolstering your own self interest, the creative process is really about something simpler, while simultaneously more profound. You create things because you’re going to die.
You’re going to die and so is everybody you know.
Don’t scrunch up your nose in disgust and dismissal! Don’t close your browser or click on something brighter and lighter. Perhaps you’re reading this on your cell phone on the Chicago “L”, turning momentarily to stare out the window, wondering if you should continue. Who is this morose downer of a writer, rapping about stuff you try to push out of your mind every day?
Just listen. I can’t pretend, and neither should you. You’re going to die and so I'm I.
This is why we create. This is why everyone creates. The delusion for some is that there’s a sense of enjoyment or satisfaction, but that’s all rationalization to keep us from becoming nihilists. You’re certainly entitled to enjoy what you make, but at the end of your life that enjoyment is like a gentle autumn breeze from your youth. You can’t feel it anymore, even if you know it happened, and there’s no evidence to prove it happened either.
It's too simple to believe that we create so our ideas will outlive us. It's too simple to think that our creations – no matter what our discipline maybe – has to do with continuity beyond our own brief existences. Instead we create things of all sorts because the act of doing so thumbs its nose at mortality. We know how hard it is to get going each morning, each day older bringing a few additional creaks and pains in joints that we hadn't felt the day before. Cold days of winter, winds and rain in spring: we know some days simply challenge us to keep going, and keeping our forward momentum gets harder every day.
But if we care about what we do, there’s a good chance we’re improving most days, too! Our skills get better, our perception more acute. We’re aging, but we’re improving. We create more complex, more challenging things as parts of us decline. What delicious irony: as parts of us slide backwards we have the potential to advance where it counts!
We create because we define intermediate goals throughout our life. You might believe that completion of a personal, soulful novel, or a new way of organizing your office client intake system is a goal, but those are really just mid-points in a singular path. Many artists try and keep archives of their own work. In the old days there were shoeboxes of negatives and photographs; there were drawers in desks filled with short stories and poems; there were workrooms with designs for new dresses and blouses; there were wood shops with roll top desks and claw footed chairs; there was a potters wheel out in the shed behind the house surrounded with various earthworks in unfired test forms. These days much of our work exists on hard drives and flash memory. But it doesn't matter. Physical or digital, most of our work—most of everyone’s work— will be forgotten. Most of what we create we even lose track of ourselves! How can we expect the great oceans of time to keep our precious doodles afloat when we can’t recall that awesome guitar lick we mastered back in college?
What matters is that we do new work and make something new every day. We do it because we can. We do it because we must. We do it because the act of creating is singularly defiant of our ultimate demise. The universe will pull us all back into its flowing sea of particles and we will all disappear and dissolve. We will be assimilated as cosmic noise in the background chaos.
So get out of bed. Make something new. Make it extraordinary. Share it with the world. All you've got is the act of doing it, and you do it because you have to. The alternative is no alternative at all. The darkness will find you anyway, so there’s absolutely no reason at all to capitulate early. In fact, when you light a torch in order to show off your creation to the world, you should sing out. That light is all yours. That light shines because of what you just made.
When I see your torch flare up as the sunlight fades, I promise to sing out, too.