You were so great back then

Yesterday I was listening to Jack White’s live set at Lollapalooza and I couldn’t help but think that I really don’t like him as much now as I once did. He was a lot better with the White Stripes and even earlier in his solo career. Now to me he sounds theatrical and kind of pretentious.

But then I got to thinking about that a little more and saw parallels to my own writing. I started keeping a blog more than 17 years ago and that was what originally led to me becoming a freelance writer. I have often thought that my best days as a writer were behind me, more than 10 years ago.

A lot of the people who read my blog then no longer read it now. And part of that may be because when I was doing it then, there were a lot of moms with young children who were keeping blogs and we all read each other’s. Most of those people don’t regularly read blogs anymore, period.

I can’t help but feel disappointed in myself, though. Like my best writing was so much better back then and if I could just find a way to get it back, I’d get my audience back, too.

But isn’t that essentially the same as the thoughts I had about Jack White? Any artist can’t keep doing the same thing. The work they produce will change and evolve as they do as people — or at least it should, because the alternative is that they’re not evolving. Whether it’s music or writing or art, you can’t keep doing the same thing over and over or else it ceases to be a creative expression.

I’m not the same person that I was when I had three kids under five. I still have a lot of the same political views as I did then, sure. I’m still recognizably me. But back then, I wasn’t wrestling as much with religion. I did have some vague idea that I was sick but it hadn’t yet become something I lived with every day that had significant impact on my life.

I had a greater sense of my potential back then, too, and I thought I had more control over how my life would turn out. Being on the other side and seeing that I now spend several months a year nearly incapacitated by my illness and limited the rest of the time, I now have a different perspective.

I’m trying to figure out what I’m going to do with the next phase of my life. I don’t want to say “the rest of my life” because that sounds too final. I hope and want to believe they I’ll go through more stages of my life.

But this phase, when my kids are all nearly grown up and I have to wrestle with the reality of my illness and how it limits me, is undeniably different than what it was when my kids were small. Back then I still thought it was likely I would change my life in some more drastic way, particularly in terms of my career.

Now I know that I can take up new things and I hope that I will. But I may not make radical changes again. Or I might; who knows? But the key point either way is that I’m not the same person I was 15 years ago.

That means that some of the people who liked me then don’t like me as much now, and the feeling is mutual. Not that we’ve necessarily grown to dislike each other, just that our paths have diverged. We don’t have as many of the same circumstances in common anymore.

Much like Jack White makes different music now because of where he is in his life and I may not like it as much as the older stuff, that doesn’t necessarily mean his art objectively sucks now. It just means that his work had to change because he changed. And he’s made whole new fans who love what he does now.

As a creative sort, you can’t try to avoid changing so that no one ever feels alienated. You have to just follow where you are now and hope that some fans will like what you do. But maybe they won’t, and that has to be okay, too. That’s always a hard challenge for me. I want everybody to like me always.

I can’t write with readers in mind. I think that trying to do so has stifled my voice. I have to write what I need to say, and if people like it, they’ll come along. If they don’t, it’s not my job to change myself and what I write to please my audience and keep the same followers.

At the same time, that’s a lot easier said than done.

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