Sometimes - often - I will do some writing, a collage or photography and realize quickly that it is crappy. In many cases, I abandon it entirely. Delete.
Other times, I salvage it. A few tweaks and then it's good. I wrote about that experience here in The Crappy Collage.
On occasion I'll jump ship on the first attempt, then re-do it from start to finish. I do this when the idea is good but there is something wrong with the execution.
If I share some writing, collage or photography that means I like it. That's the simple way of looking at it.
It might be almost perfect. But I allow for some other things to happen. Sometimes I try something new on for size and see what sticks. I might consciously decide to explore a new direction or post something I'm a little on the fence about.
If I insisted on perfection every time, sure every time, well developed every time, I wouldn't share anything and I wouldn't do anything.
For the most part though, if I share it I'm proud of it.
If I'm lucky, I stay proud. There's stuff I've made or written that I love as much as the day I finished it. These are rarified moments in artist-time. I cherish this.
There is an in-between thing that happens frequently. Time passes, and if I had it to share again, there are small things I'd change. A paragraph I'd get rid of. Something that could have been more refined. I could have shifted my vantage point a bit to the left. Cropped something out.
So far, I've acknowledged this, but left the words or the image alone. I'm more interested in moving onto the next thing. It was a moment in time and I'm willing to let that be. This isn't brain surgery. This kind of imperfection never killed anyone.
If I get anything published I'll work with my editor and address it then.
Every once in a while, something else happens. I won't beat around the bush.
There is work that I created and shared at some point in the past. This work is crappy. I did not realize it at the time. I thought it was good six months or three years ago. My intentions were good.
It took some time and distance for me to realize it was crappy.
I took a bunch of crappy photographs and wrote a bunch of crappy words. While doing this, I learned a few things. The work I do now is much less crappy because of it.
I stay pragmatic and I stay positive. However, it sometimes takes my breath away, just how crappy something I did is. It's like the air being let out of a balloon. Or the terrible sound the needle makes scratching against an LP.
I keep it in perspective. How important is it that I shared a crappy photograph of moss in 2012? Or that a collage that accompanied a blog post is the paper and glue version of a train wreck? Bad poetry isn't the worst thing that can happen.
Crappy work is something I try my best to avoid but once it's been out there a while it's like carrying a screaming two-year-old out of the lake whose lips are turning blue. He needs to come out of the water. He doesn't want to come out of the water. He's making a lot of noise and kicking. People are looking.
He's your third child. He's acting crappy. You know he's acting crappy. All of these people at the beach know he's acting crappy. You’re not worried or defensive about what these people are thinking. You and these people are in agreement about the crappy screaming. It's best to contain things and move on. Don't overthink it like you did with the first.
That's exactly how it is with the crappy memoir piece I wrote.
My problem isn’t with what I did. My problem is with what I am about to do.
I write a blog post. I do what I always do these days. I write it. I get rid of some of it. I make a collage. It had no diagonals because I am sick of diagonals. I use my computer printer in a ways that utilize classic printmaking techniques with an irreverent twist. The entire effect is beautiful.
I have a satisfied feeling that comes from doing a good job. I am proud of my work.
But then it occurs to me that I was proud of all the other work I did before and then at a later date I realized that some of it was crappy. Furthermore, there wasn't much rhyme or reason to which work had staying power and which work would become crappy later.
That's when I realize that I might have just finished some future crappy work!
I sit with the worry for a little while. Then I let it go.
It's easy for me to not publish crappy things in real time. I'm not an idiot. I’m not lazy.
The only way to avoid sharing work that I am sure wouldn't ever be crappy later would be to make work and then sit on it for several years before sharing it. Then after a decade, I could see what was still good.
Or I could keep working and working without sharing until becoming a near perfect writer or artist or photographer. I'd emerge, fully formed seeming like an overnight sensation or hidden genius.
These ideas are romantic and not without appeal.
Here's why I'm not doing it.
When I was younger there were limited ways of sharing your work. There was no social media. You could be in a gallery show, you could be published in a book or magazine, you could get commercial assignments, you could show your portfolio of carefully crafted prints to other people.
I did all of these things. But there could be long, lonely spaces between shows, assignments, and publications. Things remained buried in drawers and clamshell boxes. Sometimes I couldn't get anyone to look at my work.
In the best of all worlds, I'd shoot beautiful still life photographs that almost no one would see for six months because that was the lead-time of the magazine.
I wasn't made to work in isolation. Social media is one of the best things that has happened to me.
There is something democratic with all of this. In a global sense, there are no gatekeepers. Our lives are crowded with crappy work that we now need to delete, filter or ignore. Some people dislike this. There's no one keeping the riffraff out.
I've said it before. The cream will rise to the top. It always does.
I can't worry about what work will remain suspended and preserved in amber, or for how long. I can't worry about what will seem antiquated in a month, what will gain meaning with time or look like amateur hour a year from now.
So if you look and read, you'll see my process. It's not a fairy tale. That would be a lovely work of fiction. You never know. I might just write that fable someday.
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