You know when having your figs stolen reminds you of being a writer?
I’ve written about the fig tree in our garden before. We enjoy them every August for the glut of honey-sweet mess they are. Except this year, because this year the starlings enjoyed them instead.
I’m not a fan of invasive species. I might even make a few enemies saying I’ve wished for a slingshot and the aim of a sniper to combat the terrible flocks of birds that stormed our tree this summer. So be it. I can remain silent no longer: I hate starlings. I know they’re smart and adaptable and can mimic and have vaguely iridescent feathers. All good things in the right context. But they’re disastrous in North America and they’re disastrous in my garden. Little e told a friend of ours the other day, “Mummy hates aphids and she hates starlings. Hate is a very strong word.” Yes, indeed. Those are the two, um, very intense dislikes of my life.
Of course, the biggest reason for my starling-hatred is how thoroughly they eat their way through the things we like. (Why not eat the horse chestnuts or the fricking dandelions?) For the past month we’ve been coming out of the house to the rustle of fifty startled pairs of wings as they leave yet more carcasses of figs hanging by entrail-like threads from the tree. Grr.
But all joking aside (have I been joking?), this is really about disappointment and frustration. I mean, birds do what birds do and if we were true fig nerds we might have invested in a starling-proof net for our tree. (But probably not.)
The ego is a tricky thing. Which is to (slightly awkwardly) segue, this week I read this wonderful, wonderful, thought-provoking conversation about being a writer and it got me thinking about expectation and the products of disappointment, and how we might separate ourselves from them.
As an artist, I’m always walking this line between wanting to be recognised for the work I do–reviews, book sales, awards and etc.–and just doing what I love despite what people say. Those two things are always at odds, because recognition includes a LOT of what people say. Recognition can’t be separated from opinion; it’s naturally, completely, subjective. So while I want my work to appeal to a lot of people, I don’t want to be affected by what they say. Obviously, really negative feedback can be unhelpful, but positive feedback isn’t always a good thing either (since feedback is subjective).
Most artists want their work to be appreciated, but what metric should we use to measure everyone’s work? To twin “appreciated” with “success”? There isn’t one that works that way for everyone. And that’s where things get tricky with the ego. When we start measuring our work or progress by someone else’s metric, against someone else’s work, someone else’s life, we lose our perspective. All kinds of bad thoughts creep in. I mean, doesn’t it kind of blow your mind to imagine an uber-successful artist agonizing and comparing and beating on themselves the same way we do? But apparently it happens. We are none of us immune.
So, the thing to aim for is to be fulfilled solely from my work, from what creating gives me, and not from outside forms of gratification related to my writing.
Clearly I need to be more zen, because, damn it, I have unrealistic expectations for my stories. I have yet to divorce myself from the disappointment that comes from rejection and loss (see murderous starling rage). What other people think still matters to me, what other people accomplish still matters to me. And reading about other writers who struggle with the same things is helpful. Reading about how to avoid these things is helpful.
There’s no perfect fruit at the end of all this blather; I haven’t yet got it right. But I’m going to work on a starling defensive strategy for next summer and just keep writing. Because it’s only art: it should matter more to you that anyone else, anyway.