“the self is as strong as it is active. There is no genuine strength in possession as such, neither of material property nor of mental qualities like emotions or thoughts. There is also no strength in use and manipulation of objects; what we use is not ours simply because we use it. Ours is only that to which we are genuinely related by our creative activity […] The inability to act spontaneously, to express what one genuinely feels and thinks, and the resulting necessity to present a pseudo self to others and oneself, are the root of the feeling of inferiority and weakness. Whether or not we are aware of it, there is nothing of which we are more ashamed than of not being ourselves, and there is nothing that gives us greater pride and happiness than to think, to feel, and to say what is ours.”
—Erich Fromm, Escape from Freedom
We creatives love to ask our successful counterparts about possessions.
What gear should I buy? What software are you using? What apps did you use while writing your last novel? What kind of [fill in instrument] is that?
If not possessions, perhaps situations. Locale. Circumstance.
Do you have a studio? Should I move to [fill in big city] too? Should I get a nanny? Do I need to switch to part-time? Do I need to switch to full-time? Do I need to get a(nother) degree? Should I be teaching? Should I stop teaching?
While such questions may get a craftsperson somewhere (sometimes), they’re ultimately distractions. Really sexy, productive-feeling distractions.
For instance, if I can make the craft all about gear, tools, and/or assorted circumstances, I can avoid the terrifying relating-to-myself required of all creators. I can ignore the sense of weakness and inferiority I feel in front of a blank page, or when sitting (empty) at the piano.
I can believe that my lack of creation is due not to my failure or weakness (or lack of discipline, talent, motivation, skill), but to a lack of materials or access to a specific situation. Cue the bemoaning of low funds, lame writing space, poor connections, limited gear. I’d be ridiculously prolific if only I had that one thing.
Since I’m good at following whine-stimulated rabbit trails, I then spend my restless (creative!) energy researching tools, books, instruments, software, gear, and/or assorted jobs. I put myself at languorous pseudo-ease by accomplishing a non-necessity vaguely related to my art! Hooray! #winsthatarefails
Meanwhile, I’ve only moved things around. I haven’t created anything. “There is no strength in use or manipulation of objects.”
Okay so here’s the thing.
Possessing is no artistic sin. It’s not even shady territory through which we artists should creep warily, lest we lose our Artist Cred.
But it does get in the way.
Primarily because while we’re busy asking questions about possessions, we aren’t asking anything else: of ourselves, of our craft(s), of the blank page, the instrument, the gear we DO have, the ideas we’re back-burnering into eternity, our own unique abysses.
Having and buying shit – blah blah blah. Think, feel, and say what’s yours.