Lately, Looking Back

Every now and then I get the utterly misguided impulse to go back and read/listen to/look at my creative work from the past. And every time that I acquiesce, I come out of the experience feeling excruciating embarrassment that I could have at any point in my life been so nearsighted, so naïve, and so just-plain-bad at what I was doing to have coughed up such outrageous harassments to the artistic institution. That being the case, actually, I don’t know why the impulse continues to come.

Nevertheless, my fast-approaching graduation gives me the happy opportunity to review some of my work that has been featured in this magazine and systematically disown whichever articles I feel are too far in their intent from who I am today to still be considered mine. Are you giggling? Well, I suppose that is a little silly.

But even if I don’t erase my name from all those bylines, the question persists: what was the essential problem with my older work? What hadn’t I developed then that I have now, if indeed I’ve changed? If it’s writing we’re talking about, it’s not that I know more words now. I probably knew more then, having just emerged – still panting – from the SAT. Is it that, when I drew, I wasn’t accurate enough in my depictions of the object? Certainly not – I drew better then than I do today. The exception is music, for me, because it’s the only thing I’ve continued to learn the science of since I started. Still, I resent even my most recent compositions.
The problem, then, was not the number of “tools” I’d accumulated to convey myself with. It was just that I didn’t know how to use them. My fiction was trite, melodramatic, and predictable. If it was an essay, it was assuredly too self-important. My drawings were imitations of the world, not originals – not even original imitations. My poems – the few that had messages – were right up front about them, and didn’t leave a lot of work and interpretation to the reader. If they didn’t have messages, they were loco enough to dismiss as transcendental – maybe like Dada’s toilet. My music was/is not unlike the fiction – repetitive in its spontaneities and regurgitated in its inspiration.

This kind of drivel nevertheless used to impress some of my friends (Average Receivers) because, I guess, it evidenced “tools” they didn’t have.  I knew a few big words, for example, so I thought I might as well use them, and ARs, generally indifferent to knowing big words themselves, were easily awestruck when they saw a few in my writing, whether I knew how to use them meaningfully or not. In the poetry, if I came up with a mildly clever rhyme, that would be good enough, since ARs aren’t concerned very much with rhyming themselves, and seeing it done agreeably was maybe the way seeing a dolphin is to someone who lives in the Midwest. The music is even more-so this way. So few people possess the right balance of flexible reverence for norms and knowledge of the basic science to come up with something even vaguely original, that if you’re even in the nosebleeds, you’re basically in the end-zone. ARs will eagerly declare you a maestro as you casually strike a few chords with your left and dance along a few congenial scales with your right,  but your secret is not safe with me. Such are dangerous declarations to an aspirant in any artistic pursuit, and ARs do you a disservice when they make them. They aren’t in the wrong, however; you are, for continuing to appeal only to them for appraisal. If they’re passersby, then they are only averagely educated on what it is you’re presenting them with; if they’re your friends, then they will — maybe like you mother — believe you do things well just because it’s you. I was, as I drew sustainable satisfaction from this sort of attention in all of those pursuits, making no progress.

This is all under the presumption, by the way, that one is working toward an art form and not strictly entertainment value. In the latter case, my sappy fiction, cliche poetry, and pseudo-philosophy call for fanfares, and maybe with some more practice I might sit at the table with authors of vampire romances or self-help books. But if I’m concerned with art, I have to turn my attention to what my creative writing professor called “ artist’s artists.” These are people that musicians spend their time listening to, and authors spend their time reading — people we’re forced to read in school so early we sometimes develop a distaste for them. And that’s too bad, because Ernest Hemingway proves you don’t have to use the biggest words in the dictionary to make good prose, and Shel Silverstein proves it’s not about the length of the discourse, either. Poetry by Maya Angelou or by Pablo Neruda or by Edna St. Vincent Millay proves that you don’t have to rhyme, or make a manifest point, or defend any point you do make. It isn’t an essay. And music? More than in any of the other pursuits, emotion should prevail, and the more simply, the more purely, the more honestly, the better. Ask A.R. Rahman, or John Williams. Ultimately, they would all agree having a screwdriver with a manual is better than having a bulldozer without one.

TL;DR: So what was the problem with my older work? What I’ve learned is not to pride myself in “tools” I have but can’t use, just because people are impressed by them. Instead, I need to expose myself to people who make magic with as few “tools” as possible. This is the essential difference between artists and entertainers. All the while, I will need to subject myself to the criticism of people who can tell the difference, not ARs. (This is all intentionally vague so that you have to read the above anyway, thanks very much.)

I guess my hope is that at least some of this has been relatable to you, so that I won’t have wasted your time. For clarification, I’m not an artist even now. Not even in the zip code. But the grief I feel looking back is a little easier to smile about when I realize it will always be this way; I’ll be asking this question of my current work later, perhaps reading this very article in a year’s time and grinding my teeth. The relief comes from my hope that continually engaging in this exercise means that I’ll keep pushing myself to perform better, to mature into deeper, more subtle expressions of artistic impulse, and immerse myself in work by people a hell of a lot better than I am. Isn’t that worth it? If I add to that a perseverant appeal to the glittering literary establishment of Nazar and its readers (rather than ARs), as well as, of course, the standards of my charming but exacting girlfriend, then maybe I can breathe deeply once or twice and, at last, forgive myself.

Photo courtesy: djburkey


About Anand Jayanti :
Anand Jayanti is a senior studying Plan II and premedical science. He is the editor of the Reflections section of Nazar. He enjoys creative work, such as playing and composing music, singing, writing short fiction and poetry, screenplaying, and directing. He maintains a happy, faithful relationship with running. For all of these pursuits he takes inspiration from his friends and family.
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1 comment

  1. Anand Jayanti says:

    Apr 12, 2012

    Reply

    It took much less than a year for me to resent this.

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