I’m awake. Unwittingly I’ve allowed the normal fitful sleep of a father of an infant to leap on a tangent that is better left ignored; and now, rather than sleep, I think. As is so often the case, the thinking is not a thing of forward momentum, but hopeless spiral; it is existential, and essential, and quietly deafening, a ruthless soft-pounding that is subtle enough to accomplish nothing of import, yet strong enough to leave me feeling wasted. What better way to start a Saturday morning than as a cocktail of heightened fight-or-flight in a state of total exhaustion.
In hours I will stand in front of an auditorium of high school students and talk about doubt. At some point I will espouse one-half of my contention; namely that doubt is a weight to be measured in earnest and then, certain it cannot throw out your back, flung with the might and disregard of a pebble into a lake allowing the ripples to do nothing more than remind.
I believe this. And I’m in good company.
“The whole problem with the world is that fools and fanatics are always so certain of themselves, but wiser men so full of doubts.”
― Bertrand Russell
I also believe that doubt is a force to improve. As Rilke suggests, a touch of doubt is the thing that begins to train the artist to improve. It is the question – What if? And as I doubt the quality, structure, wording, music, of a song, the song can improve.
“And your doubt can become a good quality if you train it. It must become knowing, it must become criticism. Ask it, whenever it wants to spoil something for you, why something is ugly, demand proofs from it, test it, and you will find it perhaps bewildered and embarrassed, perhaps also protesting. But don’t give in, insist on arguments, and act in this way, attentive and persistent, every single time, and the day will come when, instead of being a destroyer, it will become one of your best workers–perhaps the most intelligent of all the ones that are building your life.”
― Rainer Maria Rilke, Letters to a Young Poet
And, of course, the final word on this tangent should be left to the ‘unquestioning faith,’ which can never amount to betterment, so locked in a dogma of self-confidence it fails to seek its surroundings.
“Say what you will about the sweet miracle of unquestioning faith, I consider a capacity for it terrifying and absolutely vile.”
― Kurt Vonnegut
When it comes to my art I exist in a state of flux. One day flinging the pebble of doubt, the next drowning with it. And this is why I’m awake.
Russell’s fools reside in my head and while I know that the wiser man is there also, I am nonetheless far more vulnerable to the creeping self-doubt that so ardently destroys creativity.
I want to be counted, to add my voice to landscape of music and poetry, and I am acting on this want. I am also constantly doubting–at times to improve, at times to disable.
This morning the voice is disabling, supported by the actions of a fool, an unkind contributor, so selfish he would not share his honesty, choosing to allow silence amongst friends to create enough implicit messaging that his passive-aggressiveness becomes the critique.
The story is old. As a giver, I fail to withhold, I take people at their word, and I often build rich relationships as a result. However, what I might avoid with a pinch of aloofness, carefulness, reservation, I do not, and thus find myself in the grips of those that take advantage. It leaves a sour taste; it is the taste that comes from once again seeing, feeling, the side of humanity that is truly ‘terrifying and absolutely vile.’
And the irony is that while I so want to discredit and discard the doubt it creates, while I so want to say, “I don’t care.” I do. What others think does matter. The greater irony is that despite a majority of support and affirmation, it is the small minority that garners my attention. I cast doubt on the audience of applause for the few hands that scorn my art.
It is a travesty that confidence is such a fickle thing. And for this I have no cure.