One from the archives, originally published on 11/13/12. Given that “what’s the point?” is the number one reason I hear for creativity not having a bigger place in people’s lives, this one felt ripe for a revisit. Enjoy! xo,Melissa
Years ago, when I was still a fairly new calligrapher, a contingent from my south Bay Area calligraphy guild, Pacific Scribes, took a field trip to the San Francisco Public Library, where we were treated to a private viewing of several calligraphic treasures from the Harrison Collection.
(Richard Harrison was a local calligrapher, and a collector of calligraphy, who donated his entire collection to the library in 1963. The collection contains nearly 1,000 examples of modern calligraphy, including manuscripts, broadsides, handwritten books, fine prints, drawings and sketches.
Now anyone can visit a special room at the back of Special Collections on the 6th floor, where they can see — and even hold in their hands — handmade masterpieces by esteemed calligraphers from around the world. If you’re ever in San Francisco, I highly recommend a visit — tell Andrea Grimes, the librarian there, that I sent you.)
It was hard not to drool as the pieces were brought around the room, so each of us could gaze at them up close. The room was practically singing with our awestruck “Oohs” and “Ahhs.”
“Why do I even bother?” sighed one woman. “I’ve been doing calligraphy for 15 years now and I’ll never be even close to this good!”
Heads bobbed and the oohs and aahs changed to cynical giggles and lamenting murmurs of assent.
I’ll never forget the response of the woman carrying pieces around the room for us to see. A well-known calligrapher in her own right, whom Pacific Scribes had flown out from across the country to teach for the weekend, she was just as awestruck by the pieces in the collection as the rest of us, but without skipping a beat, she said:
“Why bother? Because you love it. I know I’ll never dance like Baryshnikov, but it’s still fun to wiggle around on a dance floor!”
The “Why Do I Even Bother?” Gremlin and the Point
The “Why do I even bother?” gremlin is a malignant product of the Comparison Trap. It claims to be born of rational thinking — “I’ll never be as good as So & So, so what’s the point?” — but this gremlin is based in deception, not rationality.
The point is that it’s fun. The point is that it gives you joy. The point is that it makes you feel alive.
The “Why do I even bother?” gremlin tries to convince you that this, alone, is not enough. That somehow you must achieve, perform, compete, impress, in order for a pursuit to be worthy.
That’s a lie, and a dangerous one.
We live in a very achievement- and competition-oriented culture, so the “Why do I even bother?” gremlin has lots of ammunition at its disposal.
But stop and ask yourself: truly, why should there have to be any point besides “Because it’s fun”?
The Case of the Spinner Dolphins
In 2003 I went on a spiritual adventure tour to Hawai’i, to swim with wild dolphins. One of the tour leaders had spent a lot of time with dolphins and dolphin researchers. She told us of a research study to determine, once and for all, why spinner dolphins do their spinning-and-leaping behavior.
Although I can’t verify the accuracy of her claim, she said that after spending several months (maybe even years?) and ridiculous amounts of money, the researchers’ formal, scientific answer for why spinner dolphins spin was as follows:
Because they can, and it’s fun.
A quick Google search revealed that many scientists believe that spinner dolphins spin to remove suckerfish stuck to them, and apparently dolphins do use the spinning behavior for this purpose.
But dolphins without suckerfish spin, too.
Why shouldn’t “because they can, and it’s fun” be a good enough reason to do something?
Another Way to Look At It
It’s humans who want to find some “purpose” in everything. No wonder we find it hard to allow ourselves to pursue a creative skill or pastime just for the fun of it! We can’t even seem to let animals do something just for the fun of it! There must be some biological, evolutionary purpose, say the scientists.
Okay, then. Seeing as I’m human, I’ll argue from the human perspective.
Maybe the biological, evolutionary purpose is that more joyful beings live better quality lives.
Hell, joyful beings are probably likely to live longer.
Not to mention that more joyful beings are more likely to get along better with other beings — which would make a group of such beings more likely to survive as a community.
Personally, I think the fact that joyful beings will simply enjoy their lives — however long or short — is reason enough.
It’s enough for me. Finally allowing myself the space and time to do the creative things that give me joy has turned my life from shades of grey to vivid color.
Tell me, is that enough for you?
PS — Pssst! Know someone who might benefit from seeing this today? Pass it on!
This post was originally published on 11/13/12.