Life After The Applause


As a young man I was the sort of person who often got applause of one kind or another. Sometimes it was actual applause heard from the stage or the playing field, sometimes it was praise from coaches and teachers and parents, and sometimes it was the laughter of a group of friends. At first, the applause would catch me unaware. I was just doing my thing as well as I could do it, and then people started making this noise. I knew what I did and people’s response were connected, yet I knew they were also separate because I could do one without the other.

Still, I quickly grew to like the applause, as most artists do. I liked the recognition, the validation, and maybe most importantly the concrete, external evidence that I was doing something right. As I said, if you’re an artist, you can do what you do whether people are there to applaud or not. You can sing in the shower, play your piano in your living room, write in your journal. It’s fun to sing or play or write, but without the audience the creativity can begin to feel a little pointless, all your work a series of doodles whose making served no other purpose than to fill your many empty hours.

This is an addict’s relationship to creativity. The addict is always incomplete until he is fixed with his fix. There are worse things than applause to be addicted to, but it’s an addiction that can drain me of my confidence just the same. It is easy to remember why I do what I do when I meet readers, or teach a workshop, or sell an essay or book, it’s another thing to remember in silence. And not the silence of the workroom, when The Muse and I are having our conversation, but the silence between when I am done working and when I share my work.

Those are the moments I become aware of the addictive relationship to applause. In fact, the longer I have lived as an artist, the more I have come to believe that my sustained happiness and success depends not on what I make or share but on what I believe about myself when I am not making or sharing anything. I must remember my value independent of what I have made or will make. This value is the source of everything valuable I’ll ever write. To forget it, even on a walk to the park, is a kind of suicide, as if I am a creature that can live only in the spotlight. To remember is to shine my light on life itself, to see in me what artist and audience seek in one another.

If you like the ideas and perspectives expressed here, feel free to contact me about individual coaching and group workshops.