Last weekend, Jeff made a dangerous suggestion to me. “Let’s go to Barnes & Noble.” He knows it’s one of my favorite places to browse and I often walk out with at least one book or magazine in a bag.
I have my normal route through the store. I check out the magazines, the bargain books, decorating and design, business, poetry, and art sections. Last week, I ended up with a stack of books and periodicals from the Time special issue on creativity to a reprint of a Better Homes & Gardens decorating book from the 1960s. I had more material than I could read in a month.
While I was waiting in line, cradling the stack in my arms, a nearby table of children’s books caught my attention. The largest book on the table showed a dinosaur wearing a guilty look and the title We Don’t Eat Our Classmates. I was tempted to step out of line and flip through the book, so I could get a sense of the story, but the load in my arms and my own imagination prevented me from doing so.
I actually wanted to remain ignorant of the book’s story because, in my head, I was making up my own story. It wasn’t a children’s book, though, and it didn’t feature a dinosaur.
My story was set in a community of creatives at a time when they felt like the world wasn’t big enough for all of them. So, they began to consume one another, taking bites at those who made them feel threatened. It wasn’t overt, though. It was critical comments masked in anonymity. It was passive-aggressive accusations. It was cloaked remarks about “some artists” or “some writers” or “some designers.” It was gossipy conversations and private thoughts stoked with jealousy. It was people feeling insecure and utterly human and, in the moment, not rising above it.
If we’re gut-wrenchingly honest, I think we have all been in that world. We’ve all been easily offended, prickly, and overly concerned with others. We’ve all felt anxiety that makes us look with suspicion at other creatives. We’ve all felt like it’s a race with only one winner. We’ve all felt the pang of jealousy, feeling like someone else’s gain is our loss.
In many, many cases, someone else’s creative gain is a win for us, too. Success is not a scarce commodity that is rationed or in limited supply. It is infinite. When that is recognized, one can live easily and joyfully among the gifted and talented. In fact, we are all better and more creative when we are a part of a community of brilliant, innovative, and talented people. And that community will flourish when the members are nurtured, encouraged, and heralded.
Friends, we do not eat our creative confrères.*
But, we often do. Me included. And that’s why the story unfolded so vividly in my mind as I waited to buy my ridiculous stack of reading materials. It was vivid because it’s true. Not always, but it’s true enough.
Whenever we feel that temptation, we need to remind ourselves that the creative journey is not survival of the fittest. It’s not eat-or-be-eaten. It’s your journey and it’s my journey. It’s her journey and his journey.
And there is room for us all.
*Confrère – (noun) a fellow member of a profession; a colleague