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What if I suck?

October 26, 2008

Every artist of every stripe has asked the question, “What if I suck?” at one time or another. Combined, these four simple words create such an existential and aesthetic mindfuck that one would be better off inquiring into a complete theory of quantum mechanics — and more likely to find an answer.

Since it is absurd to believe that humankind will one day agree upon a fixed standard by which all art can be judged, the sheer subjective nature of suckiness really does preclude an answer to the question, “What if I suck?”

Um, great… But what if I suck?

I mean, maybe suckiness is in the eye of the beholder, but surely my own art defies this axiom. Surely what I create can be defined, unequivocally, as “good art.”

Or not…

The subjective nature of suckiness dictates that someone out there actually thought "Gigli" was good

The subjective nature of suckiness dictates that someone out there actually thought "Gigli" was a good movie.

For an artist, getting through the dreaded episodes of “What if I suck?” can be daunting, humbling and downright exhausting. But I take comfort in the fact that I’m not the first one to arrive here. I picture Dante toying around with 10, maybe 11, Circles of Hell before settling on 9, or Melville scribbling “Call me Izzy” on a bar-stool napkin before revising the sentence in a later draft.

Writing is a delicate endeavor, after all, and it doesn’t take much to trigger an episode of “What if I suck?” Something as routine as a rejection letter, a bad review or even an off-beat comment can send even the most confident artist into a tailspin of self-doubt, the depths of which he or she will likely explore in solitude, unconvinced by any amount of validation from the outside world.

The scary thing is, validation may be our only means of judging art at all. Most of us can agree, for example, that Shakespeare doesn’t suck, if only because his plays are still celebrated 400 years after they were written. Still, had the Bard known of his future immortality, this foreknowledge would probably not have stopped him from asking himself, at least on occasion, “What if I sucketh?”

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9 Comments leave one →
  1. seejanenurse permalink
    October 27, 2008 2:46 pm

    To suck, or not to suck:that is the question:
    And we all suck sometimes, no doubt about that.
    If it is the outside world that determines what sucks than you really have no say in the matter anyway when it concerns you.
    So you can say, “You SUCK!” to me and I can say, “You SUCK!” to you.
    You can not say, “I SUCK!” and have any validation at all.

  2. October 28, 2008 3:11 am

    Haha, so true, Jane. That’s what makes it so hard. We can work as hard as we want at something and never really know if we suck.

  3. October 29, 2008 12:36 pm

    I grapple with that daily. Fuck that—hourly sometimes. But my “what if I suck?” moments go far beyond my “artistry”.

    Like you, I’m a writer. That’s exacerbated by the fact that I’m a comedy writer.

    Oy.

    My shit is questioned daily–by myself and others and I still take it to heart when I hear someone say that one of the lines/drops I’ve written for a particular radio station sucks, the defeated deflation I feel is daunting indeed. I’m better now at letting shit roll off my shoulders than I was five years ago, but admittedly, it still stings a wee bit. That’s because I’m a pleaser. Raised by a Southern woman who believed we were judged in not who we were, but what we did. That’s been the bane of my existence.

    I think I got into Broadcasting and Journalism, strictly because it would sustain my need for constant rejection.

    Consequently, I hate being edited…either in print or in life.

    I’ve quit writing gigs because I refused to stifle my voice and ascribe to a homogenized style. Is that integrity? Or do I suck at being compliant?

    I don’t know.

    But I can say that failure, while gut wrenching, can be, at times, the ultimate redeemer. This is going to sound awfully rabbinical and hackneyed, but we have to taste the bitter in order to savor the sweet.

    Therefore, asking, “What if I suck?” is in direct correlation to realizing, “Hey, I DON’T suck!” It doesn’t happen that often to us emotionally self-flagellating creative types, but when it does, the enormity makes Big Ben jack off.

    Easy to do since his hands are always on his enormous clock.

    I think that line just answered my own query—“Yes, I do suck.”

    This is my first time to your sight. I really enjoy your work.

    My best to Gotham,

    Best,
    LK

  4. Carolina Maine permalink
    October 29, 2008 2:25 pm

    AMH,
    I hope you didn’t have a bad review or a rejection letter. You don’t suck. I like your tell-it-like-it-is style. I can relate to your feelings because I’m worried about going to Vermont next week–I think it is next week. Anyway–I’m worried that I will not write anything good there and I will have wasted time and money for no good reason–and left my children far away at home for no reason as well. The latter is bothering me more. Ohh..Sigh….I’m also making two books for some people at my parish and I’m worried they will think it sucks. I was just thinking about how it would be awful if they thought it sucked–and then I found your post this morning. Thanks for sharing!

  5. October 29, 2008 11:51 pm

    Gee, thanks for the compliments guys.

    Laurie, I think we will always take it to heart when we get rejected or when someone says we suck. Writers have to have a thick skin, but rejection always stings a little, no matter how much you try to let it roll off your back. If we didn’t care, we wouldn’t write.

    Carolina,

    I hope I didn’t compound your anxiety. Writing always feels a little selfish. But if Chekhov can go to Taganrog to write the Cherry Orchard, then you can go to Vermont! I’m sure you aren’t going to suck!

    There was no specific rejection that led to this post, but I was in one of those moods, where I’m reading all this crap that I’ve written in the past and thinking — geez, this all kinda sucks. We’ve all been there!

  6. Carolina Maine permalink
    October 30, 2008 8:31 pm

    Ha! I have done that too! Thanks for your comment.

  7. Carolina Maine permalink
    December 13, 2008 1:17 am

    I miss you. Need more posts!

    • December 14, 2008 11:50 pm

      Hello! I was gone a few weeks and, like, WordPress admin is all different now. I was just getting used to the old way — why must they re-invent the wheel?

      I’m going on to your site to see what you’ve been up to!

  8. Laura permalink
    April 30, 2009 12:14 am

    You suck! Where are the creative pursuits? Come on…..

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