I'm constantly consuming media. I read upwards of a hundred books a year, not because I'm trying to hit some Facebook-feed worthy goal but because I really can't help myself. I get lost in the YouTube rabbit hole, amazed at the singers and comedians and actors and poets who aren't afraid to put their creations out into the world. I have dozens of podcasts to work through. I'm awestruck of people who know how to make soap and design sneakers and cultivate a garden.
But over the past few months I've found this less inspirational and more demotivating. I finished several of Ray Bradbury's short story collections and came away dejected. I watched a Netflix comedy special and found that my emotions turned off with the screen.
It's not that this quarantined world has me unable to enjoy myself. I still recognise and appreciate the beauty that is somehow created every day. But instead of this feeding into my assertion that humanity is impressive, I'm more and more certain that I will never be able to create anything near that level. Call it imposter syndrome, or overexposure to the media, or even shame that I'm nearing thirty and haven't yet accomplished what I dreamed of when I was seventeen.
The other day I was writing and stopped suddenly, fingers hovering over the keys, because I realised that I was regurgitating a recently enjoyed novel. Each time I encounter something beautiful, I want to recreate it and claim it for myself. But this is like plucking a flower from the field: It may technically be yours now, but it will whither soon. And you sure as hell aren't the reason it is beautiful.
This isn't a new thought (which sort of supports my point) but it's a new one for me. The authors I read are better writers than I will ever be. I've always heard that writers need to read, artists need to visit museums. The idea is that we can see what our peers attain and believe in ourselves just long enough to aim even higher. But how can an architecture student look at the Colosseum and not feel infinitesimally small?
Comparison is the thief of joy, or so they say. But it's also supposed to be the inspiration. How do we capture that balance?
Honestly? I haven't figured it out yet. I don't think the right answer is to stop consuming. Probably we need to be okay with starting from absolute garbage before worrying about producing a masterpiece. And getting comfortable being around masters of the craft is just as vital. But balance isn't immediate. I'll teeter between inspiration and jealousy until it becomes natural. In the meantime, I'll curl up with a thick book or flip on a good show, sit through a seminar or crank up the radio, and feel amazed.