Even When it Hurts

by Rob Gregory Browne

There is a gene in me that compels me to do what I do.

Or maybe it’s a disease.  A sickness I’ve carried from the moment of birth.  I often think I might be better off with a transorbital lobotomy, lumbering vacantly toward an empty room.

I don’t know why I’m this way.  Could probably trace it to my mother.  I grew up listening to her play Chopin and Beethoven in our living room on a funky console piano.

It sounded like a Steinway to me.

Or there’s my Uncle Ed, who loaned me his baritone uke when I was eight years old.  He saw my eyes get big when he started playing, and for reasons I’ll never know, handed it to me, wearing that wise-acre grin of his, and said, "Keep it for awhile, kiddo."

Next thing I knew, I was blasting away on those nylon strings, writing songs.  But then I guess I’d always been writing them.  When I was very young I used to sing myself to sleep every night, rolling my head from side to side in rhythm to the tune I’d made up.

Yes, I was a strange kid.

But then we’re all strange, aren’t we?  Those of us who attempt to create.  We spend so much time in our own heads that the people around us, the people we love, start to feel neglected.

We live in messy rooms, drive dirty cars and can’t stop humming that new melody we’ve come up with —  working it, revising it, sometimes forgetting it.  We figure out character flaws and plot turns while we’re supposed to be concentrating on the road.  We sketch doodles on place mats as we wait for our french fries.  We snap photographs of our children, experimenting with angles, then upload them into an electronic box to play with the colors and the grain and the contrast.

I’ve had this disease — this desire to create — for as long as I can remember.   And I can’t control it.  Can barely manage to channel it into one specific task.  When I’m writing, I want to be making music.  When I’m playing guitar, I want to be editing video.  When I’m editing video, I’m thinking about the book I should be working on.

But then it all comes together somehow in my brain — the melody, the images, the words — and after a long, difficult slog, a book is born.  A song is written.  A video completed.

But I often wonder what it is that compels me to do these things.  What is it in my DNA that forces me to pick up a pen or play a piano or draw a picture?  And when I was first starting out, what gave me the audacity to believe that I’d ever be any good at it? 

Or does that really matter? 

Gift or curse, this desire is something I’ve had to learn to live with.  And the most painful thing about it is that most of my attempts to be creative actually fail.  I’m never completely satisfied with my efforts.

But then maybe that’s okay.  Maybe it’s only the pursuit that counts.

And I always enjoy the pursuit.  Always. 

Even when it hurts.

9 thoughts on “Even When it Hurts

  1. Zoë Sharp

    Hi Rob

    Great post. Rang a lot of bells for me, as did Toni’s wonderful post from Sunday.

    I know it should always be fun, but at the same time I have this theory that if it’s too easy, I’m really not trying hard enough.

    And, sadly, I carry that over into everything I do.

  2. JanW

    And why is it creatives need to dabble in so many different areas? [shaking head] Jacks and Jills of so many trades. I won’t say master of none, because that’s not true. But I will agree, it is terribly hard to focus sometimes.

  3. Alexandra Sokoloff

    I really loved that scene is CAST AWAY when Tom Hanks has been on the island for a while – there’s a time cut and you see him now bearded and he’s constructed all kinds of structures and paths out of shells and wood.

    I think it’s not just some of us, but ALL humans who are compelled to create, and those who don’t find some satisfying expression of it are likely to live unfulfilled, or worse, destructive lives.

    Jan’s got a good point, too – the urge to create tends to be scattershot. I’m really thankful that I have enough OCD in me to stick to a FEW things I do fairly well and not try for everything.

  4. Louise Ure

    Perhaps you guys are right about the scattershot nature of creativity, but mine is rather linear and only has to deal with words. I’m so incredibly jealous of your song writing ability.

  5. Jake Nantz

    Ms. Ure,I don’t know that it’s always just creativity that’s scattershot with creative people. I’m really only creative (or at least, I’m only reasonably GOOD at it) with words, so I don’t spend as much time drawing anymore. I never wrote music at all.

    But I sing. And I read. And I play board games, and I play with my dogs, and I bowl, and I spend time with my wife, and shoot pool, and play sports, and write, and play video games, and watch sports, and watch (and memorize) movies, and, and, and…….and I feel like a day is somehow incomplete if I haven’t done most if not all of these things. A free day for me must either consist of ALL writing (so I accomplish something), or ALL EVERYTHING for me to feel it’s been a good day.

    Maybe that’s a little of what they meant. Either way, that’s my version of this post, and I identified immediately with the spirit of it, if not to the letter with each part of the content. Well said, Mr. Browne!

  6. pari

    Rob,I was born with the same gene and often curse it . . . then take out another piece of paper or pick up the guitar or begin dancing again.

  7. Rob Gregory Browne

    Alex, you’re right. I think almost everyone strives to be creative in some way. Even those who don’t practice what we call the “creative” arts. Lawyers looking for a new legal strategy, doctors working out a new, life-saving procedure, a taxi driver figuring a new route to beat traffic — all of these people are creative in their own way.

    Lousie, you wouldn’t be so jealous if you heard the songs… 🙂


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