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Stay Hungry by Joel Stevens

A Parallel Planets piece by Parallel Planets
The idea of a beginning point of creativity is problematic to me. Banging on tables to your own rhythm as a child. Scribbled crayon on walls. As soon as we’re conscious we’re creating in one way or another. The process is a continuation, an ever-evolving self expression from thought to form. But perhaps there are moments where an idea crystallizes so easily it practically projectile vomits onto a canvas. Would you call it an epiphany? A moment of realization where it all comes together like some metaphoric rubix cube, whole colors on all sides.

I’ve never once been completely content with a song I’ve written, or a poem, story, anything. I think this is how it should be. There are things I’m proud of, but for every one of these there are dozens of discarded ideas. I don’t think it really matters too much about the quality as long as you’re doing something. It keeps the mind active and as I said every once in a while within all of the debris there’s something to keep. It could just be a sentence, or a melody, but from that anything can take shape. The process is more important than the product. These things are habitual too, write every day, play the guitar every day, dance every damn day. It’s all honing of a craft, learning as you go along.

But I’m here to talk about beginnings. More specifically, my early forays into the creative landscape.

Several years ago I decided to publish my own zine and distribute it around local haunts in my hometown of Auckland, New Zealand. Black and white musings mixed in with the standard concert flyers and advertisements. I wanted it to be anonymous because I wasn’t sure if people would like it and I was young, inexperienced, blindly navigating through a world I had very little previous exposure to. So I left out my name or any reference to the author. A lot of the content was quite personal too so I was even more nervous about negative reactions. The zine mostly consisted of poetry and drawings, with a couple of short stories thrown in.

It became all-encompassing for a while, spending all my free time working away at it and trying to think of things to add. Every once in a while I think we can get into a creative zone where it’s as if things are being channeled onto the page. I look back on some things I’ve done and can’t imagine having ever thought of them. Moments of inspiration can be fleeting and if not harnessed fade fast. This was the kind of headspace I was in at the time of making the zine. I thought some of the work was good but was unsure about a lot of it. In the end I figured if it was someone else who’d made it and I picked it up, regardless of whether I liked the content or not, I’d give the person credit for putting in the time and effort. So it was more an exercise in self-reflection put into the public sphere. People didn’t have to read it and the strange thing was that I don’t know if people did. I assume so, at least a couple. But not knowing if there was an audience or not was kind of irrelevant. Of course I wanted people to pick them up and hopefully enjoy them too though ultimately it was a type of exorcism, a cleansing process.

With hindsight I’m not really sure how I feel about it all. Putting yourself out there can be a bit confronting. I showed some friends as well and no-one would give negative feedback but that doesn’t really say much. Oftentimes people you know are too polite to be critical, especially if it’s regarding something so personal. So I guess I felt kind of weird about the whole thing afterwards, like I’d revealed too much. Maybe I was a bit embarrassed.

But fuck that.

Fuck being self-conscious about artistic expression. The whole point of it is to share your thoughts/feelings with others to make the world a bit smaller. If someone can relate to you through your work all that does is bring you closer to them. It doesn’t burn bridges. If someone can’t relate to something you say then who cares? I’m sure they don’t. Move on. Keep moving forward. Keep doing it even if you feel wary of what other people may think. This is all Hallmark Card discourse but it’s true. Even writing this I have to remind myself: sincerity is the most important thing. If you’re coming with the right intentions, wishing to share something you’ve made with others for their entertainment, education, whatever, then how can that be a bad thing? I’m glad I made that zine and put it out to the universe because maybe someone read it and benefited in some way. I don’t think it would’ve offended anyone. So even if that one person could relate to what I was saying or enjoyed the artwork then the whole process and uncertainty was worth it.

For as long as I can remember I’ve been writing, drawing and playing music. But making this zine still stands out in my memory as a beginning of sorts. A time when I felt driven to put a collection of my works together and share them with others. It’s difficult to remain in that headspace, my discipline has always wavered. And then you feel bad about not working as hard as in the past, or you feel a bit creatively stagnant. It happens. But ultimately it’s a compulsion, so despite the rollercoaster of productivity you have to stick with it. Remind yourself that it’s healthy. It’s soul food. I remember going to see one of my favorite bands Refused play a concert a few years back and as they’re about to leave the stage the singer says to the crowd with the conviction of a prophet:

Stay hungry! Stay curious!

Damn straight.

Joel Stevens is a writer based in Tokyo courtesy of New Zealand. The failed academic and musician has spent too much time living the starving artist cliché yet still tries to articulate irrelevant things through words so you don’t have to. Reveries and ramblings on who’s dreaming what occupy his time, along with admiring cobwebs. And writing pretentious bios. You may read his articles on EnterJapan and hear his music on SoundCloud.

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