These are all connected in my mind.
First, Alan Jacobs’ “commonplace Tumblr” quotes Auden (of whose work I am almost entirely ignorant):
If a poet meets an illiterate peasant, they may not be able to say much to each other, but if they both meet a public official, they share the same feeling of suspicion; neither will trust one further than he can throw a grand piano. If they enter a government building, both share the same feeling of apprehension; perhaps they will never get out again. Whatever the cultural differences between them, they both sniff in any official world the smell of an unreality in which persons are treated as statistics. The peasant may play cards in the evening while the poet writes verses, but there is one political principle to which they both subscribe, namely, that among the half dozen or so things for which a man of honor should be prepared, if necessary, to die, the right to play, the right to frivolity, is not the least.
Still in the afterglow of this, I read this next bit from Patrick Rhone, writing about writing. First, he quotes Vonnegut:
Practice any art, music, singing, dancing, acting, drawing, painting, sculpting, poetry, fiction, essays, reportage, no matter how well or badly, not to get money and fame, but to experience becoming, to find out what’s inside you, to make your soul grow.*
Let’s tie it all up. Now Rhone himself:
I think a lot of people put stuff out there for a few years, just like I did. And, because success does not come after three, four, etc. years or they don’t get the attention they deserve or they don’t meet even the lowest bar they set, they feel like they are wasting their time. As if their art is a cell on a spreadsheet that needs to have some dollar sign attached to it (it does not and should not). I think there is a lesson here that could help them…
Create daily. Don’t have any other measure of success other than making something you are happy and proud of, right now, and put it out there for the world to see. Do this for twenty years. Then, even if the world does not come to see, ask yourself if this made your soul grow. Did your art get better? Is it something you can point at and be proud of? I can guarantee the answer will be yes.
And what was that twenty years for? Frivolity, play. It didn’t have to be monetized or viral or universally lauded or even read by anyone to have had value to you. You were playing. It’s that thing that civilization has blessed so many of us with, and for which, yes, we have to fight: the time to be frivolous.
The lesson: Grow your soul for twenty years, for forty, sixty, etc., by seeding it with play. And give less of a damn about your rewards for your play, and more of a damn that you are able to play at all.
I should note, I have not yet learned this lesson.
* Vonnegut was an atheist, so of course his “soul” is metaphorical.