Thinking Out Loud: On Not Fitting… Anywhere

THINKING OUT LOUD is Drooly Dog’s Advice Column in which we talk about creative process and what might be holding back that voice of yours – whatever form it might take. Send your questions to:

Dear Drooly Dog:
I don’t fit.
As in, I don’t fit into any kind of category. And I’m realizing that this is a huge disadvantage as an artist. I don’t know what to do about it.
I’m an artist, but also an illustrator. I draw simple things, and complex things. I don’t seem to have any one style.
Every time I try to develop a style and be consistent, I regret it. I can’t neglect the other types of art that I can make. Why should I cut off every creative avenue except one? It makes no sense to me.
Then I see other artists’ portfolios, all tidy and neat and in some really well-developed style, and I just feel hopeless.
I’m also what you might call genderqueer, but I’m not interested in that label either. I’m not looking to represent anything. I’m just here, I just want to live my life as a person.
I am realizing that the world does not want a person like me. I don’t fit into categories on applications or forms.
The world wants me to have hooks, some kind of a label that it can use to get to know me. Companies want this. Art directors want to know what kind of “stuff you do.” Colleges want you to achieve in some area to show that you are worthy of their consideration. You are supposed to “stand out.”
There’s no room for an omnivore, someone who doesn’t just hit the right archetype and stick with it. I will never be the pretty girl, or the athletic guy, or the nerd, or whatever.
I just don’t fit.
How can I grow and thrive in a world that doesn’t have any use for me?
Sincerely, Name Not Found

Dearest Name:
Goodness, where to start. I feel for you.
Oh, how the world has use for you. Please believe that.
See, in our Internet world, our thinking is starting to resemble a database. We use hashtags and keywords. We are constantly trying to search or be found based on database structure.
But this is important:
Not everything that is worthwhile fits into a database. Not everything that is beautiful is media-friendly. Media are a boiled-down reflection of a tiny fraction of reality.
Here we are, with our screens and our keywords and our hashtags. It looks like anything relevant has to fit into that paradigm.
You have been told that you must be “discoverable.” You have to have an identity that resonates with the big media machine. You’re supposed to optimize yourself.
Every day, I’m sure you see examples of how this is done. The latest media darling, being photographed and interviewed and all the fawning and lifting up of people you don’t even know. The makeup, the lighting. The medals and trophies.
The thing is, those people are just as lumpy and odd as the rest of us. They are only surfacing a tiny fraction of who they really are.
This is the nature of media. The Interwebs make their money by convincing people to use them as much as possible. That’s how they get their paycheck. So of course they will act like they are everything, all the time. They are in the business of attracting attention and selling it to advertisers for cash.
And so, I would say this: turn away from the portrayals you see. The magazine covers and biographies and blurbs. And turn toward other actual humans.
Your career and advancement in the world is going to come from relationships and projects and work, not from media.
The people in the media, they got there by way of relationships.  They are not plucked out of nowhere based on their genius. They make a thing, and they talk about it, and somebody knows somebody who knows an agent, and so on.
I promise that you are a fascinating and creative person, and clearly you have many facets to you. Let them all shine, and let other people get interested in whatever parts of it are face-up at any particular time.
You do not have to sum yourself up, no matter what anyone tells you. In any given situation, talk about what you have in common with others. Or what you’re working on right now and why.
But don’t try to be all of it all at once or to craft yourself into the perfect public persona. Nobody actually does that.
Be your glorious messy self, and be that self amongst other real people who are not finding you based on a hashtag.
Sincerely, Drooly Dog

Drooly Dog offers creative advice only. Nothing legal or medical, please follow of your own accord. It’s up to you, man.

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