“Is it worth it to speak your mind and your truth, in fiction or otherwise, if an audience, even if it is an audience of one, is never promised? Does it matter?” – Ocean Vuong
The MacArthur ‘Genius Grant’ fellows were announced this week. I always find it a treat tolearn about these extraordinary individuals making a difference in the world.
I’ve only dipped a toe in so far, but today was wowed by the works of this amazing poet.
The quote above is from Ocean Vuong’s MacArthur video. He is talking about the driving question behind his book On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous.
I had to stop the video to play this part again.
The first time I watched Ocean Vuong’s video it was on very low volume. Vuong’s voice drops near the end, which made the last phrase even harder to catch.
So I misheard. The quote I heard him say was ‘Is it worth it to speak your mind if an audience…is never promised? It doesn’t matter.’
So far, I have been writing this blog invisibly. Yes, it is publicly viewable, drifting in the open waters of the internet. But only one other person in the world knows where to find it.
With this blog, it has felt liberating to be able to create in open anonymity. There’s the thrill of hitting ‘publish’ and knowing the words are out there, but I’m still protected by obscurity.
But it doesn’t always feel this way.
Obscurity is only appealing when we choose it.
For my playwriting and other creative writing endeavours, the lack of an audience almost always feels lonely. I have written plays wondering, ‘Will anyone ever read this? Does it matter?’
So many times I have felt my work was selfish or impractical, because I was not working to a deadline or for money.
But that actually doesn’t mean I was doing it for only myself. I was writing for an audience – just one that hasn’t shown up yet.
To be clear, I don’t think there is anything wrong with writing for just ourselves or our own pleasure. But I’m writing to connect and to reach out into the world with words. I’m thinking of others when I’m writing – and I know I’m not alone in approaching this way.
Vuong’s real quote focused on the question, but my mind created its own answer. That’s a lovely thing, I think. This misheard quote made me feel seen, and comforted. ‘Yes,’ I thought. ‘These are the questions I have asked myself a million times. And this is the answer I need.’
I’m not making work for no one. Or making work for myself alone. I’m making work for an audience who has not been promised, but is out there somewhere.
For all artists, there is no guarantee that anyone will ever find our work, or at least not the people we intend it for.
But it doesn’t matter.
There is beauty in the act of making art, regardless of the outcome. There is a solidity to imagining creating for that ‘someday audience’, rather than our own empty archive boxes.
It is a powerful and generous thing to share our truth. It is not frivolous to devote resources to these creations.
Our work is still a gift to the world, as long as it is created with that intention. Even if the world isn’t quite ready to receive it.