A while back ago, I wrote a story about cats.
More specifically, I wrote a story about a bunch of goddamn asshole cats.
And in what can only be described as a clear and bold exemplification of my creative prowess, I entitled said story: A Bunch of Goddamn Asshole Cats.
Admittedly, it was a simple tale, one which followed the conversation of two characters:
- The narrator, who is plagued by a deranged cat that lives in his apartment and attacks him at every waking moment of his life; and
- The narrator’s friend, who advises the narrator that the only possible solution to his problem is not to get rid of the troublesome cat but, rather, to simply acquire more goddamn asshole cats to protect himself with.
I had written the story as — what I had considered to be, at least — a thinly veiled satirical allegory for a controversial sociopolitical issue. Truth be told, part of me was worried that the story was a bit too thinly veiled, and that people would be turned off by its overtly political message. Nevertheless, I decided to post the piece online, and was even fortunate enough to have it picked up by a small publication, Vagabonds Magazine.
And life was, as it occasionally is, OK.
Nobody chased me with pitchforks. Nobody called me a communist. Or a Nazi. Or a fascist. Or whatever other label there might be for being an overall and all around very bad person. There really was no negative backlash, against either myself or my story.
But that’s not to say that everything went swimmingly.
Because, very quickly, I completely lost control over what my story was about.
What I had previously considered to be a thinly veiled allegory soon became this sort of amorphous, ambiguous Rorschach test for readers. All of a sudden, everybody had their own idea on what my story was really about.
It’s about immigration, right?
Is this really just about a girl?
No, no, no. Definitely drugs.
While I was certainly grateful (not to mention surprised) that my story was actually being read, part of me couldn’t help but feel like a failure that my message didn’t deliver. If only I had been a better writer — or a decent writer, even — then perhaps people would have more clearly understood my story.
What was it, I was left to wonder, that I had done so poorly in order for my message to have been lost so greatly?
It would take me quite some time to understand that these misinterpretations and these misunderstandings were not simply just an indictment of my writing.
On the contrary.
They were evident to a much greater social phenomenon at play.
And that is this:
You will lose what you create.
No matter what it is we create — a story, a painting, even a logo — we inevitably lose control over it. Whatever it might be, as soon we release it into the public realm, we lose control over how the public chooses to look at it. How they interpret it. How they assign meaning to it. How they view it in relationship to their own lives and the lives around them. How they place it into the context of their own individual and collective existences.
And it doesn’t matter how good we become at our craft, either. We will still lose control over what we create.
Don’t believe me?
Quick: what is Ray Bradbury’s Farenheight 451 about?
Nope. Think again. It’s actually about how television is killing the world of literature.
Alright, let’s try again: what was it that Georgia O’Keeffe was famous for painting?
Easy. Hidden vaginas.
Except that isn’t necessarily true either — at least, according to Ms. O’Keeffe, that is. She thought she was just painting flowers.
The list of authors and artists with misunderstood pieces of work — masterpieces, even — goes on and on: Upton Sinclair. Machiavelli. Lewis Caroll. Jack Kerouac. Friedrich Nietzsche. Robert Longo. Henry Darger. Francis Bacon. Robert Frost. John Keats. Vincent Van Gogh. Mark Rothko. Van Eyck. David Wojnarowicz. William Shakespeare.
All of them have, at one time or another, lost control over the meanings of their works. Which leads to a pretty damn big question.
What’s the point?
If we’re bound to lose control over what we create, then the question arises:
Why do we even bother to create?
Why waste our time and why waste so much energy when our message could be so easily lost? When there’s a very real possibility that the public — assuming that they even notice our work in the first place, which is hard enough to achieve as is — will simply misinterpret what we’ve created?
Why go through that heartache?
What’s the point of it all?
The answer might lie in the problem itself.
Granted, a major motivation of writing (or whatever means of creation you choose to pursue) is to express ourselves. To communicate our innermost emotions and ideas, to exorcise our demons and our dreams —it’s a sort of free, one-way therapy, if you will.
And when our works are misunderstood and, vis-à-vis, we are misunderstood? Well, that can certainly be a frustrating feeling, and understandably so.
But another motivation, whether it’s realized or not, is to contribute to something greater than ourselves. To create something for others to appreciate. To take their minds off their troubles. To maybe make their lives a little bit better, if only for a moment. And, if we’re lucky, to even help them see the world in a slightly different light.
We create to affect lives. And as long as those effects are generally positive (I’m looking at you, Nietzsche), we should be thankful that our creation was able to do so — regardless if it was the exact way we had originally intended.
And if we’re really lucky, we can gain much, much more than we lose.
Because through their own interpretations, the public might help us see our works in a whole new light.
When we let go of our creation, when we offer it into the public realm, the public can then help us gain a whole new realization on what it is we’ve actually created. The public can help us see something in our works that we didn’t know was there. That we didn’t know we were capable of even creating.
Losing control, then, can maybe make our stories into something bigger than what we ever thought possible.
Bigger, at least, than a bunch of goddamn asshole cats.