The word apathy resonated so strongly with me because for a very long time, it was strangely something I craved.
When I was about 19 I wrote a short piece, trying to make some sense of how I felt. Writing this now I attempted to dig it up, but think it’s been lost to MacBooks past. I wanted to reread it because I think it might help to explain that opening sentence. For a very long time I felt like a raw nerve ending - I remember clumsily describing it this way - bumping off people, places, situations, all the while feeling completely devoid of any kind of protection. So desperate to foster connections, mixed with a pretty low opinion of myself, I would continually throw my whole heart into every possibility with the kind of reckless abandon that 29-year-old me both admires, and finds entirely terrifying.
I can recall countless conversations with mum, begging to be someone who didn’t feel things the way I did. I recognise in that there’s a lack of understanding that very few people make it through life without experiencing pain, fear, trauma, but in those moments it felt I had such a weight on my shoulders that I would have given almost anything to be rid of it.
It’s so funny because now, a little older, apathy is something I’ve come to almost fear. I know, I know, I’m very inconsistent and just a little bit frustrating. But despite all that pain and panic, what happens if I don’t feel so much? What if I can turn things off, or at least dim them a little? Will I turn into a terrible person, worthy of a villain in a Scooby Doo episode?
This fear of inaction and unconcern snakes its way into my work. As a human, apathy might reflect a lack of feeling and emotional investment, but in respect to work I often associate it with being ungrateful, unappreciative, and failing to make use of the gifts and opportunities I’ve been granted. This desire to do better, to be enough, has meant saying yes to every possible thing that crossed my path. For example, if I discovered I had a bit of a knack for writing, well why aren’t I pursuing a career in copywriting? Or even penning my first novel? ‘You’re killing it Kate!’ is quickly followed by ‘so your goal must be to do the freelance thing full-time? I mean, why wouldn’t you?!’ But these remarks, however well-meaning, assume that success looks one particular way, and more often than not just fill me with a crushing sense of failure, that I haven’t yet achieved what others expect of me or think I’m capable of.
This is all exacerbated by the widely-held belief that I should view my occupation as not just a job, but a calling; I’m a ‘creative’ therefore must love everything about what I do and find it not stressful but eternally enjoyable. I’m laying it on a bit thick there - and please don’t think I’m not grateful for my situation and that I don’t love what I do - but sometimes, the last thing I feel like is picking up a pencil. At times I can be completely devoid of ideas, and often it is just really hard work.
When I was just starting out - I think I must have been in my third year of uni - I went to a conference and listened to a panel of three emerging artists talk about their work, and their practice. Overwhelmingly the conversation was about this unquenchable desire to draw, 24/7, and that they each believed - without a shadow of a doubt - that their purpose in life was to create. I left not feeling inspired, but confused and guilty. I didn’t feel the way they described. I love what I do, but I don’t view it as a calling or part of some grand plan. So why do I bring this up and where does all this leave me now? I think it’s engendered a feeling within that a little bit of apathy is not such a bad thing; that, lacking creativity or drive every so often doesn’t equal a crappy designer; that, despite what your uni lecturers say, you don’t have to say yes to everything. We are humans before we are artists, and for some of us this is a job. And that’s OK.