this is not about you

by Aqeela Naqvi

when i think of the great artists of old, i lower my hat to them in respect. in their musings, sculptures, paintings, and art — there was a craft. what made the Greats great was their desire to create at the upper threshold of their ability, despite knowing that such an endeavor would require time, perseverance, discipline, and accuracy. create exquisitely, or do not create at all, was the mantra. this art is not about you – it is about something bigger.

these days, however, the desire to dedicate oneself to a single skill, to work on it in seclusion, day by day, slowly, precisely, carving, cutting – hammering away at marble from twilight to dusk until a visible form begins to emerge – this craft has somehow stretched beyond our ability.

the motivation now is not to spend time creating something which will add enduring beauty or thought to our world, but to create something quick, flashy, or trendy, which will garner the most amount of likes or comments. public victories no longer follow private ones, but have altogether replaced them.

for a society raised on the fodder of social media, instant appreciation has been conflated with intrinsic worth. if you curate your “feed” so your “aesthetic” is “on point” then it is assumed that your life is on point as well. the notion is that your persona – the online personality you create to be perceived by others in a certain way – is the same thing as your identity. whether you actually are the person you have created doesn’t matter – what does, however, is that others think you are.

so much so that every person who owns an eye shadow palette is suddenly a makeup artist. every person who has access to a mall, a fashion blogger. every person who has cleaned out their closet once, a minimalist-lifestyle-influencer. and every person who can string together a few words on heartbreak or betrayal or don’t-let-a-man-do-this-to-you is an acclaimed poet laureate.

but the truth is, one poem, especially not one which is simply

a sentence
broken into
three lines

does not a poet make.

art is not created in an afternoon, much as Rome was not built in a day. and no amount of self-promotion, self-glamorization, or self-worship can earn us that place in infinity which is reserved solely for those who work in humility, knowing that the Hand which guides their pen, brush, or chisel is not their own.

once, a girl introduced herself and followed with: “you might already know me, i’m famous on instagram.”

as i stood there, utterly baffled and suddenly clued-in to the truth — “no insect hangs its nest on threads as frail as those which will sustain the weight of human vanity” — i began to wonder: just as we proclaim our fame in a virtual world to those in our physical world, will we do the same when we move on to the next? when we rise from our graves will we, with firmness and candor, present our self-given merits from our earthly realm?

“hey, you might already know me. i was pretty famous on earth.”

i wonder . . . might not the angels lower their brows in disdain, looking upon us with grave faces: “you are not here. you are not here, at all…”

 

“Don’t let me ever think, dear God, that I was anything but the instrument for Your story—just like the typewriter was mine.”
— Flannery O’Connor —