Lately, I’m thinking a lot about Sneetches.
As a child, I loved Dr. Seuss’s story about the silly birds who thought having stars on your belly made you somehow better than birds without stars upon “thars,” possibly because I spent much of my childhood feeling like the plain-bellied Sneetch in a world full of star-covered specimens.
As an adult, I’ve realized just how much truth Dr. Seuss piled into that short, silly tale – especially the jaded departing comment from Sylvester McMonkey McBean, who writes the entire population off with the toss-away line: “Everyone knows you can’t teach a Sneetch.”
The sneetches in Dr. Seuss’s story did learn from their experiences, and decided to ignore the existence (or non-existence) of stars. Unfortunately, the human population still hasn’t quite learned that important lesson.
Dr. Seuss’s “Sneetch lesson” – that what’s outside a person counts for nothing compared with what the inside holds – rings especially true for writers (and other artists).
Every author is a New York Times bestseller before publication. Every unpublished book is a masterwork, which merely needs to get a chance to rocket to the stars. At least, so it seems in the author’s heart and dreams.
After publication, authors find themselves faced with a thousand different measures of “success” and “failure” – many, if not all of which, lie far beyond the author’s own control. Goodreads ratings, Amazon rankings, national and reader reviews, and even Facebook “likes” – all measures of success which, though visible, do nothing to truly measure an author’s worth as a person (and even, in some ways, as a writer).
It’s easy to get caught up in the hype, to believe that “authors with stars” are a better and more beautiful breed than the mid-list writer with “none upon thars.” And from there, it’s only a tiny step to believing that lack of financial success, or lack of “likes,” or the failure to measure up to some or all of the standards this person or that person bandies about translates to the author’s lack of worth as a human and as an artist.
I’m calling shenanigans.
Reviews, and likes, and social media followers are passing and fickle measurements of a human being’s worth. They reflect the tastes of the moment, but do not and cannot measure the worth of a human life or an artist’s soul. The time, and effort, and painful labor that goes into creating a novel, a poem, or any other work of art has value. The art itself has worth. And even if the art does not measure up to one standard or another, the life and the soul of the person who created that art is beautiful, and valuable beyond measure.
Do not allow the passing fancies of 21st century life and social media to become the arbiter of your value as an artist and a human being. Draw strength from the fire within you, the one that urges you to create and inspires you to labor at an art for which you may not see a temporal reward.
Remember that you have value. Your life, and your work, are uniquely and beautifully your own .. and don’t ever let any star-bellied sneetch tell you differently.
And, for those who might not know or remember the Sneetches well, here’s a refresher:
Love yourself. Make your art. It’s the stars on the inside that shine the brightest, and have the most lasting value.