Sometimes themes inexplicably emerge for different QFT issues, and this time around, there seems to be a focus on sirens. Sirens are popular in mythology, where their enchanting voices and beauty pull sailors toward them, causing them to drown or wreck on rocky coasts. I’ve always loved the idea of sirens—a voice that captivates you and won’t let you go, no matter the dangers it may bring. The idea of being physically and mentally unable to resist the pull.
In the midst of writing-related deadlines and failures, it’s hard not to draw the comparison of listening to the call of sirens being the downfall of otherwise strong, intelligent people to pursuing a creative career. As writers and artists, we’re beckoned by the promise of book deals, fame and fortune, and quaint writing sheds in picturesque forests. But as with sirens, the reality is almost always less glamorous.
Why do we do it then? Why would sailors who know the mythology of sirens still be pulled toward the sight and sound, even though it means certain death? Sure, the comparison to creativity is a bit dramatic, but the question remains: when chances for “success” are so slim, why do we think we’ll be the exception? Why do we read rejection after rejection and still keep going? Why do we spend hours every single day for years with no discernible success and still think it’s a viable option?
There are a million motivational quotes about why to pursue a creative career and how imagination changes the world, but one that comes to mind is Edward de Bono’s “creativity involves breaking out of established patterns in order to look at things in a different way.”
The truth is that we create because we aren’t content with the status quo. We’re curious. We’re distracted by things shiny and new and the chance to make the world a more interesting place. Like those ill-fated sailors, if there’s any chance we can hear the ethereal voice, catch a glimpse of that stunning creature, or succeed where so many have tried and failed—then we’re going to take it! Because, dang it, it’s the dreamers and the creators that change the world.
The story I love most about sirens is in Homer’s The Odyssey. Odysseus wants desperately to hear the sirens’ song, so he comes up with a brilliant plan to have his crew seal their ears with wax, while he’s tied with unbreakable ropes to the mast of the ship. They sail through the deadly passage with ease, while Odysseus has the unprecedented opportunity of enjoying the mystical melody of the forbidden song.
Odysseus is an example that creativity—that experiencing heightened moments beyond the routine of day-to-day life—is essential for the human spirit. Is it any coincidence that during political upheavals, creative works are destroyed? Regimes throughout history have decimated paintings and books and music and architecture. Free thinkers and creators are often the first detained or killed by tyrants. Why? Because art is what brings hope and empathy and change. Art is what fosters humanity.
Even though we know that sailing life’s charted course is the safest way to go, it’s the people willing to break ranks who change the world. So to those of you chasing the siren song of writing or illustrating or otherwise creating, I say: Forward, ho! We may have to tie ourselves to the mast of a “real” job by day, while letting our ears savor the creative tones by night. We might crash and burn. We might drown. Hey, we might even be eaten by sharp-toothed, cannibalistic she-fish demons. But we might also be the outlier. The creator. The one who changes the status quo. Go on. Be that person.