On Being Ignored
— in an Attention-Centric Industry
Being ignored is a universal experience.
Almost everyone you’ve ever met spends most of their time ignoring your existence.
I mean, we already know this: Knowledge like this lives in the same corner of the brain — I suppose — as the knowledge that we’re all going to die. In much the same way, we generally ignore the extent to which we are ignored by the rest of the world.
Every now and then, however, we actually feel it.
At the precise moment when we most wanted / deserved attention, we get nothing — and we feel it. And we don’t like it.
I’m lucky enough to experience this ignored-ness on an almost daily basis, because I’m a musician.
Build ‘em up to knock ‘em down.
Despite being almost entirely unknown, I have managed to get some gigs that have paid simply ludicrous sums of money. Of course, such terms are relative, but I feel that when playing my songs for 30 minutes earns enough to pay all my living expenses for >1 month — we are well on the way to ‘ludicrous’. The effect of such gigs is — at least momentarily — to give me the expectation that every 30 minutes I play is worth such payment.
This idea dissolves on contact with air. Quite literally.
I have touched on my street-music antics before, so it should come as no surprise that playing those same songs on the street-corner does not bring in a month’s worth of cash in 30 minutes.
On the street, no-one has come just to hear my music. Folks are on their way to get groceries, class-A drugs, or whatever else it is that you people like. Sure, I will usually get the attention of a few people, but I won’t lie to you: It has happened that I have been completely ignored for hours while playing.
Apart from further supporting my belief that context is the most important factor in people’s appraisal of art / music, etc.; this experience gives me the opportunity to really wallow in this feeling of being ignored — and let me tell you:
Being ignored is damn liberating.
Knock ‘em down to build ‘em up.
I’ve discussed this topic with a bunch of people over the last while, and something has become clear.
I enjoy being ignored a lot more than others.
No, I don’t enjoy being ignored in the same way that I enjoy eating a double-whopper with cheese. I enjoy being ignored in the same way that I enjoyed learning to make pizza from scratch. It’s not about instant, tasty gratification that leaves you hungry an hour later — it’s about the lasting feeling of satisfaction that comes with making clear progress in an area that you are deeply passionate about.
I mean, when someone notices what you’re doing, and still decides that it’s not worth paying attention to, it really forces you to objectively consider the merit of what you’re doing. Being ignored allows you to hear where your own words are hollow — where you lack conviction in what you’re saying.
Being ignored gives you the space to explore the strengths and weaknesses of your work — when no-one is listening there is no stage-fright, no persona to shelter your ego from the reality of your work.
When you sing into the abyss, the abyss doesn’t give a fuck: The abyss isn’t listening.
But the abyss echoes — and that’s all you need.
Something for the road…
But you’re not me.
I’m a weirdo who thrives on feeling anonymous, alone, and ignored. I love feeling the tension of being outside the window, looking in. (I mean, why do you think I use ‘Crook’, instead of my real name?)
You’re you, and only you.
And you may not have experienced the effects of being frequently and directly ignored over a protracted period of time. Or at least, you may not have sought it out as systematically as I have.
You can rest easy, for I have distilled the fruits of my experience into a single sentence.
If you are a person who seeks to do great work, my advice is this:
Get ignored more.
Of course, if you don’t like my advice — feel free to ignore it, it’ll do me a world of good.