Make beautiful garbage

Decoupaged Jupiter Ascending poster with "Make Beautiful Garbage" on it

“Don’t worry that it’s not good enough for anyone else to hear,
Just sing, sing a song!”

Those are lyrics from a song on a Sesame Street record I had as a kid. In 2017, I decoupaged a small Jupiter Ascending poster*, saying the same thing in a different way: “Make beautiful garbage.”

This is one of my mottos, because it tells my internal editor to STFU when I’m writing music, writing a blog post, making a mala, cooking dinner, baking, crocheting, or crafting. Not everything needs to be perfect. Not everything is intended to be distributed to a wide audience. Creating things is sometimes an end in and of itself.

And the idea of creating things just for you, just for the fun of it, not for any profit or productivity reason, is fundamentally queer and anti-capitalist. We can express ourselves in ways that don’t fit into regimented boxes of what someone else decides is “good” and “worthy.” Much as my gender identity and sexuality belong to nobody but me, I get to decide what I like, and I can make things I like, just because I like them and want to make them.

And I’ve found that if my main goal is to make things that make ME happy, I tend to make better stuff than if I’m making things while focusing on what other people will think of it. I once wrote an entire song of library-themed sex puns because it made me laugh, and it became one of my band’s fan-favorite songs. Ultimately, I made it for me, but I’m happy to share it with the world, and I’m glad it brings other people joy.

I’ve written several original and parody songs in the past decade that I’ve performed for audiences, but I also have an entire book full of poetry and songs that have never seen the light of day. I like them, but either I don’t feel the need to share them, or in some cases, I’ve offered them up to whatever band I was in at the time and they were rejected. And that’s fine! I just added them my collection of beautiful garbage that makes me smile.

There was a study done with pottery students. The class was separated into two groups. One group was told that in X amount of time, they had to make one pot, but it had to be the most perfect pot possible. The other group was given the same amount of time, but told that their goal was to make as many pots as possible, and not to worry about quality.

Know what happened?

The second group made better-quality pots than the first group. The act of continuing to create and practice made them better at making pots than if they’d spent way more time laboring intensely to get that first pot just right.

And that isn’t to say the only reason to create things for yourself is so you get better at them. The whole point of making beautiful garbage is to make things that make you happy, not things that meet some arbitrary standard of excellence. But making more things that you like, and liking more things you make over time, is a fantastic bonus in the process!

If you’re still scared to make beautiful garbage after reading my diatribe, I recommend reading author Chuck Wendig’s diatribe on the importance of dropping any fake excuses and actually buckling down and creating the things you want to create.

I also recommend Miranda Aisling’s TEDx Talk, “Don’t Make Art, Just Make Something”:

I’m also inspired by Simone Giertz, who did a TED talk about “Why You Should Make Useless Things.” (Her YouTube channel, BTW, is delightful.)

Join me – join a whole lot of us! – in making beautiful garbage, because the world is a better place with more creative stuff in it, even if that stuff is just for you.

* Why Jupiter Ascending? This Tumblr post explains it better than I can.

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