Merriam-Webster defines support as a verb meaning, among other things, “to promote the interests or cause of” and “to pay the costs of” and “to keep (something) going”. My husband of over twenty years does all that and then some. He promotes my art interests every time he talks to someone about my work or gets me new supplies. By working full time, he pays the costs of, well, all of me. He keeps my art going through home-based writing retreats and small doses of encouragement. My husband is my biggest supporter, and I am incredibly gobsmacked that he’s here and not the only one.
My husband, however, is not my biggest fan. Merriam-Webster says a fan is “an enthusiastic devotee” or “an ardent admirer or enthusiast”. He is not devoted to my work, and I don’t think one could describe him as an ardent admirer of that work. As a younger artist, I believed my spouse should be my biggest fan. I thought that if he didn’t Love my work – with a capital L – then my work must not be worth much. I believed that because he was a musician he would innately understand me as a writer. And I spent literal years trying to write for an audience of one: him.
Over the years, he was always honest and never cruel. He would say things like, “this isn’t the kind of story I tend to like.” Or, “that’s a philosophical story and I like adventure stories.” Or even, “reading your work puts me in the awkward position of telling you what I think even when I don’t care for it, so please don’t ask me to do it.” He would remind me that he didn’t know much about art and that I should take his opinion as just that, one opinion. I couldn’t. I didn’t.
Until after 40. If you haven’t turned forty, let me tell you, it is a whole new level. Still, I would adore making my husband laugh or cry or fall in love with a character through my words, but now I don’t need to. I do not write for him. I’ve reclaimed that terrible burden he never deserved and started writing for myself. You’d have to ask him to be certain, but I think this has given him the space to read my stuff more readily and give more feedback.
I discovered that my biggest fan is me. As it should have always been. [Next biggest is definitely my mom, and that’s huge.]
It’s okay for my loved ones to support me in ways other than fandom. It doesn’t subtract from our relationships. It makes them more full, perhaps paradoxically, because I’m set free to write anything at all, and they are free to adore anything at all. The Venn diagram may not overlap, but our hearts do. (How’s that for sappy?)
Keep your fans close, your supporters closer, and art for yourself always.