Burnout – A Reflection

I have come to realize that, while my creativity is limitless, my ability to harness my creativity is limited.

I have been told that I think in words, to the degree that all of my thoughts – visual, auditory, or otherwise – get converted into complete sentences with increasing specificity. As time has gone on, I have learned that this is more true than I possibly could have imagined. It’s like having dictation software in my head.

So, in theory, this means that I have a limitless supply of ideas, right?

Well, not quite.

I do have an extensive library of story ideas. They constantly bump into and separate from each other, like nuclear reactions happening within the confines of my skull. When they line up exactly the right way, the atoms could power my projects for decades.

But you can only have so many of those before Chernobyl happens.


When I saw that BTS was going on hiatus, I was happy for them. Their careers have been exploding, which is honestly incredible, but the pace at which they were making content was worrying. As someone who also works in the arts – albeit at a much smaller scale – I know how hard it is to flex those muscles constantly. And BTS seemed to be fundamentally aware of that issue.

However, while most people seemed to be thinking about this development in a positive way, a lot of people seemed to think that this meant BTS was over. There were a number of articles and think-pieces trying to clarify if BTS was really gone “for good,” and plenty more that tried to get people to calm down. BTS’s company HYBE did some heavy lifting to convince people that this wasn’t really a hiatus, at least not completely – they were still going to do solo releases and figure out who they were as artists and individuals. And yet, I had to explain to a number of people that no, BTS was not breaking up, they were just taking care of themselves.

A novel concept, truly.

This is where my (admittedly shame-inducing) history as a BIGBANG fan shapes my perspective. I got into BIGBANG in 2013, just after their career-defining Alive album came out. No members of BIGBANG were in military service, and Daesung’s accident was practically ancient history. However, they were in the midst of a hiatus nonetheless. This hiatus persisted until mid-2015, when BIGBANG came back bigger than ever before with their album MADE. And, while there was a lull in 2014 as far as “major” K-Pop releases were concerned, the genre didn’t evaporate into thin air. In fact, some of my favorite releases by other bands came out when the biggest band in the world was taking a break. (VIXX’s “Error” and Orange Caramel’s “Catallena” come to mind.)

But today, the idea of a K-Pop band as big as BIGBANG or BTS is considered unusual at best, and worrying at worst.

Why?

I don’t have a definitive answer, but what I can say is that this issue is not new. It seems to be manifesting more in the K-Pop fandom now than before, but the idea of artists being a “content factory” has been present at least since people started monetizing their art via commission work, however many centuries ago. That’s not to say that making money off of your art is bad – I think it actually can be a very good thing. But as long as any industry exists, there will be people who feel entitled to your work, whether they are people within your community or observing it from the outside.

The most insidious aspect of this, however, is that when you see other people making content regularly, it forces the realization that you are not making content regularly enough. And while you may be okay with that, other people may not understand why you are making that decision. And when you fail to deliver by the standards of others, whether implicit or explicit, the discontent with what you make grows.

There is also the expectation that everything you make has to be seen by others to achieve validity. You can’t draw a picture without the expectation that it will go online for everyone to see. You can’t write a story without expecting the world to read it. You can’t edit a fan video just for fun. Everything you do as an artist has to be for the consumption of others.

I have had so many people in my community tell me that I should be making TikToks, or YouTube videos, or podcasting, or anything in between. What those people fail to realize is that it takes just as long for me to script a video, or edit a TikTok, or record a podcast, as it does for me to do my actual paid work. And I never have just one project going on – I always have at least five at any given time. That’s just how my brain works. So when deciding which personal projects to work on, I often struggle to balance them out.

Anyone who goes through my article log will notice that my articles have gotten more and more sparse since I started this website. There were articles I wanted to write – like analyses on Dreamcatcher’s “Rose Blue” and Sunmi’s “Pporappipam”. There was the series on Vincenzo’s villain that I was working on (which I do intend to finish.) And because of the YouTube copyright gods, I never got to finish my BTS web series.

This isn’t out of lack of interest in keeping up with Reel K-Pop. It really isn’t. But for me to write something I am happy with consistently, I have to put a lot more effort into what I do. And, when I am keeping up with paid jobs, commissions, and the screenplays I need to finish so that they can actually come to fruition one day, I lost sight of the other, smaller projects I loved, like this. And nothing prepares you for the guilt of not writing consistently enough to build an audience. I have mulled over the possibility of making a podcast or YouTube videos in lieu of written articles. But again, those take just as long – if not longer – to create.

Life also gets in the way. I had an entire video essay scripted, and intended to post it last fall. I had gotten all the materials to produce it, when tragedy hit my family August of 2021 – we lost my father to a heart attack. My father’s death was a tragedy to everyone who knew him, but the loss for me manifested differently. Beyond the emotional aspect of losing the man who raised you, in losing him, I also lost my creative mentor.

My father had been my biggest creative resource. He was my toughest critic and my fiercest ally. He critiqued my fanfiction when I was a teenager to help me improve my writing. He would sit with me while I edited my videos for class assignments in high school and in university. As a musician, he was able to teach me things about music that informed how I wrote and directed. Between him and my mother – an avid art fanatic herself – I was always learning something about how to be a good artist.

The loss of my father meant something else too.

I lost my concert buddy.

It may sound silly, but my dad was as big of a K-Pop fan as I was. He was constantly sending me new videos and singers to look into. He took me to my first concert – KCON NY 2015 – and loved it so much that he took me to KCON again not long after. When I was taking Korean during the peak of COVID and we were all working from home, my dad would pop in and tell me how great I sounded. I found out after his death that he would show his coworkers at his law firm the K-Pop videos I was sending him excitedly.

My dad was the person who would read my articles, and encourage me to keep writing.

Losing my father to something so sudden and so meaningless as a heart attack was the worst moment of my life. It was also the impetus for the most profound writer’s block I’ve ever experienced. I could barely write for weeks, and every idea I tried to pursue felt like it went nowhere. I managed one article that entire period, and though I did start writing a couple more, nothing went anywhere.

One thing I learned during this period is that grief comes with guilt. Not just guilt about the death itself, but guilt that you’re letting people down. That by taking the time away from your work or your projects, you aren’t doing what you need to be. That your grief should be secondary to the needs of everyone else around you. People were always kind enough to tell me not to worry, just to take the time I needed and come back to work and projects when I was ready.

But that doesn’t stop the guilt.

Not by a long shot.

I finally got into the swing of writing back in February, almost a full six months after my father’s death. Since then, my stories have been taking shape, I’m writing my scripts and working on other projects. However, even though I know I’m doing exactly what I need to be doing, the guilt of leaving this place in permanent limbo is omnipresent.

This brings me back to the topic of this essay – the necessity to do what you need to do to keep your art alive, regardless of whether or not you’re fueling the content factory. But what I’m learning is that no matter what I do, even if I do everything to preserve my mental health and make myself feel better, the guilt of not building an audience with my writing hurts. I keep moving the goalposts – trying regular versus irregular upload schedules, only working on articles that interest me, setting time aside on my calendar to work on articles for this site – but I always end up second-guessing myself, or not being content with what I’m doing.

I started this website to help film students and film aficionados learn through K-Pop – in other words, learn about how to tell a story through the media they’re passionate about. I want to continue doing that, but I feel like I can’t do that if I keep adding articles to my list of things to do, and making promises I can’t keep. I have no intention of killing this site, or not working on it at all.

But it’s clear to me that if I want to keep doing this, I have to take care of myself.

So, here goes nothing: I am going to keep writing. Some of that might be articles, some of that might be fiction that I announce later, but it will be what I want to be. A lot of it will also be in video form, so that it’s easier for me to get my thoughts out. With the exception of the Vincenzo series and one other I have drafted, I don’t have many other articles planned, but that’s only because I intend to write about what inspires me from now on.

I hope you all can do the same.

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