Being Your Own Parent

Over the course of years, I’ve slowly determined that most of my flaws and ugliest tendencies are simply the things my parents let me get away with as a child. I say this not to shirk responsibility, but because I think we often flatter ourselves and over complicate the causes of our pathology.

Whatever flaws I see in others I fast find in myself, among them a certain brattiness that masquerades as sophisticated angst or existential frustration. I look back at the style of temper-tantrum or pouting I performed as a kid, and catch myself doing a grown up version when things don’t go my way.

My parents let me retreat into my comfortable spaces far too often. I was allowed to retreat when I should have been helped up and told to get on with it. My room was a refuge, and when I didn’t play well with others I had toys and gadgets to replace them. That privilege granted me the luxury of an early introversion that probably had even less utility then than now.  The benefit of such an early start was that eventually, introspection got boring, like mining the same stone, again and again, allowing me to be frank about what was once hidden and unknown.

They say our personality is locked in by age 4. But what you can observe you can measure, and what you can measure you can change. I’ve put myself on a steady diet of self-observance, and in many ways become the stern parent for myself.

Being willing to do this dirty work might give me a fighting chance at changing course a bit, correcting the things that should have been corrected some time far back on an elementary school play ground.

Sometimes it feels a bit like watching a nature documentary where I myself am simultaneously the subject and viewer.

I’m not saying it’s fun. But it just might work.

Myth of the Tortured Artist

The “tortured artist” is one our society’s most toxic cultural archetypes. Not only because it puts forth an unsustainable identity framework for creative achievement, but because that framework isn’t effective for making great creative work possible. 

It is true that abnormally creative individuals are more likely to suffer from dramatic swings in emotion. But to assume that those swings are what makes creativity possible takes away from an artist’s authentic merit.

The tortured artist idea is simply another offshoot of that even more prevalent conception of creativity; that great works are produced in an unconscious, unwilled flash of brilliance, rather than over large amounts of time wherein a huge amount of competency within a medium is established.

The 20th century hosted an abundance of great talent, doomed to die at a young age. These culture heroes fell victim to the modern phenomenon of extreme and quickly cultivated fame, as well as a superabundance of powerful and unstudied drugs. In honoring them, it is important to separate their mistakes from their masterpieces and acknowledge that the lifestyle that destroyed them is not whatsoever what made them great.

In a perverse way, these assumptions actually make producing great works seem easier than it actually is. No one can sustain a flash of brilliance, or a period of profound depression over the amount of time it takes to become a great painter or novelist, or even to produce a single significant work. Most of the time in front of the canvas or blank page will be spent in mind state similar to that of a competent machinist or woodworker. The good work will come from long periods of deep focus and deliberate will. Such periods are not sustainable if one is depressed or manic.

Turbulent emotional spikes will perhaps give you a day of good work, but they will rob you of a lifetime of steady progress and production.

The proof is written in the historical record. With few exceptions, we see that minor talents are usually manic, drug addicted, and obsessed with a conception of creativity that relies on divine inspiration.

On the other hand, we see that the Shakespeares and Da Vincis of the world are highly industrious and of sober mind. This is not to say they were not emotional or sometimes divinely inspired; it is to say that such artists merely ornamented their creative lives with such extremes, and built the rest upon a solid framework of discipline and measured devotion.