Monday, May 17, 2010

Monday Morning Blues

AKA “Self Pity”

I’ve never considered myself an extremely creative person…or rather, I’ve always considered my creativity to be a bit of a sham. Certainly, it’s always felt like a lesser creativity, a derivative one.

Or maybe I should qualify that and say “until lately,” because I think I’m starting to honor and respect my creative juices; or (if not that) maybe I’ve been redefining for myself what “creativity” is.

For example, I don’t think my blog is particularly creative. Oh, it is definitely a form of “creative expression,” and I am “creating something” that wasn’t in existence prior to me putting it there. But is it wholly of my imagination? All I’m doing is stringing together words, words other folks have used many times before, just putting them in slightly different order. All I’m doing is distilling ideas, combining multiple concepts into singular ones. Riffing off the “true creativity” of others more often than not.

Or so I sometimes worry. After all, blogging seems pretty damn easy to me…too easy to be considered “art.”

Now as I said this is a life-long doubt that’s nagged at me regarding ALL my different attempts at artistic expression…my singing, my writing, my drawing, my acting. Hell, of all of ‘em, I think my acting was the best part and the greatest potential…in the end, I just wasn’t willing to do the hard “starving” part necessary to commit to the art. My singing is/was probably my second strongest suit, and perhaps strongest…but I haven’t taken care of the pipes over the years and my vocal chords just don’t have the same range and power that they once did.

Such is getting older.

Writing, I list as third on the list of “artsy things I’m good at” and yet writing wasn’t even my first love…that would have been drawing. Something I have never actively pursued beyond the doodling of figures and cartoons or the occasional sketch portrait.

I think that a lot of my self-doubt may actually be tied to my drawing ability and the comparisons I’ve drawn between my own artwork and those of others. Throughout school…elementary to high school and even some years in college…I have been surrounded by friends who were gifted artists in the visual/drawing sense of the term. ALL my friends could draw, to a greater or lesser degree, and in general I found most of their artwork superior to my own.

One of the few things I recall from the 1st grade (age 6-7) was a drawing contest between my friend and myself. I’ve mentioned Jason before…up until the 3rd grade or so, if anyone had asked I would probably have cited him as my “best friend.” When I started playing D&D, he would become one of the first “regular” members of the campaign with his thief, Sneakshadow (d4 hit dice folks, as God and Gary intended). He would also be the first of us to pick up Marvel Superheroes and start us on that particular path. Eventually, his single mom would become a Born Again Christian and D&D would be replaced with real life “communing in tongues” and well…he’d drift out of my life.

Jason was artistically gifted. He played the drums from a young age, and would be playing the electric guitar and growing his hair long by middle school. He was also THE best artist I knew until the age of 10 or 12.

However, I considered myself pretty hot stuff in the 1st grade.

How exactly we got into our dispute, I don’t recall. As I said this is one of only a handful of memories I can dredge up from 30+ years ago (no wonder people have such difficulty remembering past lives!). Jason and I were drawing monsters (something we did a LOT of back in 1980) and arguing over who was the best “drawer.” For some reason, our normal teacher wasn’t present, but rather two older girls (eighth graders, I think) that were “watching the class” for an hour or so…probably the reason the 1st graders had been given the time to draw and get into trouble in the first place.

So to settle our disagreement before we came to blows, our teachers/baby sitters decided Jason and I would each draw the best and scariest monster we could…and then our art would be judged by the entire class!

Well, we set about drawing our best mean and nasty, trying our darnedest to out-do the other. From what I can recall, my drawing was in profile, the monster a bit like Godzilla with “goggley eyes,” perhaps even on stalks, perhaps multiple arms, definitely with scaly skin. We drew on big poster board and the young ladies put our pictures on display in the front of the classroom for all to judge. Then they had the entire class vote on who they thought had the better drawing.

This was done by a show of hands…with our heads down on our desks and our eyes closed so only the teachers could see who voted for whom.

When the counting was done, the student teachers announced that the vote was dead even and the contest a tie…no one had received more votes than the other. Even at that age I considered this to be disingenuous…rigged to spare us any hard feelings of “losing” to the other. And this upset me more than simply losing.

What’s more, I remember feeling at the time that Jason’s drawing, hanging from the blackboard, was clearly superior to mine. More polished, more adult, definitely 100% better than mine. Even though I had been handed (or felt I’d been handed) a face-saving tie, I knew in my heart that I had lost. I never considered myself an equal to Jason in art ever again.

Strangely, I can’t recall a single thing about his drawing today.

Looking back on it, I wonder if this didn’t have a profoundly negative impact on me as a child. In a way, there was a “teachable moment” that got missed in this instance. Just because one loses a contest on a particular day doesn’t mean you’re going to lose the next day. Nor does it mean that you can’t get better with practice and effort. Nor does it mean that your effort is not a work of pure creativity, in and of itself, and worthy of celebration for that.

Instead, I took my tie result and my place of Co-Best Artist of the 1st Grade. And felt like a sham. And continued to feel like a sham for many years…at least in the fields of art and writing (my friend Scott, who I would also meet in the 1st grade was, in addition to being a good artist was an excellent creative story writer). Later, when I would get some accolades in the singing and acting fields, I certainly felt like I had something “special” about myself…but then again I wasn’t writing my own music or my own scripts. And what I was creatively expressing on-stage could not be bottled or packaged, picked up later and looked at and reviewed.

Furthermore, the higher one climbs in any artistic endeavor, the more outright brilliant people one finds. People that seem to outstrip your own personal glory by a mile-and-a-half. And if you have a giant ego like mine, and are trying to be “honest” with yourself, it sure is hard to be kept from those Upper Echelons; it’s hard enough to come up #2 or #3, but even more disheartening to not make the Top 20 or 100.

NOW having written all that, and having finished my morning coffee (perhaps waking myself a bit from that Monday Morning Funk). I have this to say:

No single person is responsible for all the joy and beauty found in any particular form of art.

Whether singing or dancing or acting or drawing or…yes indeed…writing role-playing games, there is no ONE person that is most responsible…or most ORIGINAL… with regard to the creativity found in these artistic endeavors. Yes, certain geniuses do occasionally emerge with innovative techniques…say Eddie Van Halen and finger-boarding…but even the “non-geniuses” are still making music (or whatever)…they are still CREATING. They are still expressing the Divine (God, the Universe, Spirit) into our material world through their own actions. THAT is what creativity is.

I stand for the possibility that all people have the freedom to fully express their own creativity.

Personally, I think this makes a better world. There is only One Source from which all things come, and humans’ ability to channel that source into the world as a form of inspiration and enjoyment for others is one of the greatest Gifts we have as a species.

Which, I guess, is all preamble to saying: keep doing whatever you are doing. Blogging, game design, doodling, writing Tolkien-esque poetry…whatever is your personal, inspired form of creativity keep doing it and don’t ever get down on yourself for what you do. And when OTHERS get down on you (as folks sometimes do), don’t let THAT stop you. They may not be your target audience after all (hell, your target audience may only be YOU yourself!).

I just want everyone to remember that I really, truly believe this…as I once again prepare to rip apart someone else’s beloved RPG system.
; )

1 comment:

  1. There's an analogy between the practices of "kind" teachers who cheat on behalf of their students, and "kind" game referees who cheat on behalf of their players.

    Both practices cast doubt on the worth of all achievement.