“You are responsible for your life. You can’t keep blaming somebody else for your dysfunction. Life is really about moving on.”
I was looking for a quote on transition, preparing to write about mid life changes. Instead, the word “dysfunction” triggered a lively exchange that encompassed the veracity of Oprah, the role child abuse and dysfunctional families have to do with creativity and whether creative people might just come equipped with a little madness, right from the factory.
I’ll admit, my gut reaction was to go all self help on you and talk about accepting personal responsibility and choosing to power through your dysfunctions. Then I realized that would make me sound like my self help nemesis, a guy whose answer to everything is “Stop whining and get a life.” I was in danger of simplifying a really good discussion into a bumper sticker. And, that, I realized, is the point: we’d love to slap a bumper sticker sized label on anything or anyone so we’ll know how to think about them.
Once we call someone “Democrat”, “conservative”, “ex-felon”, “artist”, or “rich” we assume we know everything about them. We do it to ourselves; we label ourselves, “handsome”, “sick”, “ambitious”, “parent”, “spouse”. I know someone who has cancer: she does not define herself by cancer. She refuses to become her disease, she says she’s “not sick”. She chooses not to define herself by certain cells in her body. How do you label yourself?
Labels can become things we hide behind, we can let them become our personal form of resistance, our label can keep us from achieving greatness. And: labels can enable greatness, how many people have overcome adversity because they refused succumb to their label?
Here’s a personal bias of mine about labels: Today, in Orlando, is the kickoff of the national AARP conference. I’m not going. I am never, NEVER going to slap the AARP label on myself, even if Crosby, Stills and Nash are playing at the conference on Saturday evening. Being a part of a tribe whose sole reason for being is to get discounts at restaurants, compare stories from the Eisenhower administration and discuss denture creams holds no attraction to me, not now, at 54, not when I am 74. NEVER. I’m not taking on the “Old” label without a fight. AARP, you come to my door and I’ll have a baseball bat in my hand. We’ll see who swings like an old man…
And… I’m back:
Are creative people a little different? There’s a label again, let me suggest this: creative people create. If you have a lot of good ideas but don’t act on them, you are a person with a lot of good ideas. You aren’t an artist until you bring creativity into your life, until you create. So, who, exactly, are these creative people we are labeling as slightly mad? “Creative” is a pretty broad category, it encompasses a lot of people who don’t know what else to call themselves.
Creative people are just that: people, they come in all flavors. However: we know that emotion lubricates creation, so it should come as no surprise that the people we label as “creative” are also people we label as “emotional”. Does having a dysfunctional background give you more emotion to draw from? Perhaps. A lot of the words we use to label artists suggest that we know they view the world a little differently: “out there”, “flamboyant”, “on the edge”. Does the artist create because he is troubled or is he troubled because he is an artist? Labels.
From an abused background? Have phobias? Had relationship issues? Your journey is part of who you are, denying it only leads to more dysfunction. The consensus of our FB discussion was to embrace your past, grow from it and don’t let it hold you back.
The Middle Aged Crazy addition to the discussion is to draw from it, use your experience to make you a better artist. Bring those emotions into everything you create, your unique journey makes you a unique artist..
Because, as far as labels go, “Artist” is not a bad one.