One thing I’ve been thinking about is how, as artists, we don’t fit the mold. We’re weirdos–even the most A-Typical, ambitious, logical, and responsible of us. Every now and then, I like to take stock and think about the ways in which I don’t subscribe to social norms. How do I rebel? What offends my spirit? What do I just not get? In what ways do I out myself as a weirdo artist? Cataloguing your weird is a great way to see where your heart and values lie. It’s an empowering exercise that reveals secret desires, unexpected convictions, and opportunities for wild abandon. Lofty words, perhaps, but true nevertheless.
How are you weird? Make a list. Make it pretty. Put it up and own the hell out of it. You are part of a tribe of iconoclasts and warriors bent on fighting all that is ugly and ignoble, an army that seeks to ignite and awaken and soothe minds and hearts. When you own your weird, you take an important step towards your true self and tumble into acres of possibility in your work as a wordsmith and in your place as a member of your community.
I’ll give you an example of something on my list: grocery stores depress me. A lot. It’s some combination of the fluorescent lights and air conditioning and the rows and rows of pre-made, packaged shit. The music-god help me, the MUSIC-and all these people pushing around carts looking tired. Bored cashiers and Low Fat this and cases of meat that’s already starting to go bad and the marketing on everything, corporation after corporation. What does this say about me as an artist? Well, I’m spiritually sensitive, for one. Lack of beauty, lack of a connection to nature, lack of authenticity–it’s something I come up against again and again. It grates. It gets me downright existential. I write so I can better understand the human condition, I write to awaken myself and my readers to the world, to the fact that you have this one life and god help you if you spend it on your phone half the time. It’s like this: I want a farmer’s market life, not a Safeway life. Do you know what I mean?
How has this realization empowered me? Well, first, I stopped feeling bad that I felt so bad in grocery stores. Instead of thinking there was something wrong with me (oh, Depression, you evil beast), I began to see that this might be a case where something is actually RIGHT with me. The scales have fallen from my eyes and I can’t look at this modern, soul-less way of nourishing ourselves as anything but wrong. I want a garden to tend, a basket to put my fresh, unpackaged bread in. I want to see the creativity of the people in my community: the way they artfully display their wares and season their jams and revere the perfect peach. This led me to a few understandings about myself as an artist. One: a love of aesthetics and beauty is a must for me and, I would argue, all artists. BEAUTY IS A VIRTUE, A MORAL CHOICE. We live in ugly times–how we survive them will be through art that points out the beauty within and without. Art that reminds us that we have souls that have gone a bit dusty with misuse. There is nothing wrong with being physically ill at the sight of ten billion brands of crackers with each box carefully marketed and its contents filled with chemicals.
Two: I began to appreciate my sensitivity, rather than see it as a drawback. My sensitivity is my compass–morally, spiritually, emotionally. It’s my way of knowing if I’m on the right track with my work, with how I spend and make my money, with how I live my life. My sensitivity is a gift that I believe was given to me so that I could help awaken it in others. To keep them from going numb, going through the motions. It is also my armor and my shield against everything in the world that would have me pliant and accepting of atrocities large and small.
As artists, we must reject the things that we are repulsed by. Whitman said, “Dismiss whatever it is that insults your own soul.” I’ve very much taken this to heart. Society tells us that we’ll be happy with meds and products and fat 401K’s and age-defying face creams. Society tells us that we have to work a 9-5 and that we need to brand ourselves and that we can do it all. Society keeps us in a constant state of fear. Society tells us a LOT of things–but do we need to listen? What would radical authenticity look like? How much better would be as writers if we rejected the lure of social media, the crass pop music, the materialism that’s running rampant? What would it look like if we gave zero fucks? If we just embraced those longings and urges that we so often ignore–the ones that say, downsize, buy less, live more?
We are not like other people. We just aren’t. And trying to be like them is to our own detriment. This doesn’t mean we have to be stereotypical artists (alcoholics, lunatics, and the like). You don’t have to wear flowy scarves and look for your friends in the ether. But you aren’t normal, not if you’re the real deal. And it will be quite, quite hard to live a happy life if you constantly reject all those ideas you think are outlandish (Yes, actually, you can sell everything and move to Scotland. It is absolutely okay to not bake anything for your kid’s school bake sale every freaking time. Guess what? You’re getting old and all that money you’re spending on trying to stop time–what would happen if you saved it up for a wild adventure, a writers’ retreat, or season tickets to the symphony?).
There are so many ways to live this life. And if current events are teaching us anything, it’s that the old systems are broken. I don’t know the particulars of your life, the challenges that you face. It may feel like embracing your longings is a pie-in-the-sky dream that will never come true. All I know is, it’s time to be awake: awakened to who we are, who we could be, and all the beauty that this corporate, hustling society is trying so hard to co-opt or destroy. At the end of the day, it’s all about the bohemian ideals, is it not? Truth, Beauty, Love. As the poet Rabelais said, “I go to seek a Great Perhaps.” What is your Great Perhaps? How will you adventure to find it?