Don’t you hate it when anyone other than me tells you what to do with your life?
When I started writing this blog, I steered clear of writing stuff that came off as sage advice. Over time, I became crafty and hid some counsel broccoli in every post. And I’d cover it up by telling you the broccoli was for my consumption and my welfare and my salubrity.
Of course, that wasn’t true. Because I don’t like broccoli either. And if I am crafty enough to bury the broccoli in a mountain of words, I am also wise enough to pick it out and transfer it on to my Dad’s plate. The real reason I stayed away from any form of counsel was that I’d have to freakin follow it too; prove that I eat broccoli myself.
“But isn’t that the whole point?” you may ask.
No. Because if it were, I wouldn’t be able to write at all.
Can you imagine the kinda crap Dale Carnegie would’ve got from his friends every time he forgot one of their names or failed to convince a girl to go on a date with him?
The implicit rule of advice as a form of help is that, if anyone’s telling me what to do with my life, they better be a perfect freakin’ snowflake. Because, otherwise, they should shut up and find 11 ways get a life.
This expectation is not restricted to help alone. It’s an expectation of anyone doing anything vaguely interesting. Remember the time you danced like an idiot in front of your relatives? Or the time you sang ‘I am Barbie girl’ in front of a hundred people, for 5 whole minutes? Because Dad told everyone you are learning to sing/dance and everyone went all batty and expected you to put up a show.
This doesn’t change when you grow up. Tell someone you are a stand-up comic and they’ll expect everything you say to be funny. Tell them you write poetry and they’ll expect you to rhyme and look miserable. And tell them you write a blog and they’ll say, “which book?”
Art, much like help, creates implicit expectations. This expectation becomes a burden over time. Not to be great. But to prove you are worth it.
Of all things, that does the greatest harm to art. To offering help. For me, this burden has been my inability to follow my own advice; to help myself – a failure to eat the broccoli. Times when I have become irritated with pointlessness; times I have found other’s ideas unacceptable; and every single time I have had the urge to shake people up and change their lives. Most recently, I went on a long philosophical rant about politics with a friend and she said she would send me a very interesting article on the topic and sent me this.
Having my close one’s read everything I put out has kept me in check. And annoyed the crap of me. But we all need someone to call us out on our bullshit.
That’s when I began to wonder what the point of art really is. Does art make you a hypocrite? An imposter? A liar? Much like the artist that enjoys painting a beautiful scenery more than being in one. Or like the writer that loves words more than the sanity that helps him write. Or like every single artist that offered hope through art as they starved.
It’s scary because this feeling is worse than self-doubt. It’s Self-lie. And that lie consumes us from the inside. It’s what consumes every artist. Anyone doing anything interesting. Anyone trying to help.
I am no artist but I can see the outlines of the burden already; the shadows of expectations loom large every time I sit down to write. If anything, that’s the greatest enemy of art.
When art moves from a way of truth-finding and truth-telling to a burden of avoiding mistakes, it becomes limp and lifeless. I will never try to convince you that I follow everything I write here. Because if that’s what this is, I may be missing the whole point.
The point isn’t to avoid mistakes. The point isn’t fulfilling expectations.The point isn’t even to help myself. The point, as Thomas Merton put it, “is to find myself and lose myself at the same time.” Expecting anything beyond that from art is a mistake.