It’s quite possible that one of the emerging stylistic traits in my writing is a fondness for the usage of a bold headline with an immediate walk-back in the opening copy. As a storytelling device, it’s both ethically questionable and intellectually lazy.
Ethically, it’s sort of the equivalent of telling someone you’re going to kick their ass and then when they belly up to you and say let’s do this you claim you were only kidding. After which, you immediately say: But here‘s how I would have done it.
If it's intellectually lazy, I’m fine with it. Aren't we all trying to work as efficiently as possible these days? Call it phoning it in if you like. I consider it to be more of an exercise in the efficient rationing of one’s mental capacities and physical resources.
With that said, I’ll lessen the impact of my argument by clarifying that being a creative doesn’t make everyone a shitty person.
The best partner I ever had was Chris. We worked together for about seven years. We shared an office that was just big enough for two desks, a couch and a giant poster of Randy “Macho Man” Savage. He was sort of our patron saint.
We spent more time together than we did with our wives. By far. And it wasn’t just kick-back, hang-out and bullshit time. We were in the thick of it every day. The stress levels were high. The pressure was substantial. And the work was non-stop.
But through-out all that time, no matter how intense it got, we never had a fight. Not one. We just hung out in our cell at the agency and got shit done.
I can’t take much of the credit for the congenial nature of that partnership. It was all Chris. He’s one of those people who is able to be a creative without being a shitty person.
I could count on him for anything. We even had a pact that if I ever died in his presence, before he alerted anyone, he was to take a pair of scissors and cut off my left pinky finger.
The reason for this sacred agreement was purely financial. The agency we were working for had a nice little life insurance policy in their benefits package that would pay you out around $300k if you died on the job. But there was a dismemberment clause that would kick in another $150k if any limbs came off during the death.
Hence the pinky promise.
I’m right handed so it was crucial that Chris cut off the left pinky and then place the scissors in the right hand of my rapidly cooling corpse. I didn’t want some clever insurance agent to swindle my kids out of that extra $150k. We rehearsed regularly so when/if the time came, Chris could execute the plan flawlessly.
That’s how good of a person Chris was. I know I could have trusted him to cut that pinky off for me.
So there’s an example of someone who’s a creative and isn’t a shitty person.
But most of us are.
Which isn’t as horrible as it seems. Being a shitty person is different than being a bad person. Bad people intentionally harm others. Shitty people are just hard to live with.
The reason being a creative makes you a shitty person is that you simply aren’t ever all there. You’re never reliably present in a mental sense. You’re always off in some world of your own—it’s a place you have to go to and it leaves a sticky residue which is difficult to remove even with the use of harsh cleansing agents.
In college, every kid had one of those posters in their rooms that if you stared at it in just the right way, you’d suddenly see an image of Jerry Garcia or a dolphin or something. The trick was you had to sort of look without looking. You had to allow your eyes to un-focus in order for the hidden image to clearly appear.
It’s very similar to how you have to work (and live) when you’re a creative.
When you’re working on a project and you’re searching for ideas you spend a ton of time focusing on your creative process and exploring all the avenues for ways to an interesting solution. But that’s only part of the process.
There’s a reason people say they’re letting an idea marinate. You have to live with them for a while before they are able to reach their fullest potential. You have to take them home with you. And much like those posters in college, instead of looking without looking you have to think about them without thinking.
It’s sort of like a pot on the stove. If you stand over it and watch, it will never come to a boil. And if you walk away from it completely it’ll burn. The trick is to go about your business and check in on it frequently.
The problem is that as you're listening to your spouse talk about their day or you’re hanging out with your kids playing Legos, your mind is constantly getting up and running to the kitchen to check the pot on the stove.
I find it nearly impossible to follow a conversation completely. And when I’m with other people I’d say I’m usually only about 60% there. The rest of me is rolling those ideas around in my head over and over again. Trying to appear present, but all the while discretely trying to think without thinking.
It’s a horrible way to function as a human being.
You’re never fully present. You’re always half listening. And you’re constantly looking for any opportunity to hide yourself away to flesh out a new idea or go at something from a different angle.
What kind of person does that make you to live with?
I’ll tell you what kind.
The shitty kind
It might not come across in my writing but, in my heart, I really want to be a good person. I want to give as much of myself as possible to the people who matter most to me. My wife. My kids. My family and friends. People in need.
I want to be a person who people enjoy being around. I want to spread love and joy so that some day when I’m dead people don’t call me a good for nothing rotten bastard and then spit on the ground like an angry Frenchman.
But I feel as though I’m constantly coming up short for people.
Selfishly running off after another crazy idea like some kind of Don Quixote chasing after the windmills. Spending way too much time in a world of my own. And far too little in everyone else’s.
Which is a shitty thing to do.
And makes me a shitty person.
Which I don't want to be.
But I can’t seem to help it.
I’m a creative.
And I'm always thinking about something else.
So most of the time…
I’m just not there.