Taking Oneself Too Seriously
Dark, mysterious, full of depth, insight, brooding over the pain of their lives so as to create something beautiful from troublesome pasts, from the challenges of the persisting present. Does this character sound familiar to you yet? Maybe I need to add the illustration that they are glued to their journal, never skipping a beat or wasting a drop of inspiration to become who their potential calls them to be. As an artist, it's true that depth is important; it is, after all, what we use to craft something that resonates with someone else's emotions. The pain we endure can become the insight that helps someone else rise above theirs, especially when we masterfully articulate the lessons we have learned. But the appearance is less important than the creation.
There is a poison to the Artist's Persona. That is, the same poison that can sour anyone for that matter: taking oneself too seriously.
This doesn't mean that depth, pain, challenges, lessons, and the articulation of beauty through overcoming obstacles isn't a real phenomena that often lends itself to shape thoughtful, creative person. This personality is genuine, and is frequent amongst artists for a reason, but the coupling arrogance of being consumed by this persona of creating avant-garde, resonating art is all too easy a trap to fall into. It is, unfortunately, what stops the good artists from becoming great. Caught up in their own (initially excellent) progress, they forget that they should be constantly learning; they forget humility. From their high expectations of themselves, and their conflicting desire to fulfill the (nonexistence) expectations of others, they begin to craft pieces disingenuous to their true, heartfelt, sometimes plodding, other times sprinting, growth through life.
Growth is not consistent. Learning, seeking, and inspiring is a bumpy road that swerves down to dark pits as much as it reaches pinnacles of clarity. And it's for good reason, too! We have to be in the muck every now and then to learn how to escape it, and just perhaps, so we can help others escape their own nightmares.
Becoming a good writer, artist, communicator, or human, isn't about how 'good' we are at our crafts, or how wise, intelligent, or soulful we appear in our daily lives. It is, first and foremost, about the humility we embrace so as to let in the lessons life offers us on a daily basis. If we are too focused on appearing practiced in our ability to take in all of life's suffering and challenges, we will become blind to the very real possibilities underlying the obstacles that each day represents. Essentially, by attempting to dawn the guise of the master, we forsake the cunning, undervalued open-mindedness of the apprentice.
How do I know this? Well, I'm damnably guilty of it.
It was after a brush with death that I decided on the pseudonym Harlequin Grim. I realized that if I was to bring my stories, my words, my soul to the world, I would do so only exactly as I wished to, sloughing off socially acceptable tactics in the process. With a keen eye on the ephemeral nature of life, it made little sense to me to cave from expectations. I didn't need to be the name I was given at birth, but I didn't need to be anything different, either. In fact ... I could be exactly who I desired to be, shunning ideals of fame or social acceptance. So, quite exuberant from freeing myself of this cage, I picked a name that was as fantastical as it was resounding to the writer I am today.
I remember the exact moment. I was driving home from a car accident, absolutely cackling with laughter and damn near causing another accident as I sped down a freeway, freed by my decision to abandon fear of being rejected by others in the community of writers. I felt a surge of renewed energy and inspiration as I crafted the first novel, poems, and short stories under the new name. With a redesigned website and a transformed mission statement behind my art, I became a flurry of productivity. I wrote at least 2,000 words each day for a month, I sent out stories to contests, I riddled my journal with ink at the end of each night to reflect on what the day had taught me. I slept little but created often, I was a well of inspiration, and I was hoping to master that rhythm so I could share it all.
But after October ended, the birth month of Harlequin Grim, I plummeted down again, readopting old habits of self-doubt and loathing that revolved around the person I had tried to grow out of. Quite predictably, quite desperately, my mind became a chaotic swirl of misinterpreting the daily challenges of life, forcing myself down into a spiral of deconstruction and doubt.
At the bottom of the pit beneath the cliff, the Fool lamented and asked, "Why?" but instead of truly answering the question, he instead forced, pressured, and bullied himself to be the great person he so aspired to be, or so briefly was. In came the masks, the guises, the false performances, the pitiful displays and attempts at being that 'soulful' and 'deep' character instead of the truly humble, honest, and crafty person we all have the potential to be.
Ugh ... gods. What a nightmare.
In hopes of relieving other artists of the same demon I suffer from, I came to this blank page to cast a spotlight on my story, not to glorify myself, but to shed light on the innate problems that arise whenever we strive for high ideals. After a series of successes, whether big or small, inflating the ego seems easy if not an entirely subconscious instinct. But in the storms of failure, we are graced with a blessing, a gift, an opportunity to remember all the reasons why we had come to our art, our lives, our humility in the first place: only, and truly, to be our most authentic selves, not to parade our best attributes. For creative, inner, or intangible ambitions, doubt and fear are useless, a byproduct of evolution that should be cast aside as the rusted tools they are. Filthy, abhorrent, disgusting.
But this struggle creates a tricky paradox. When we are the best version of ourselves, our greatest attributes shine through broadly and transcendent. When we focus too hard on being the best version, we often become too self-absorbed to even let the light bleed through. Our darkness isn't transmuted into something beautiful, rather swallowed and regurgitated again for all to see.
So what's the solution? There are many, too many to list. Most of them will be unique to the person you are. I cannot provide the specific ingredients for the ritual that helps banish the demons of Doubt, Fear, and Self-Loathing. I can, however, detail the passion that should be placed behind such holy incantations.
There's nothing more and nothing else should we ever demand of ourselves, than to learn from life's chaos and to present our findings, in all their awkwardness, their humor, their sorrows, their pride, their nakedness, in as many facets of our life as we can. We know we cannot be perfect ... so why should we ever, ever, ever expect our art or our lives to be? Artists or salesman, the opportunities for sharing our story, our power and our lessons, are endless. They needn't be sequestered to a specific hour or craft.
If we strive to emulate perfection, to lead perfect lives, to be a perfect individual, we risk forsaking the authenticity of our development, the rough grinding that first inspired us to become better people in the first place. We risk, in essence, the entire purpose of what it means to express ourselves.
Each and every one of you has nuggets of gold, this very instance, growing within you. Don't let the desire to show them muddle their sheen. They will blossom when they will, when you least suspect the too, when you do the simplest but hardest of things: creating and living without fear.
So, if I promise to embrace myself, will you do the same? If I promise to accept inspiration, whether it come from good or ill, will you do the same? If I promise to forget myself so as to let truth seep through the mask, will you do the same?