Friday, March 4, 2016

Ideas Like Bullets -- From Van Gogh's Ear

by Tommy Hancock

I’m a writer.   I’m an editor, a publisher, a performer, a pundit of pulp, some have even said.  With all of that thrown together, I am what I tend to call a Creative.  It’s a catch all term and I will assume the meaning is obvious -- Creatives are the artists, the people who tell stories with their talents, be it with words, images, statues, across a stage or filling a page.  I am one of these and am friends with and even related to several who also fall into this category.

Now, this is not to say that everyone doesn’t have the ability to be a Creative.  I believe we all do.  But being a Creative, living a life focused on bringing the fevered dreams that fill your mind or even the vivid nightmares that haunt your soul to life, isn’t easy.  And, to be honest, it really boils down to being a choice, just what you’re willing to take on…and sacrifice to create.  So, while I do think everyone can be artistic in some way, not everyone is, often by choice, or sometimes by ignorance or circumstance.  

But I don’t want to get into the analysis… or in some cases, autopsy of what a Creative is. That’s not what I’m writing about today. That is a whole other topic, really.

Creatives, even though we are often set apart from everyone else, both by ourselves and the reactions of others when they find out what we are (It’s either ‘Oh You write! Wow!’ or ‘You’re a musician? But what do you do for a REAL job?’ and all possible answers in between), are after all people.  Yep, there you go, I said it.  We’re no more special than the Plumber who is a wizard with water pipes or the Accountant who masters the maelstrom of mathematics, not in the most basic sense.  We are all human beings and we feel the same emotions, suffer the same tribulations, and enjoy all the benefits of being people that any one else who calls themselves people does. 

What is often different, though, is how Creatives react and deal with the regular aspects of just being human.  Therein lies potentially what separates us from everyone else, and not necessarily in a ‘Yay! I’m different because of that and it’s great!’ way.

What I’m about to get into may not make sense to some of you.  Others may read it and, even if you don’t identify as a Creative, may see yourself in my words. As I get ready to write it, I’m not quite sure that it won’t just be stream of consciousness stuff pouring out of me like blood from a fresh wound.  I do think that somewhere in all the tangles and twists of what’s on my mind as I’m putting this together is a point, and I can only hope I get there.  Not just for some of you, but for me too.

I am extremely fortunate.  Not only do I create worlds singly in my head and have an unending need and desire to vomit forth these myriad universes onto a page to give them their own sort of life, but I also am a part of that process for other people.  Being a partner in a publishing house means that I have the opportunity to help other writers, artists, and even other types of Creatives do their thing.  I’ve been a writer as long as I can remember, so I know about having a character or an idea or even a single sentence that can literally stalk you for decades, the singular concept (or in my case so many ideas that they’re like bullets in a survivalist’s cache) that you have to express, somehow share with the world, even though the likelihood may be that no one but your Mom and best friend from third grade even see it.  That’s a maddening affliction to have and yet I wouldn’t trade it for all the normalcy and calm anyone might offer me. And to be someone who can help writers from those never published to those at the top of their game do just that, allowing them to release those ideas on an unsuspecting and sometimes unprepared populace, that for me is as much a creative endeavor and as fulfilling oftentimes as reading ‘By Tommy Hancock’ on the cover of a book.

Now, do I do any of the things I have mentioned above well? To be honest, I don’t know.  That’s not really something anyone can judge on their own. I mean, yes, there’s having confidence and feeding ego, sure, but really whether or not one is ‘good’ at what one does is not determined by the one, but by all the others around the one.  Sometimes I get the sense I am really good at what I do, other times not.  The fact of the matter is that I simply do what I do.

In that, however, are expectations.  Guideposts, rules, regulations I set for myself to make things happen, to get from point A to point B over and over again.  Now, that, for any Creative, is where we really do get into whether or not we are good at we do.  It’s not so much the end result, that is left, as said before, to the determination of others. For an artist, at least for me, how I get there, how I do what I do is where I get a sense of how good I am at said doings.

And, as before, there are times that I feel very good at what I do, that I am intensely aware of being accomplished and skilled and such.  There are other instances, though, where none of that applies.  What I feel is a great wall of despair and hopelessness and emptiness that probably always looms over me finally crumbling and falling down all over me.  To call it Depression is appropriate, for that is what it is, and albeit situational for me, it is oftentimes chronic and clinical for others.  But, and again, this is not an effort to make being a Creative seem something on a pedestal, because this puts us all more in a pit, just as passion and other emotions stir within those of artistic bents in a different way than other folks, so too does Depression.

Whether or not many of us admit it, we hang how we view ourselves, both as people and also how we see our art, on the intepretation of others. So much so that it becomes the core of who we are, that a single review can make a day or destroy a year.  That a raised eyebrow from across a table and a slight smirk as someone reads your latest story somehow becomes weeks of self doubt and anguish.  That a simple seemingly harmless comment such as ‘but I liked that thing you did a year ago better’ might cause a personal choice to pull out completely of the Creative business…or, for some, even out of life.

Dramatic statement? Maybe.  But no less true.  From Van Gogh’s ear to the multiple machinations of Creative types today, and before and beyond those, we are impacted, for right or wrong, by emotional ups and downs in ways that others might experience, but don’t quite understand as we do.  Defensiveness is an art form for a lot of Creatives and some of us have even become quite skilled in wearing it like a velvet cloak, able to parlay our words and hurt feelings in such a way that no one even realizes their criticism, constructive or not, has damaged our armor in some way.

As I said before, I hold myself to a standard in everything I do.  So, there is great truth in the statement that my worst critic happens to be me.  That doesn’t change the impact of becoming emotional over letting a ball drop or not getting the exact result out of a marketing campaign I want.  It still strikes like a mythical god’s hammer and, while sometimes it’s just a glancing blow, other times it leaves me in tiny small pieces.  Pieces from which I have to rebuild, pick up, and keep going.

Every day, though, especially lately for some reason, I get comments or queries or even just little subtle statements from other Creatives I know about their own endeavors, projects, and depressions.  And I see them pondering the sense of it all, of whether or not to continue.  Life swirls around them like a dervish and they suddenly are detached from the thing they loved most or they need their talent to translate into something else, be it recognition or money or other things, and it’s just not.  And from all, there’s a prevalent and growing sense of hopelessness, of ‘Why’s it even matter?’  It seems like so many of us who bring universes into being with a touch of a keyboard or the swipe of a brush are suddenly on the edge of some great abyss, all about to tumble in head over heel. 

I know I’ve been there. In the last few weeks, I have had more inclination to figuratively pack a bag and walk away from writing, publishing, performing, all of it.  Why? Various and sundry things, but all of it boiling down to being beaten upon and down by the very things I feel I need to do to be the best damn Creative I can be.  That’s what we often miss.  The lot we have cast for ourselves, the road we have chosen to travel, that path is wrought with these obstacles, these hills, these valleys.  It’s not like we don’t know this, we’ve struggled with bringing imagination to life and having people understand and get it since we were little kids with sticks fighting on dirt piles in our front yards.  It, however, doesn’t make it easier that we do have some sort of awareness of that as it happens.

This isn’t a cry for sympathy, especially not for me, or for any Creative really.  It’s a statement, more or less, with a personal request tacked on at the end. 

Don’t quit. Don’t stop.  Don’t die.

Even if I don’t know you or it’s three decades from the day this posts and you trip across it surfing the cobwebbed archives of the internet, please, read those words in that paragraph above again.

Don’t quit.  Because if you do, then there’ll be regret, doubt, and all sorts of other things to plague you, even if no one else ever sees it.  A nagging thing in the back of your mind.  Self hate growing from a tiny seed, from a decision to walk away from something that’s been burning within you forever.  Take a break? Sure, maybe, although our minds really don’t ever take vacation from creating, but don’t quit.

Don’t stop.  Even if it’s a sentence a day scrawled on a napkin or a straight line drawn on a canvas.  If it’s five minutes of practicing a pirouette or reading a monologue, just don’t stop.  Moving forward is all we can do, because if we stop, if we stand still, the road begins to carry us backwards, away from what we do and toward complacency.  Don’t stop.

Don’t die.  Yes, of course, I mean this in the literal sense, as I have lost acquaintances and even friends to the dark beasts that depression can be for those like us.  But I mean it just as intently in a personal, emotional, even spiritual sense.  You have the drive, the talent, and the need to create.  To cause people and creatures and planets to breathe, live, and thrive from the abstract ether of your imagination, which fuels other imaginations.  That is a type of living that is almost beyond words, and you do it.  In every piece you sculpt, every performance you do, every word you write.  Yes, it sucks sometimes and yes, you may spend moments that stretch into months where you feel no one understands, where you believe you are completely alone.  And the honest truth is that sometimes, You just might be alone in your drive, your admiration, your drive to do this.  Until that moment someone…even just one…. Finds something of value in what You do.  Live for that.  Don’t die.

And, of course, reach out.  I don’t talk about things like this well, ask the several people who have asked, requested, pleaded I talk with them.  But I still do share when I have to.  You don’t have to be alone, even if I don’t get what You create.  I don’t have to know You to help You by listening, by being there for You to vent to, to be a wall You can crash into.  If not me, then somebody.  Just don’t go silent into the darkness, let someone know You’re going in and let them go with You.

I’m on Facebook and can be reached at editorinchief@prose-press.com.  I don’t have to know You.   If You need an ear and there’s no one handy, drop me a line.