I’ve been thinking for awhile about the expectations we hold for creative people. We’ve been talking in the comments about author biographies that paint the authors as less than perfect and therefore disappointing, as in, “How could somebody so rude/cruel/thoughtless/choose-your-own-sin write such good stories?” I have a history of being yelled at for my views outside of my writing (“Jenny Crusie loves plagiarism!”), not to mention what’s in my writing that some readers find betrays their concept of me by promoting the gay agenda, animal abuse, and birth defects, among other things. What I don’t understand is why these people think “creativity” equals “person I’d want to have lunch with.” Okay, I did go off Dilbert when I read Scott Adams’ comments on women, but that’s because whenever I see Dilbert, I think he said those things. But Robert Frost was a complete bastard, and he still wrote the best thing about work I’ve ever read (“Two Tramps at Mudtime”). P. G. Wodehouse made funny radio broadcasts about being interned by the Nazis and people labeled him a collaborator and I didn’t care, his writing still makes me laugh. It made me crazy when Steve Jobs died and so many people said, “But he gave nothing to charity;” his vision revolutionized computing, that’s not enough? When Bill Gates dies, people are going to say, “But Microsoft was awful;” yes, and his charitable foundation is doing incredible good internationally, he’s saving lives. I’m pretty sure if somebody comes along who transforms the world AND does good works, somebody will say, “You know, his house was always a mess.” If he’s that famous, he should be perfect. (Perfect in the way that I define “perfect,” of course.)
I do get that connection you feel with a favorite writer/musician/whatever, that “if we met we’d be best friends” thing, but I do not understand the assumption that creative people should be kind, loving, thoughtful, and attentive, plus clean, brave, and reverent. It’s not that it’s impossible, it’s just difficult. If creative people were normal, they wouldn’t hear voices and see visions and be obsessive enough about their ideas to change dreams into reality. It used to drive my daughter crazy that I’d stop in the middle of a sentence and stare off into space as if she weren’t there. It’s not the “squirrel” thing because you point that out to others (“Look, a squirrel!”). Instead you go into the flow of the thought and it swamps you and your forget other people are there to the point of rudeness and neglect. Because there’s this THING you need to think about, you need to think about it a lot, and then you need to do it or make it, and then you need to do it again to make it better, and then you need to start over again because of what you learned doing it the first time, and then you need to stare at it awhile and then you need to go back to it . . . I’m sorry, was there somebody else in the room? Who are you? Go away, I’m MAKING SOMETHING IN MY HEAD.
If people want saints, they shouldn’t go to writers, painters, musicians, actors, and visionaries (ironically). And actually, the little I know of saints makes me think they must have been real PITAs to have around. “Don’t wash my hair shirt!” “These arrows? I suffer for you, you ingrate.” Or my fave, “Here, look at this plate. It has my eyes on it.” That’s Saint Lucy. From what I’ve read of Lucy, I think the whole eye-gouging thing was added later because she hadn’t suffered enough enough without it. “They just stabbed her because God wouldn’t let them take her to a brothel? Not good enough. Put in that they gouged her eyes out before they ran her through. Also, her house was always a mess.” Every time I see a picture of Lucy with that plate, I think she’s thinking, “I cured my mother of a blood disease and gave all my riches to the poor and was so strong they couldn’t drag me off to a brothel even when they tied a team of horses to me so they had to kill me where I stood, but that’s not enough? FINE. Here’s my eyes on a plate, you morons.” Because you know, she always still has her eyes in those pictures. I kind of love Saint Lucy because I think she knows the game.
And I think that the biographers and journalists and commentators who get all bent out of shape because writers and musicians and visionaries and the rest of the Weird Who Make Things aren’t the Nice People they want them to be just want Eyes on a Plate. And now I kind of want a business card with eyes on a plate on it so I can hand it to the people who yell at me because I’m promoting homosexuality, birth defects, animal abuse, and plagiarism. “I’m really sorry I’m not what you needed me to be. Here’s my eyes on a plate.”
Yeah, definitely getting that card made. In fact, I think everybody should have one of these cards to hand to anybody who said, “You’ve disappointed me by being who you are instead of what I needed you to be.”
Edited to Add:
Then I found this painting. I love Lucy’s expression here. That’s her eyes on the plant stem. It’s like a visual typo: eyes on a plant. Allposters has this poster, but it’s fifty bucks. Tempting, but no.