So I've been hanging out down by the train's depot. No, I don't ride. I just sit and watch the people there. They remind me of wind up cars in motion. The way they spin and turn and jockey for positions. And I want to scream out that it is all nonsense. All your lives one track, can't they see it's pointless?
But just then, my knees give under me. My head feels weak and suddenly it's clear to see it's not them but me, who has lost my self-identity. As I hide behind these books I read, while scribbling my poetry, like art could save a wretch like me, with some ideal ideology that no one can hope to achieve.
And I am never real; it is just a sketch in me. And everything I made is trite and cheap and a waste of paint, of tape, of time.
from Waste of Paint by Bright Eyes
I have painted quite the picture of myself these last few weeks. Unlike many at SPC, I have really enjoyed this month’s topic of flushing out our flaws, because the process has opened my eyes to who I really am. Although I have tried to render a confident facade, I feel that this self-examination has helped me identify and recognize some of my more crippling defects.
If one were to look at the last three portraits I have posted, they would see a scrawny , a self-righteous , opinionated, arrogant , condescending, know-it all who thinks his shit smells like roses. While I have justified every one of these characteristics, and judging by your comments many of you have bought my story, I still bet if you asked my friends or even my wife, they would say that there is at least an ounce of truth in the description above. I guess that is why I like this month’s challenge so much; it has forced me to look into the proverbial mirror and decide who I want to become.
In addition to the opinions and the vanity there is still one more trait left to discuss this week, and I think that it may be the root of all of the others. I touched on the idea that vanity and arrogance may be rooted in insecurity last week, but I want to explore this idea further. For this week’s Self-Portrait Challenge I have decided to take a picture of my insecurities, or more accurately my need to seek the approval of others. This week, I am imperfectly tethered to your opinions about me. Over the last few years, it has become obvious that I am addicted to the recognition of my work. I have connected this recognition to determine my self-worth, and I hate this about myself. Throughout the last few years, I have rid myself of many of my vices, but I still depend on the appreciation of my friends, family, and now you my readers to feel like I matter.
Before I allow myself the luxury of total vulnerability, let me try and explicate how I feel that this anxiety is universal and not unique to me. I would like to declare that I feel all beings need attention. It has been proven that plants glow better when they are talked to. Since the arrival of my daughter, both of our cats have been neurotic messes. One of them has taken to urinating all over the house to reinforce the fact that he still exists and is worthy of our attention. Speaking of my daughter, if I leave her alone for more than ten minutes in her chair, she will make it clear that she is in need of some attention. A smile, a hug, and a kiss usually do the trick. I teach eighth grade and even the most sullen pre-teen lights up when you utter the simple phrase, “Wow! Great work. I am so proud of you.” What I am trying to say by making this list is that all beings need to be loved, and more importantly be told that they are loved. We all need to be acknowledged and told we are worthy. So my question is why does our need to be accepted suddenly diminish in adulthood? Why do I feel needy and a bit pathetic, when all I ask is that my friends and family tell me that they are proud of me every once in a while. They would probably argue that I ask this of them too often. Well, that is another story.
Let’s take a bit of a tangent and get back to this train of thought a little later. Once upon a time writers wrote in the privacy of their own tormented souls, and no one ever read a word they wrote. If they were lucky, they would be published and a few people would read whatever they had scraped up from their insides. They not only did not depend on constant feedback, they denied it. The process, the craft, the art was between the writer and the manuscript. There was no need for approval. There was only the writing, only the work.
Because of my own insecurities, I cannot enter this world. I need constant reminders of what others think of my work every step of the way. When people read my work or see my photographs and comment on it, I feel a sense of relief and self-worth. Without the comments, I feel like I am invisible. I partly blame the Blog for this phenomenon. Because in the past, I was forced to write for the sake of writing, but now with the arrival of immediate feedback, I am left seeking interpretation of work that isn’t necessarily worth commenting on.
Just this week I desperately tried to increase my subscriptions, so I decided to badger, browbeat and guilt my friend into signing up. I used the previous argument about my own insecurities to try and goad them into signing up, and I defended last week’s post by saying, “I am certain there is a sense of vanity/ego involved in wanting people to recognize what I have done and appreciate it. But it would be too simple to say that I am an egomaniac.”
I went on to say that, “I am certain that there is a strong need in me to simply connect with people. These three factors, I feel are the cornerstone of all art. If you find some kind of artistic psychological profile, I am sure you will find artists are people who are insecure, want to be the center of attention and feel that the world owes them something. The artist feels the need to show off in order to subdue insecurities, flaunt some vanity, and finally connect.
I felt pretty confident with my case, until one of my best friends sent me a picture of some Tibetan monks working on a sand painting and had written the words, “Do you think the guys in this picture would agree that insecurity and vanity are the cornerstone of all art?”
Then it hit me: I needed other people’s approval to give my life value because I still cling to my sense of self. I still believe that I am somehow different from all beings, that I am somehow special. The fact that I need constant reminders is proof that I desperately need to feel like an individual. Where as the monks in the photograph do not exist as individual selves, only their art does. The picture made me realize that there is no need for the artist to exist, only the art. I need to stop worrying how many subscribers I have, or how many people visit my Blog, or how many people comment on each post. I simply need to write. I need to return to the world where writers lived in dark, smoky rooms, alone pulling their own insides out, oblivious to the fact that anyone was even reading their work. This takes courage. This takes faith in a talent that may or may not exist. This takes faith in art.
Because if you think about it, how is constantly checking email to see if someone has commented on a Blog post helping me create. It is simply forcing me to cling to my sense of self and abandon my art. Beyond my sense of always being right, or my vanity, or my need to be appraised, I am learning that my biggest flaw is that I cling to the idea of self. It is inhibiting my creativity, and forcing me to seek constant attention. So I hope this post will free me from the leash that connects me to your opinion of me. Like all addictions, it will be a hard climb out of the pit of dependency, but I hope to slowly start working on posts that simply tell stories, and try not to worry about who is or is not reading them. I am going out of town for a few days of sun and sand, and playing with my daughter in the pool and the ocean. Unfortunately, in the back of my mind I will be thinking, “I wonder how many people read my, oh so vulnerable confession, and more importantly, I wonder how many of them loved it, and in turn me.”
(Every night after I feed my daughter, I go in the computer room to check what is happening on my Blog. I use the excuse that I want to make sure that she is asleep before I go back to sleep, but really I want to see if anyone has commented on what I had to say. A complete stranger has said, “I enjoy reading your thoughts.” Below is a picture of yet another one of my addictions. I hope to be strong enough soon to not need this tether to you. In the meantime, please comment. I may not be able to sleep unless you do.)