Many creative individuals have faced this. From mathematician Paul Edrös to musician Kurt Cobain. The reason for their creative success is often confused with the drama of their life story - so much so that the tortured artist has become an archetype. There is a true sting to the social rejection that many creatives face. There are also the economic risks we take in reaching for a life more expressive than most. These factors can compound and create a downward, self-destructive spiral.
The resulting work lies somewhere on a scale that runs from self-indulgent to total sincerity. In an insincere world, where self-awareness and exploration are disparaged, people are drawn to some honest candor. The tortured artist feels the sudden rush of acceptance and the spiral inevitably continues. The destructive hand got you to the point that no other force could, suddenly you’re trapped because this is the part of you that’s venerated, the part that people love, and the best of who you are.
I’m not sure how I’d react if my work was ever recognized on a larger scale. Perhaps I’m fortunate - I work to imbue my films with spiritual sincerity, a sense of beauty, and a veneration of life and all its simple problems. These aren’t the hallmarks of the tortured artist that people love to lament. I figure that as long as I’m bucking the trend, I’ll never have to worry about the trappings of sudden success.
“As I grew older, I understood that instructions came with this voice. What were these instructions? The instructions were never to lament casually. And if one is to express the great inevitable defeat that awaits us all, it must be done within the strict confines of dignity and beauty.”—~ Leonard Cohen
One major difference between [the Abrahamic] religions and Shin Buddhism is that we (Buddhists) freely acknowledge that our sacred story is a metaphor and not historical fact. To see it as true history would be to miss the point and be a grave error. As the Buddha said, ‘it is the finger that points to the moon.’ The finger is not the moon but indicates the direction of the moon. So many people get confused thinking that the finger is the moon (truth).
The power of the narrative is held within the metaphor. It has taken me a long time to learn that the metaphor is truth, that relationships are more tangible than causality. I used to think “if I do x in my life, y will happen.” That’s a fallacy. At best I can say “if I do x in my life, y will LIKELY happen.” Of course, when our goals aren’t met in the time frame we were hoping for, we become disappointed. I was disappointed in my career for a long time because of this.
Just as my finger is not the moon, I am not my goal. I am also not the narrative I tell people. It is true that I was born in Peoria, IL. It is not true that being born in Peoria caused anything else to happen in my life. However, in a world of linear storytelling, this is how stories are usually told.
I may be like someone from Peoria. There is the metaphor. Being like something, being like anything, is the essence of metaphor. The reason I share attributes with other Peoria natives is due to the similar relationships we’ve made along the way. Relationships, not stories (comprised of title and status), are the most honest external characteristics that define who a person is.
That’s the most difficult lesson I’ve learned in the last ten years - put more time in your relationships and less time into your goals.