Down the Rabbit Hole
I just had a lively discussion with someone I disagreed with — myself! Deep down, I have always felt that artists come into this world with their work and creative paths already mapped out for them. I have followed my own path without hesitation, and so have many artists I know or admire. Our work becomes our identity.
Perhaps the act of creating something — be it music, poetry or painting — is so seductive that it can take over all other aspects of a person’s identity. It doesn’t mean that the writer or painter cannot also be a great chess player or tango dancer, but their overriding identity comes from the creative work they do.
So why am I arguing with myself? Well, after more thinking about such complete immersion into art, what happens to the basic self you were before you ever did a lick of work? That unique identity that separates you from everyone and every thing else on the planet?
My better self won the argument: keep “doing” separate from “being,” or you might lose sight of what you are as a human being. I recall the Hungarian poet George Faludy saying: “If all you know in life is electrical engineering, you are a moron.” Well, that was strongly said, but he never minced his words. If you identify yourself solely by your work, you could run into serious obstacles if for some reason you have to stop being an actor or scientist, if that was your basic identity.
I think artists have always struggled with the question of either handing their entire identity over to their work or dedicating their time to other jobs, wanted or not. The reluctance may come from the huge investment artists make through many years of solitary work and self-testing.
Poet ee cummings put it this way in his second Norton nonlecture at Harvard: “Poetry is being, not doing, If you wish to follow, even at a distance, a poet’s calling…you’ve got to come out of the measurable doing universe into the immeasurable house of being…and remember one thing only: that it’s you — nobody else — who determine your destiny and decide your fate. Toms can be Dicks and Dicks can be Harrys, but none of them can ever be you. There’s the artist’s responsibility and the most awful responsibility on earth. If you can take it, take it — and be. If you can’t, cheer up and go about other people’s business; and do (or undo) till you drop.”
That’s an exhilarating description of diving into the rabbit’s hole to a creative life. For those of us who did dive in, I recommend having more than one avenue to create an identity.