Extra Extra

Artsy and creative people are often told to get out there, march to their own drum, be an original and true to themselves, no matter what. To be artistic is, in some ways, to be “extra.”

But if you are in marching band and just break out your own snare and march around to your own drumbeat, what will happen? You’ll run over the clarinets, get crushed by the sousaphones, and kicked out of marching band.

Sure, wearing a cape to school might be the right flair in a teen rom-com, but in real life you’re going to be sitting by yourself at the nerd table.

Being extra is only a good thing in narrowly defined channels, and people who are different are way more likely to be mocked for it than praised. It’s not something to aspire to.

So it creates a paradox. Creatives are told that this outward show of creativity is a requirement for being who they are, but anyone with any awareness will also learn that standing out from the crowd in this way will just make you a target.

At least, that’s how I reacted. I kept to my richer inner creativity but worked hard to blend in. And I think I’m worse for it now; I’m too offbeat to be totally straight laced and too normal to be part of the weirdos. No mans land of not fitting in.

There are some people I’ve met in creative circles who lean in to the kookiness, some in ways that make me wonder if they aren’t also faking–that they think “creative” doesn’t exist unless it is outwardly odd. That also doesn’t make sense to me.

How much weird is part of the creative package? Is it just a matter of finding the crowd in which your drumbeat matches?

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3 responses to “Extra Extra

  1. KC

    Hm. There’s “creative” and then there’s “nerd” and then there’s “mentally atypical”, and all those buckets overlap to some degree, and then there’s… everybody else. (I am not actually sure how much “everybody else” there is.)

    Some “artistic behavior” is definitely self-consciously performative (which I would then split further by purpose into “to show I’m enough” vs. “because performing, even without an audience, is fun” vs. “because it entertains people” vs. other motives – the motive can really change the game; I’ve been in on some of these games!); other things are performative but without self-awareness (or with self-deceit); still other things are… mostly-helpless habit contracted after long years of one or the other. And then there’s totally natural behavior, and also the subcategory of natural behavior that under some circumstances you would restrain in public but don’t within other spaces.

    Each “community” reinforces sets of acceptable/required/unacceptable behaviors (there is some interesting material on Captain Awkward about oft-held things within many nerd communities), and many “communities” also attract/repel people with various attributes, so there’s a lot going on within each human-community pair in terms of learned behavior (including things you’ve “caught” from someone), long-term habits, and personality types (or other qualities). Even imagination can be either squished or fostered by the individual and by different communities, and if fostered, fostered in different directions.

    Then there’s also the question of expectations; person A might feel “uniquely alone in the world” despite being identical and in identical community (or lack thereof) to person B, if person A has the assumption that they should feel Fully Understood by X number of people and person B doesn’t have that assumption.

    So, with those starting assumptions: I think probably literally everyone on the planet has gaps where they are not seen/understood/appreciated (some are probably not aware of those gaps, at least at some times; others don’t care as much at some times than at others). Some people have more community, some people have less (or far less), but: people are human, and therefore internally complex, and therefore not 100% knowable by other humans (or, for that matter, themselves). There are definitely a lot of cases of people looking at where someone else is and saying “I want that!” (even only in regards to community, this is probably more normal than not, honestly, from people I talk with?) – but there are also some cases of being apparently at the center of community and saying “I wish this were real” (in a variety of ways; either “they’re only treating me nicely because I’m tacitly agreeing to ignore the elephant”, or “if these people actually knew all the parts of me, they’d run,” or knowing that the structure that looks so solid and warm and inviting is actually appallingly fragile, etc.)(there’s also being a lynch-pin of a community and desperately wishing that either one didn’t have that responsibility or wishing that one were more capable of fulfilling it!). I’m not saying community is a fraud (it isn’t!), just that external appearances are often lacking in accuracy and it’s really not worth envying what other people appear to have.

    With all that said, I don’t know. I do know that it’s worth having community, worth caring about people, and worth continuing to try. It’s also worth targeting that effort to some degree in a variety of different ways if you want specific kinds of community (*probably* don’t go to a football game to find people who identify as “creatives”? There are almost-certainly some there, but they’ll be hard to spot and in a minority. And people whose time is already too full are often not very good at being new friends, although they sometimes can refer you to other people they know.). And it’s worth looking for the connections you do have to the people you already have some degree of social contact with – okay, you have to be at Spousal Work Holiday Party anyway, what can you find in common with the person you’re trapped with over by the cheese? Yes, not everything will line up, but *maybe* they share [niche interest #3 of your 8 niche interests] or at least have a niche interest that means they understand, to some degree, you *also* having a niche interest – and maybe if you have enough in common and your schedules also line up, you can add them to your community. It does take some risk/exposure, and sometimes that is not worth it, but other times it is.

    This is a lot of text (sorry!). It’s a topic I’ve thought a lot about as my communities have altered and shifted over the years, and as I’ve become less “drift”-y and more “quest”-y, partly out of necessity (move enough times and if you want in-person friends, you gotta do some legwork! get sick, and again, friendships take more active “effort” to maintain!). I wish you the best as you figure out who you are and how to find/make/build/settle more community!

    • I want to say thank you first. It took me a little while to formulate a response.

      I keep owning back to “community is important.” I deeply agree—but I just feel like I keep striking out. I am not so egotistical as to assume there is no one who shares my interests, but damn if I can’t find them. I’ve struck out a lot, and each time it makes it a little harder to try again. But I still do—then get hurt again. Or at least disappointed. It seems awfully hard to find the right people, for me, and I don’t quite know what it is. So I do sometimes think it is this placement on the creative->typical scale. Not far enough either way.
      But I guess I’ll keep looking.

      • KC

        Yeah. I sort of wrote a book. (apparently, looking at the length of this comment: twice) Sorry about that.

        Keep looking, and I’ll keep looking! (you are welcome to consider this the end of the comment. 🙂 I go into detail into how I fit/don’t fit, in case that would be encouraging, but it’s… a lot.)

        I agree it’s hard. I tend to feel too nerdy for not-nerdy people (I honestly like to write and debug code. I get abnormally curious about things. I know way too many details. I love footnotes.), and not nerdy enough for my standard “nerd” friends (never played D&D; enjoy hearing about video games, but haven’t regularly played them since I was a kid and our family got a second-hand original Nintendo from someone who was upgrading; I’ve made some progress in catching up on the Required Reading, both sci-fi and fantasy, but never will quite catch up either on that or on movies/etc., and am not interested in horror [oh, the horror!] even if it’s well-written).

        Despite having no credentials, I sometimes can blend with academics and archivists, for whatever reason (so maybe go librarian-hunting? Librarians and archivists are disproportionately really cool people [cool in a not-scary way].), but: I am not actually an academic or an archivist/librarian, so often feel like I’m undercover or something. (I do hobbyist research, but that is not the same thing as professional.)

        As far as creatives go: The “creative” people I know who do music, I can’t do a musical conversation with at all (because I am not adequately literate in any of the things), although I have friends whose main thing is music and there I just have different facets of their life that I stick with. The “creative” people I know who do regular art or writing, I do tend to fit okay with, although none of them are Full Professional or MFA, so that probably makes a difference; they have, at this point, all grown out of their Behold Me, A Special Genius phases, if they ever had them – but I know that’s not necessarily representative of the fields. The “creative” people I know who do theatre/performing-arts (other than music) are mostly very energetic and I only occasionally brush their edges. It is fun to hang out on the outskirts but I would probably die if I tried to live in the middle; I love community theatre, and doing improv is fun, but I’m a stitch-the-costumes build-the-sets make-the-food sort of person and tend to do better for long periods of time with the other not-center-stage theatre people. And baking/food creative people it usually depends on whether they ascribe to a School (I’m out) or not (often works, may not be able to work on projects together depending on disparity of standards or vision, but can at least mutually appreciate and commiserate and learn tricks from each other and stuff). Sewing creative people, again, it varies; I like it when people care about the fabric, the fit, the way things physically work; I don’t get along so well with There Is Only One Way, and there are of course aesthetics that I click with better than others. Crafting creatives I usually get along well with, but crafty people are rarely those prototypical I’m a Genius Creatives who exist to sublimate Big Ideas and call for their Muses and “This Blue Rubber Band With Thumbtack Represents My Idealized Civilization” and that sort of stuff; typically crafty creatives have ideas; they figure out how to make them happen in their chosen media; they experiment and solve problems and have a ton of triumphs and disasters [mild or otherwise]; they are either satisfied or dissatisfied with the results. They may have ideas that they were looking to express through their medium, but the resulting crafted object is never *just* that idea, so even if you don’t “get” their artistic concept initially, you can still appreciate it, learn about the process, find out more about what they meant to get through, in a way that will not result in them thinking you a lesser order of being because you didn’t immediately grasp their full creative meaning. Maybe this is because there isn’t a “Behold The Genius” model for crafting people to only count themselves legitimate if they fit this particular mold, the way there is with Authors or Fine Artists or Actors? Or maybe it’s just that it tends to attract different personality types? Don’t know. (Among crafts, scrapbooking specifically I abhor, but I also am friends with some scrapbookers. We just do not talk about scrapbooking.)

        I also sometimes have a hard time knowing how seriously it is okay for any creative people to take themselves, if that makes sense? How much of you-shouldn’t-take-yourself-seriously is a social construct (especially around female-made art of whatever medium) and how much of it really is indeed just a *wee* bit ridiculous or narcissistic (which are the two feelings I sometimes find myself knee-jerking with, although I’m trying to fix that)? I also tend towards “you shouldn’t aim to win prizes, you should just enjoy doing your thing” and that’s *definitely* a female-social-construct thing and askew and weird.

        I have been very fortunate in mostly having low-drama creative friends (their lives have had total rollercoaster moments, but most of them don’t make or seek out extra drama?) and friends who are capable of being not-self-absorbed. I’m not sure how this happened, but I like it! And I have increasing numbers of largely-normal slightly-nerdy slightly-creative friends; you would not necessarily know they were creative until you stumble across their particular medium, though, and ditto for the aspects of nerdery. Creatives and nerds under cover, maybe? Or the “lite” version? I don’t know. But, trying to know people better, trying to build community (again), really really grateful for email existing.

        I hope you do find connections out there somewhere!

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