The other day I observed that, following a reformat and upgrade of Yggdrasil Mark II about a year ago, I still hadn’t transferred my old away messages onto my IM programme. For as long as I can remember being on IM software that let you set custom away messages — I want to say back when I used ICQ you could only select from one of a handful of preset messages — I kept a list of different away messages based on song lyrics or lines from television shows I really liked. The messages often had nothing to do with why I was away; I just thought they sounded really cool and I liked to share them with everyone on IM. After I reinstalled my IM software last year, though, I only bothered to come up with a handful of different away messages, none of which quoted song lyrics or shows, and all of which contained more practical details such as whether or not I could be reached by phone and whether I should only be disturbed in the event of a real emergency.
Part of the reason for this is that, in the year or so since I upgraded my computer, I’ve only spoken with two people via IM. Like e-mail, IM is one of those things that seems to be becoming outdated by the smartphone revolution; if I need to get hold of someone, I’m far more likely to consider using a text message or a tweet than IM. Still, there was something about using song lyrics and cool lines from television shows and “broadcasting” them on IM like I did that was kind of cool, and I miss doing that. Sometimes I’ll post something like that on my Twitter, but only if I haven’t tweeted for a while and I can’t think of anything else to put up. (I’ve been doing that a fair bit lately, and I apologize; I’ve been preoccupied with something lately which I hope to share with you all as soon as it is wise for me to do so.)
Honestly, there’s also something kind of immature about posting lines like that, like I can’t control my fangirlism enough to not just spew a random line as if to say, :”Hey, isn’t this cool?” I suppose that in the years since I finished my Master’s degree and I’ve been trying to take a more professional approach to all my dealings, there’s something about that sort of thing that seems incongruous with my career-building work. Using a line once in a while when it’s a really good fit, such as the titles of my annual journal entries on the .org’s anniversary and the lessons I’ve learned over the past year, seems acceptable enough, but if someone checks my IM profile to see why I’m away and only gets an unhelpful song lyric in response, that may be seen as egregious.
The thing is, over these past few years I’ve been thinking a lot about the conflict between my “professional brain” and my “artist brain,” a conflict that several of my artist friends tell me they deal with themselves. Quoting song lyrics and lines from television shows is something that definitely appeals to my artistic brain. I think this is because I’ve always enjoyed doing “what if” scenarios in my brain, and the idea of taking a line or lyric that just “works” and throwing it into a different context can create some intriguing possibilities. Some people are even able to take “classic” lines and alter them in subtle ways (or use the original lines in new ways) that creates something entirely new and clever. I doubt I’ve ever done anything like that myself, but I’m still keen to try.
A lot of the conflict that I, and some (not all) other artists run into, stems from the fact that our artistic brains are seen as our more immature, more childish selves. I certainly feel a child-like joy when I’m creating, even through all the hard work, to the point where at times it feels almost like play to me. That seems to put a lot of people off, people who think that because I’m not a child any longer (at least chronologically), I should be setting aside my creative “games” and getting on with “real work.” It’s almost like they define adulthood as trodding from miserable experience to miserable experience, and if you’re having fun (not involving alcohol) then you’re doing something very, very wrong.
I’ve been writing long enough now, though, that I’m beginning to see how much I need that child-like mind when I’m creating. Children are always seeing the world in new ways, and that’s something that strikes at the core of my own definition as an artist. If I just wrote about the world, or photographed the world, or what have you, the way everyone else sees it, what would be the point in my work? (“Yep, that’s a chair.” “Yep, that’s how the story went.”) If I’m not trying to create a new way of looking at an old thing (or, depending on how you view art, trying to create a new thing), then all I am is a simple reporter, a documentarian of present reality who could easily be switched with another person with the same technical writing/photographing/etc. skills. (There’s probably a lot to be said in here about American conservatism and its attempts to control everyone’s culture, but I’m not in a political mood right now so I’ll leave that for another post.)
To be sure, there are times when the professional brain needs to be dominant, and some of us artists — I admit to being one of them — don’t let the professional brain do what it needs to do. All things being equal, though, you don’t get a (non-performance) Master’s degree, or ace the GREs, or do a lot of the other things I’ve done, without having one heck of a brain. Maybe I still need to work at switching between the two better than I do at present, but honestly I wonder if, in focusing so much on putting out a professional appearance, I don’t sometimes sabotage my own artistic brain by not letting it out more often, not to create, but to just have fun. Play is the work of the artistic brain, and just as your logical brain tends to atrophy if you’re not learning new things, the artistic brain can atrophy if it isn’t getting enough fun. Maybe I need to have more fun here so my artistic brain can help me create even more new and wonderful things.
I know you’re all expecting me to end with a song lyric or quote here, but I won’t. I’m making that choice as an artist who wants to defy your expectations, though, not because I’m worried about looking unprofessional. Neener neener.