.journal 2001.04.30
Understanding and support.

Now listening to: Michael Jones, After the Rain
Now reading: Poppy Z. Brite, Courtney Love: the Real Story
Now playing: NHL 2001 (Playstation 2)

When I was writing my last journal entry about a difficulty I was facing in my creative endeavours, I was reminded that I had a lot I wanted to say about the problems we creatives face with getting other people to understand our way of living. For a while I contemplated adding that tangent to the entry, but then I realized I'd rather keep the two as separate entities, to make sure each entry was easier to read and neither message diluted the other one. So now I'm back for the second part of this discussion on creativity.

Now, creatives come from all walks of life, and everybody has their own ways of expressing their creativity. I'm sure I could find plenty of my fellow graduates of The Artists' Way with whom I would have nothing in common, and whose way of living I would find deplorable. After all, The Artists' Way is about individual recovery, not brainwashing. Creatives, much like racists, sexists, homophobes and bigots, come from all stripes of life, and even among the creatives you'll find some real jerks. But all in all us creatives tend to me a pretty good lot, at least the ones I hang around.

But at the key of Julia Cameron's teaching is the understanding that we are all, as people, creations. Creations of what is left up to the student to decide; Julia makes use of the word "God" for practicality's sake, but notes that by saying "God" she can mean a goddess or many gods or even no gods at all depending on your own beliefs. But her notion is that we are all creations, and that in turn we are meant to be creative ourselves. Yes, there's an obvious joke about procreation to be made here, but its humour value has long since dried up into so much dust.

So, much as a piece of music or painting will be continually refined by its creator, as people we are constantly refining who it is that we are to try to make ourselves the best creations we can possibly be. When I started my creative recovery I had zero interest in horror writing or photography; now I think I've done some pretty good work in both fields and I'm hoping to continue doing so. But tomorrow I may wake up and decide to ditch my camera, buy some super-keen pencils and devote my time to that anime drawing I was talking about last time. It all really depends on what I think is the best expression of who I am and what brings me happiness.

And I guess that happiness is still kind of elusive for me, in part because, if a fully-realized creative is a fine urn, I'm still in the lump-of-clay stage. A good chunk of my personal recovery is spent in the realization that I never really gave much thought to who I was during those years in which most people do so. I've known that music was at my very core since I was eleven or twelve, but that never really translated to much. Because of the way I was raised, I believed that my own definition of myself was meant to be directly shaped by those around me. And because I have this horrible tendency to hang out with exactly the wrong kind of people, the shaping that was being done of me was much to my detriment.

This isn't to say that I was bereft of self-concept because I wasn't, it's just that I didn't have that much of it, and it didn't always manifest itself like it was supposed to. Worse yet, when it did manifest itself it tended to be in very dramatic manners. (Hence my problems with my extended family.) It wasn't really until The Artists' Way that I realized how underdeveloped my sense of self was, and how much I was letting that definition be shaped by the people around me. Some of that shaping is unconsciously caused by your environment to be sure, but consciously your own self-definition has to have only one person doing the defining, and that's you.

So I'm basically finding myself trying to catch up after twenty-some years of living my life for other people, and trying to figure out exactly who this person named Sean Shannon really is. To say this process has been difficult would be a gross understatement. And part of the difficulty of this process is that because who I am is constantly changing, I won't ever be able to get a fully accurate reading of myself at any given moment; as practical an application as any of Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle.

But I think I'm getting a far more accurate reading of myself now than I was at any other point in my life. More importantly, though, I now have the confidence with which to assert myself, to understand what it is that is important to me and to not let anyone or anything interfere with that. And that, I suppose, is where this great pitfall lies in creative recovery, is the interference of others.

As I said earlier, each creative's way of living can be vastly different, and is shaped by self-definition. As the product of two former hippies with working-class sensitivities, a father who tended to be more pragmatic and dismiss my artistic tendencies and a mother who nurtured those sensitivities and encouraged me to be more free, I tend to be very liberal and open-minded, always overflowing with emotion and eager to bring that emotion out. (Again, sometimes manifested in dramatic, less than ideal manners, but I'm get increasingly better at channeling those bursts straight into my creative work.) And I'm happy with that, because it is what brings me the most satisfaction out of my life.

The problem is that not everyone has enough of an open mind to understand this style of life. I can think of no better example of this than my pragmatic father. My father doesn't have a hard time understanding that my music is what defines my life, but then he turns around and asks me why I don't get a job in a recording studio or writing commercial jingles or something like that. What he fails to realize is that those activities wouldn't really be my music - they would not bring me any pleasure whatsoever, and might even sour me to what is my music, even if right now that music is only something I can work on on the side because it's not ready to bring me money yet. I'm much happier designing Websites during the day and keeping the music as a night thing because that's what allows me to keep the music true to myself.

Another example would be someone who once said he was very much like me when he was younger, and what "cured" him was joining the military. First of all, whenever anyone uses the word "cure" like that you know you're talking to a brick wall; to suggest that one's way of living is some sort of sickness is pretty much prima facie evidence that the suggestor will never get it. Secondly, I have had a lifelong disdain of the military, mostly influenced by my pacifistic view of the world (as much as sometimes I've been known to participate in my share of wars -- again, the wrong crowd can make you do some strange things), and also because my best friend's involvement in the military was the start of the long and painful process which led to me having to disassociate myself from him forever. Most importantly, though, I need regimen and structure in my life like Ray Charles needs contact lenses. It is from this lack of structure in my life, the ability I have to take off in the middle of the day and go over to Wildwood for whatever reason, or work out a melody, or write, that I am finding myself and my happiness. Me joining the military would pretty much shatter that completely and put me back where I was at my most unhappy. Besides which, I haven't had a haircut in a dozen years, I don't want one now.

This really ties into another common "helpful suggestion" I get from people, which is that I should abandon everything I have here right now, all my family, all my friends, my job, just ditch it all, go someplace and do something. The whole concept behind this argument is that the answer to the eternal question "Who am I?" is somehow out there, waiting for me to discover it. But I know the answer isn't out there, it's in here, inside of me. And while I'll never fully discover it, I think I've got a good chunk of it uncovered now, and that I'm on the way to discovering a lot more of it. I know what makes me happy, and with each passing day I grow more comfortable pursuing that happiness to the most of my ability.

That's where so many people lose it, though, because they don't pursue that happiness due to the pressures of the people around them. Because so many people have such a hard time understanding and accepting people's true natures, they can really be detrimental to this process. And the more people around you who say they don't understand you and you should do this and you shouldn't do that, the more you tend to believe them. If you're figuring an arithmetic problem out in a room with ten other people, you come up with one answer and everyone else comes up with answers different than yours, you tend to believe that your answer isn't right. Particularly if all the other people come up with the same answer.

But the thing is, ten people can be wrong and you can be right. Hell, the six billion other people on this planet can be wrong about something and you can be the only right person. And when it comes to the person you are and what brings you the most happiness in your life, you are always the only right person to be judging that. And if you're hanging out with people who persist in trying to change that person, well, you're hanging out with the wrong crowd. Being true to yourself and who you are is the main key to happiness and a fully realized life; going against your true nature is the root problem of the deepest of all unhappiness.

As I write this, though, I realize that as much as I wish my audience were people who either already grasp these concepts or are open-minded to try, I know that some of you reading this probably think it is a bunch of new age, left-wing piffle. Well, I can't choose my audience in an open forum like this; I can only write for the people I want to read it, and hope the people who don't like it realize that there's nobody holding a gun to their heads forcing them to read this and they're free to leave this site and never come back. But I still feel compelled to say something about being in "the wrong crowd" versus being in "the right crowd."

The term "recovering creative" brings many connotations to mind, not the least of which is the term "recovering alcoholic." And understanding that what is going on is recovery is key; there is a trauma which has caused a great deal of pain, and nothing can ever be done to change that. And what is important is to realize that this trauma will always cause some degree of pain, no matter what is done. What we have to do is to try to move on from that pain, to recognize its importance and its unchangability but to mature from it, to derive the lessons to be learned from the trauma and from that reap some benefit from it, to become better, stronger, more fulfilled people because of it.

So when I turn to metanoia.org, which is largely a suicide-prevention resource, as a guide for the process of recovery, I hope you all can understand why I do so. We could argue the severity of suicide versus recovery from whatever for hours, but as someone who was formerly suicidal I think I have some ground on which I can stand when I say that the process of helping a recovering friend is not entirely dissimilar to the process of helping a depressed or suicidal friend. There are a lot of principles which are shared, and understanding these is really key to being able to help anyone in any kind of mental distress.

I would first point out the Better Things to Say to Someone who is Depressed list at metanoia.org, simply as a starting point from which to understand what being helpful is about. Some of you may be too put off that "I love you" is the first item on the list, but you don't have to say "I love you." In fact, you don't have to say anything on the list that makes you uncomfortable; it's a matter of what is in your comfort zone. But the idea is to understand what being supportive is about, and to use those principles to define how you will be supportive to those around you. Or, if you don't want to be supportive, simply do nothing.

But I cannot stress enough importance on the Worst Things to Say to Someone who is Depressed list as the things to avoid saying at all costs. There's a reason this list is four times as long as the other list, and that's because there are so many ways you can make someone worse. Many of the things on this list are often said in the thought that they will aid recovery, but trust me, they can only hurt it. Worse still is the fact that I have referenced this list to the people around me before, and they chose to continue doing the same things to me as they were before, and that to me is tantamount to an attack on my mental health. Some of them even seemed to use the list as a manifesto to find new ways to hurt me. And if you try to hurt me, then you are definitely a member of the wrong crowd, and I hope you have a nice rest of your life because I'm not going to be spending any more of it with you.

Maybe you don't know someone who is depressed right now, but the odds are very good that someone around you whom you care about will suffer from depression at some point, and I cannot stress enough how important it is to understand what and what not to say to a depressed person. And for those of you who suffer from depression, you need to be doubly aware of these things, because they will help you determine who you should and should not be hanging around.

Even outside of the realm of depression, though, I think these lists still hold up. What is important for us all is human beings is that we have this support net, of friends and family and other people we know, that understand these things, and help us when we need it. And we need to be supportive of the people around us, because as the people around us grow, so do we, and being a positive influence on other peoples' lives enriches our own, makes us feel more realized and complete. Certainly you don't have to be supportive of anyone you don't want to be supportive of, but all to I often I have seen and experienced people purposely trying to act to the detriment of others, and that is wrong. Destruction only breeds more destruction and makes it harder for us all to become satisfied.

So try to be supportive. And if you find yourself in need of support, remember what to look for in the people around you to determine whether or not you're hanging around with the right crowd. Whether you're starting a recovery or helping someone in need, knowing from where the good and bad influences in your life come is tantamount to self-realization, and being the best person you can be.

- Sean