Robert (gurdonark) wrote,

On being misunderstood

"Having so few pupils, I had much time for study. When I got out my Northern sketches and worked on them I found that I had grown. Many of these old Indian sketches I made into large canvases. Nobody bought my pictures; I had no pupils; therefore I could not afford to keep on the studio. I decided to give it up and to go back to Victoria. My sisters disliked my new work intensely. One was noisy in her condemnation, one sulkily silent, one indifferent to every kind of Art.

The noisy sister said, 'It is crazy to persist in this way, --no pupils, no sales, you'll starve! Go back to the old painting.'

'I'd rather starve! I could not paint in the old way--it is dead--meaningless--empty.'

One sister painted china. Beyond mention of that, Art was taboo in the family. My kind was considered a family disgrace."

---Emily Carr

Lately I've followed with interest the various self-help-ish books which spring up lately which extol how creative people are really some powerful new minority, ready to reshape economies and mold thought. Although many creative people I know lack for self-esteem, it's interesting that even being a bit creative is now somehow something to be repackaged into another corporate human growth potential feel-good seminar. One is no longer a bit different--one is now a potential corporate team player, albeit with pink hair.

At the other extreme, one reads too much zine-type material which imagine that rebelling against society's flaws is a new trend of
the current "young" generation, even as that generation is perhaps the most "retro" in my memory. Any student of cultural history, of course, will realize that each over-40 generation for the last ten generations or so has imagined that the world is going to heck-fire in a dollar store plastichandbasket. There's nothing new under the sun, even as new suns rise every day, as they say.

But this post is about the problem which many people, and not just creative people face--the problem of being misunderstood. One comes to learn in life that no matter how simple one imagines one is to understand, one is granted only a very limited set of folks in life who really do understand much about one. One's family members often miss the mark in key ways, and yet know one in frighteningly accurate and "near the bone" ways. One's soulmate friends, by contrast, seem to understand all our inner mysteries, and yet sometimes do not understand at all our banal daily feelings. One's coworkers know so much about one, and yet the vast majority of people I know feel that their coworkers do not understand them at all.

I do not have any cautionary tales of particular idiosyncratic misunderstanding to share from my own life. I'm probably typical of a lot of people on LJ. I do not work at a particularly mysterious job, and my hobby efforts at creative things are undertaken purely for fun. I have a great wife, who largely "gets me", some very close friends who know me well, some wonderful parents and siblings and in-laws, and some good but more distant friends with whom I'm comfortable. I'm not much for discontent, and have one of those turns of mind which runs to being naturally happy. Yet I've always felt a good bit different from most of the people I know. I'm the sort of person whose grade school playmates made up odd nicknames for me ("walking encyclopedia" being the most printable) and whose friends in college always said "You're weird, but weird in a good way". My work reviews back when I was an employee always went down the "brilliant but so eccentric" line. Now that I am an owner of my own firm, I still pursue a path in which I do not worry about "fitting in" as much as I worry about doing what I do best to help folks the most. Although I tried my best to "stay between the lines", my career path has not converted me into someone who is "understood".
In short, I'm pretty much like any thinking person, whose life is fun but not exactly like the daydream.

I posit a theory, however, that, being neither novel nor inventive, may nonetheless suffer from being true. We are all misunderstood. The non-creative person is no less misunderstood than the creative person. I always consider myself straddling the boundaries between those who are naturally artistic and those who are not. I am fundamentally in the latter category, and yet I can speak the language of the former category. My observation is that people in both categories--creative and non-creative (and you'll pardon me if I reductivize and do not point out that there are really not two categories but 100,000)--all feel misunderstood. We all are in need of people who recognize our worth and dignity as people. We all need to be "gotten" on some level.

I am not sure if we all should understand each other better, or if we should just accept that we don't understand, and try to relate to one another in our misunderstanding. But contrary to an earlier era in which "cultural creatives" might argue that only they are disenfranchised from the great well of "fitting in", it seems to me that we live in a time in which nobody fits in. Maybe the key challenge is to realize that, and figure out ways to make things fit.
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