Five, four, three, two, one… let’s visit the emporium.
Are you ready for disjointed ramblings?
Great! Hop on!
We, as humans, wear dozens of masks… I think it is easy to become inundated with the theory that we must please everyone. We are swept up and wrapped in yards of fabric to take the appearances of whoever we believe we are supposed to be. Often, there seems to be a voice lingering over our shoulders, shouting: this is what you need to be. This is what you need to do. No, not there! Look here! Look at how great this fellow is! Look at what they have created– what sort of fool are you? Try to fit in!
Fitting in, in my opinion, can be a very dangerous pursuit. It is easy to discount our own capabilities in an attempt to conform to the various guidelines that we believe we must follow in order to achieve– to achieve what?
Let’s slip backwards for a moment… perhaps one of the most recognized Greek words is arete (αρετη)– probably originating from agathos (αγαθος), ‘good.’ Roughly translated, it means ‘striving for excellence in all pursuits,’ whether mental or physical. Arete is largely an umbrella term, exactly what its definition is depends on present context, for example: according to the ancient greeks, there was a certain sort of arete relegated to women (they were, in most respects, extremely sexist), a different sort assigned to warriors, another assigned to civilians and so on. For the purposes of this
rant discussion, I would like to regard arete as a general concept with the loose, aforementioned definition of ‘striving for excellence.’*
There importance of theories such as arete should not be understated; after all,, doing your best is the most important action a human can take. However, I think that the concept of universal excellence can be a problem… let’s look at “well-roundedness.” If you have been involved in any sort of discussion about education, you have probably heard about “keeping all of the doors open” and “offering the best that can be given in order to ensure that all students have equal opportunities in all fields.”
Equal opportunities are extremely important, but that is not today’s topic… I thick the “all fields” and “all doors” parts can be a problem in regard to art and passion. This whole idea of “well-roundedness” seems to emphasize spending equal time on all subjects. Now, while many passionate and creative people throughout history have been proficient in, if not masters of, many things (in fact, it is difficult for me to think of someone who was, or is, not), there is usually one thing that draws us more than the rest– it is this one thing that seeps into us. So it must.
Let us say that we follow this thing as ‘our own’… we defend ourselves against doubt, and we try to stave off fear (even when met with little success).
We, undoubtedly, rely on passion: it should not minimized or ignored for a single moment. And yet, it is easy to turn out attention toward the little voices screaming inside of our heads rather than our own certainty. (D0 I sound like enough of a touchy-feely, topic-jumping help manual yet? Bear with me.) Art without passion can be art-ish, but it is not Art with a capital A. It does not have any substance, it does not breathe or slyly deposit thoughts inside of onlooker’s minds, it does not exist as an entire world– it is flat, like a line that someone draw down the edge of a notebook because they were board, but not because it was needed.
The art that lives inside of our passion is our own (or, at least, I would like to think so). And yet, it is easy to turn out attention toward the little voices screaming inside of our heads rather than our own certainty– societies views are bound to conflict with the art that is ours. Maybe there are a few who can look down the table of contents in a writing manual and check off every box with a “yup, I got that; it’s prefect for my book,” however, I am inclined to believe that such people are a rarity.
Will you forgive another leap?
Lately, I have been trying to read fiction as a writing-person as well as a regular-ol-reader. Recently, my extremely unknowable attempts to analyze the things that catch my attention, I have found that I often dislike the very things that I am certain I “should” like. While this cannot be an entirely bad thing, it is sometimes slightly jarring– especially when you look to your own writing and start picking at it.
Here, we come back to the beginning… fitting in: when we pay too much attention to the things that we are certain ‘should be;’ including the analyzed notes from whatever book we last read, it is easy to kill the passion in our thing (anyone up for making this a technical term?). We become worried about fitting in and so we end up killing our precious art-with-a-capital-A. Its dead weight hangs around our necks.
So, how do we avoid killing our precious thing? My current suggestion is this: we must become so close to our own thing that we will not analyze our work so closely that we are determined to “fix it,” and inadvertently suffocate it in the process. Easier said than done, right?
Certainly, we need to pay attention to whatever feelings we have that something is not quite right, as well as whatever advice we receive, but I think we must be selective. Everyone has their own opinion after all. We simply cannot please everyone without some ogre potion, but we can strive for our own, personal, version of arete.
*It must be noted that other cultures retain their own versions of arete; usually ‘excellence’ is a one piece of a social or moral code of ideals (for example: consider the Japanese Bushido code).
There is a thorough description of arete here.