“People who need people are the luckiest people in the world.” – Jule Styne and Bob Merrill
Since it’s February and we’re thinking about love, I wanted to tackle one of the most enduring toxic literary tropes, especially for men – the lonely tortured artist grappling with the pettiness of life and the weight of his great talent. We’ve all been fed hundreds of examples, real and fictional, of men like Hemingway and Philip Roth and other mostly white men who were absolute assholes in their marriages and their lives and struggled with the reality of their art.
The lesson we’re supposed to take away from all of this is that the art coming from these men is so important and so vital to the world that they can’t also be expected to deal with mere humans in their lives who will never understand the heavy mantel they’ve been cursed with.
Which, of course, is complete bullshit.
I’ve always viewed this trope with skepticism, but didn’t realize until recently I was living that trope. As I’ve been reckoning with my life and behavior pre-ADHD diagnosis, the people I love have been letting me know how much I hurt them and how cold and mean I could be, especially when it came to dealing with my work.
I am incredibly lucky to have an amazing support network around me who have loved me unconditionally and made accomplishing as much as I have even under my fried brain possible, yet common wisdom and societal norms would indicate I needed to work harder to drive these people away from me. I’ve talked with Becky a lot about this, and I think one of the reasons I was able to get this far into my life without anyone pulling me aside and diagnosing me with ADHD is because according to traditional views of masculinity I wasn’t doing anything wrong. My wife was to blame for exploring her own career and interests instead of devoting herself exclusively to supporting me and my art. My kids were to blame for daring to live their lives as children in their own house instead of walking on eggshells around me to make it easier for me to get my work done. My friends were to blame for not understanding just how important my work and my presence in the literary scene. Etc.
This is something I’m going to be unpacking for a long time , and part of that is using any platform I do have to spread the word and make sure no one else has to suffer the way I have and the way my friends and family have because of this. Becky and I have been watching a lot of roller coaster documentaries on YouTube lately and one thing that always comes up is how important the structure around the roller coaster is to maximizing its performance. When one element of the structure starts to crack, the whole coaster is in danger, including riders and bystanders. I’m lucky I was able to find out how distressed my structure was before there was a fatal accident and while I can still repair it.
Even if you’re a neurotypical person, or someone who considers themselves a regular person instead of an artist, it’s important to find other people to love and let other people love you. One thing that’s become even more obvious than ever in our world is that we are in desperate need of love and kindness for those around us.