Suffering Genius vs Worried Gardener

Friday, April 23, 2010

Picture: Monkeys Always Look on Etsy (what a great name!)

There’s an old chestnut about whether you would rather be a suffering genius or a happy gardener*. Presumably the armchair psychologists have all kinds of fun evaluating the responses (because pigeonholing the world into two buckets is always highly enlightening). But it does assume that you put up with one thing to get something you want, and that the trade-off you make defines you in some way. Which is great, all the time there’s actually a trade-off to be made. But, as a hypothetical, it doesn’t help terribly much with the (probably at least as likely) choice between two pretty unappealing things (or that cautionary tale of being-careful-what-you-wish-for, two fabulous but mutually exclusive things).

It does set up whether the suffering is necessary to be a genius (or maybe results from being one)**. There’s a bit of an entrenched relationship*** between pain and creativity (artistic, scientific, inventive, whatever). The image of the tortured soul producing astonishing beauty or staggering insight, and the inherent suspicion when somebody happy (or, increasingly, somebody young, because to suffering apparently requires a proper amount of time, however much that might be) produces something meaningful, because others wonder where they got those ideas from without having a bottomless well of lurking dark thoughts to draw upon (Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights springs immediately to mind).

But, much as the image of Van Gogh / Oscar Wilde / Marie Curie / whoever else sitting there in a warm, comfortable living room, eating toasted crumpets in the company of their beloved pet or partner while scribbling furiously in a notebook might be janglingly incongruous, you also have to be pretty specific about the lurking dark thoughts themselves. Some of them might be a pathway to genius (or at least, to creative output), but others are just a pain in the behind (to say the least).

Picture: Choos and Chews

Which leads to where this was trying to get to (Finally! There’s a point! Surely not!****)... which is that worrying, in case it wasn’t annoying enough already, seems to be the death of creativity. The suffering genius pours out their anguish into their art, but the worrier gazes into space (or worse, at the blank page or screen) and wonders where to start. And worries that what they’re thinking of isn’t going to work. Or is so full to bursting with worrying about other things that there isn’t even a squashed cloakroom of thought left for an idea to try to wriggle around in. Which means that the worry can’t escape, adding to the eep!-about-to-self-combust! feeling that comes from too much worrying.

Picture: Simple Up

Having cupboards in your house that threaten to drop everything out on top of you if you even think of opening the door is one thing. Having your thoughts organised like that is something else entirely...

* Gah! I really don’t like when you can’t find where something began!
** Not, maybe unfortunately, something I am ever likely to discover first hand...
*** Which is probably like being a bit pregnant – I’m not sure how you could only be a bit entrenched. Unless it was a small trench, and only came up to your ankles, perhaps...?
**** Ah, an overly long set up for a point. This only ever seems to result in a disappointing point (there’s a thought all by itself...), like those jokes where they go on forever and you finally reach the punch-line and wonder if that was it after so much effort (over-training for performances also seems to have that effect...).

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