The Speed of Life at the Speed of Light
By Lorette C. Luzajic
Where has the year gone? Today is already the tenth of January, the week already a blur. I was hoping “focus” would magically come a little easier for me this year, but I concede already that its unlikely. Focus on what? My poetry? My compositional collages? The wordplay series I just started in late 2011? The course I started in economics? The marketing program? The abstract work I’ve become addicted to? Or the sixty-two short story ideas, or the homage to Jennifer Tilly, or the political commentary? Or the upcoming photography monograph, or the various tributes to human industry and progress, or the promotion of freedom and freedom of expression, or the arts blog?
New collage – Red and turquoise composition by Lorette C. Luzajic
I thought I’d simplify things by making a list of goals for the year. When I reached item 172, I crumpled it up and threw it away.
Some may envy the “unbridled enthusiasm” with which I face life and wish they also found everything interesting. Others may cluck about quality over quantity and they would be right, too.
Perhaps even more crucial than practice and persistence is “building a brand” and “finding your voice.” The vast majority of successful people and businesses find their niche or style and build that platform. Imagine if Mozart had spent half of his creative energy on corset design or animal husbandry. It would be disastrous if Coca Cola added milkshakes to their arsenal. Mark Rothko started with various experiments in painting, and then he spent the rest of his life painting giant blocks of colour. Ed Hopper became synonymous with American realism- he did not show abstracts one moment and write poems about golf the next. Would filmmaker Woody Allen still be with us if he’d splintered his time working on operas, sculptures, and toll painted birdhouses?
Untitled – Mark Rothko
What if Nike decided “Just Do It” should also apply to baking banana cupcakes or making psychedelic stained glass mandalas? Would romance novel magnate Danielle Steel be famous if she had kept herself busy writing etymology textbooks, haiku, and sci-fi screenplays? Would Ray Bradbury have the name he has if he had branched out into Chinese brush painting or tap dance? What if Joe DiMaggio had also focused his prowess on yoga, football, and darts?
The wisdom in specializing is clear. How can you be good at anything if you are spreading yourself so thin? How can you develop beyond rudimentary skills if you are scattered in so many directions? As the saying goes, “jack of all trades, master of none.”
Still, a person may have deep passion for many streams and generate endless ideas. For some of us, thought processes are not linear but spin off of associations, and the mind is excited by and curious about a vast array of topics. Such a mind hungers for more, even as it is overwhelmed by its own output.
Some variety is the spice of life, of course, for everyone, and that’s why we are genuinely enriched when we try new things and have new experiences. Everyone longs for an occasional adventure, a twist, a new song in their iTunes library. We develop a more profound understanding of the world and give depth to our character and personality by taking risks and checking out new hobbies or hearing another person’s political perspective. We are not one dimensional. Our relationships and experiences feed and inspire our work.
Perhaps the personality who refuses to focus and get down to business is no different from the rest. Could he simply lack discipline and concentration? You may know someone with this mind- or be someone with this mind- and have been pathologized. If so, the words “manic” and “attention deficit disorder” probably mean something to you. And you probably hate those words. They are typecasting in and of themselves- a concept, as we have just seen, that is alien to your very nature. Can more stereotypes really offer any constructive insight? Can the debate over whether artists are predisposed to madness really illuminate anything more than the fact that some artists are prone to eccentricity or intensity, and some aren’t?
Most people with constant torrential activity in their minds would like to be more successful, and some would give three teeth to focus on one thing at a time and acquire a less cluttered brain. But the only fate worse than this kind of mind is not having it. Most of us spinning tops are terrified of limitations. I thrive on colours and patterns and making new things and reading sixteen books at a time. I don’t want to give up my deep immersion and engagement with life. I do not want to stop exploring and growing and I do not want to give up photography and painting to “concentrate on my poetry.”
I tried to “niche” myself a million times- as a poet, as a tarot reader, as a meat writer, as a collagist, as a mental health writer, as a Michael Jackson blogger. I loved all of these things. With my usual head-first plunges and my voracious research, I became quite knowledgeable about esoteric history, about psychology and pharmacology. I learned how the North American vegetarian movement was born not out of love of animals but out of bizarre, prudish, bowel-obsessed cereal sellers who believed that meat inflamed lust by compacting in the bowels and pressuring the sexual organs. No, I’m not making this up. It was born by the same people who told you that you’d get hairy palms or go blind. Dr Kellogg cared no whit about little fluffies- rather, he wanted to deny children nourishment and sell his cereal to keep them sexless. He advised that impure children should have their wing wangs pinned- yes pinned- to make any natural blood flow painful. Girls were not so lucky. They were to be castrated with carbolic acid.
But I digress. Which is the point. All of these fascinating, infuriating, interesting snippets of the world, of history, of our story, of my story, are like puzzle pieces. And each and every new area of subject matter or exploration that I get into adds insight into the others. There is nonstop “clicking” in my brain, as ideas and chronologies snap together. Everything is connected.
Not every artist with this type of mind is “mentally ill,” of course, but I don’t mind facing the facts about my ADD and manic-depressive disorder. Doing so was like growing up three decades worth in a single “a-ha moment.” The exhaustion of the spinning mind often forces itself into rest with the other extreme- depression and complete inability to act. At best, this dark place yields a few morbid poems, but any insights found in this empty hell are difficult to bring to fruition. Until the switch reverses, of course. Reining in that chaos can mean tremendous productivity, but unfortunately the rush is not always a ticket to paradise.
Accepting the stark reality of these cycles and stabilizing them to become functional is essential to real growth. But it’s also true that diagnostic vocabulary assumes everything is unhealthy or counterproductive- the very words “mental illness” reflect negative notions. This is, of course, because no one is looking for a cure or diagnosis for the best parts of themselves. These parts merit no terminology in pathology. But I’ve worked hard to face reality and that means facing positive reality, too. I accept the confusion, loose ends, and impaired focus of “attention deficit disorder.” But I also like to think of it as “attention surplus.” Indeed, it’s a more accurate descriptive.
Yes, organization is more difficult, internally and in my environment. Emotions are near the surface. But that’s because there is so much going on. It was imperative to my very survival that I confront my extremes, but I don’t identify with illness or think of myself as sick. I think in terms of staying healthy. I’ve often used the words “mental is-ness” to express the state of affairs. Once I wrote that depression teaches us the truth about the world, and mania protects us from the grim reality. I’m no longer sure that this is the whole truth and nothing but the truth, but it’s part of it.
Today I also see the gorgeous gift of my particular temperament. We all struggle with something, and those with focused, precise vision and resulting clarity may sometimes wish to see things in different ways, or to feel more. But deciding to water and weed one’s own lawn rather than see the other’s grass as greener is the only key to contentment and to reality. The happiest, most interesting souls do not strive to be Michael Jackson or Bill Gates or Marilyn Monroe. They take inspiration from their greats to become “the best me I can be.” No one can be as beautiful as Marilyn; no one can as witty as Oscar Wilde; no one can be as contemplative as Thomas Moore. No can be as funny or smart as you, either, or as you as you. To paraphrase Wilde, be yourself: all the other good parts are already taken.
The whirlwind of my mind has always been there. If you jet back thirty years, you would find the same girl, a melancholy little child given to bouts of motory talkativeness. And you would find her in the Niagara Falls public library, where she played hooky from school because school didn’t have enough topics or go fast enough. The girl read the usual stuff about serial killers, aliens, and the Loch Ness monster. She also read about bread dough crafts and about fish; she read about Greek theatre and bullfighting, about how the search for spices influenced exploration and trade routes; she read the Bible and she read about the Atlantic slave trade, and poems by Langston Hughes and Rod McKuen. “My dog likes oranges, but he’ll eat apples, too, he goes where the smiles go,” was a line she especially liked and still remembers. The girl wrote her own poems, too, constantly, and made booklet “reports” with illustrations on these and other topics. Nothing was commissioned at school. She simply couldn’t stop herself.
And she can’t stop herself now.
The crumpled lists are piled on the floor. My efforts at “streamlining” have already been defeated by the muchness of me.
But as I sit confounded by my plans of restraint and refinery, I continue to come to terms with a most valuable truth. I have decided I’ll have far more success embracing my temperament rather than working against the grain. Moving all of my “areas” under one umbrella last year was the beginning of this admission and acceptance. The title I chose was exactly descriptive and also revealing- “Idea Fountain.” My efforts to close down all my blog satellites and move them under the Idea Fountain blog umbrella left me unsure of how I should focus the blog. Art? Collages? Book reviews? News on freedom of expression? I found the heart of the thing- indeed, of myself- when I added the tagline, “the insatiable curiousity of artist and writer Lorette C. Luzajic.”
Though many icons excel because of their focus and singular passion, there are other spinning tops from whom we can learn about management, coping, and ways to fit a surplus of inspiration into one lifetime. Whether these figures are clinically manic or not is not for me to decide: here I am using the word manic with reverence for the power of their creativity and supersonic energy.
Sir Winston Churchill
One such hero is Sir Winston Churchill. Before age twenty, he had set off to fight tyranny in Sudan and Cuba. He collected medals swiftly in youth as he collected titles over his lifetime: lieutenant-colonel, MPP, President of the Board of Trade, Home Secretary, First Lord of the Admiralty, commander of the sixth battalion, Secretary of State for War, Secretary of State for Air, Chancellor of the Exchequer, etc. Most know he was famed as an orator and speechwriter, and that he worked as a journalist and historian- but few know that he wrote some forty books, some of them four volumes long. Then there were the copious letters, essays, and some short stories. He also took up painting at the age of forty, and found time to create some 500 works before his death. Oh, and he was the Prime Minister of England who took down the Nazis.
One of Madonna’s talents
Another kind of power-horse has been as loved and as loathed and as judged as Churchill. But she will never hang her head in humiliation. Forget it. Madonna’s got work to do. So what if people whisper snidely about her less than stellar acting or directing abilities? If I had the chance to direct a film or act in it, I would do it for the experience, no matter my skills. Among a million other things, I once apprenticed for a day with an exterminator for the same reason, and found it delightful to slaughter bedbugs and roaches. I would jump even faster to work on a musical with Antonio Banderas, trust me. Madonna is a dancer, choreographer, marketing mastermind, business owner, showgirl, clothing designer, AIDs advocate, anti-African-poverty advocate, sex symbol, model, children’s book writer, kabala guru, mother, and yoga pretzel. Love her or hate her, you can’t stop her.
One of thousands of anatomy studies by Da Vinci
Maybe it’s for the better that Ed Hopper or Coca Cola stick to what they do best because the world would be diminished without their unique contributions. But it’s a good thing Leonardo da Vinci didn’t try to explore just one thing. The scientist, painter, architect, musician, inventor, cartographer, botanist, geologist, anatomist, engineer, sculptor, writer, and mathematician is the epitome of “unquenchable curiousity,” with which he has been described. The Mona Lisa painter’s fertile imagination dreamed up countless technologies that eventually came to pass. Solar power, the calculator, the helicopter, and a machine for testing the strength of wire are just a few of his thousands of conceptions. Leonardo made great use of reason and logic, rare qualities among thinkers of his day, but his mind also illustrates the exponential free association thinking patterns of the spinning top. The constant digression and tangents inherent in this quality churns and generates ideas from seemingly disparate thoughts. In seeking inspiration or solutions, teachers or organizations often have “brainstorming” exercises. The very nature of these sessions is to encourage dialectic thought and try to find unseen connections. Some find such games fun and others find them frustrating, but the word “brainstorm” is actually incredibly astute. Da Vinci must have been in a permanent state of brainstorm.
One example is how his obsessive hunger to study anatomy and the subsequent medical knowledge he imparted to us all was triggered during anatomy learning in his art classes. Fascination struck, and never one to skim the surface, Da Vinci decided he wanted to, well, get to the heart of the matter. So he got permission to dissect human corpses. I understand why he had to this. I was given a chance to visit a medical morgue a couple years ago, with a medical student friend who was allowed to bring guests to the seminar. Precisely because I am extremely squeamish about fluids and flesh, I had to do it. I forced myself to go. And then I watched as the instructors showed us over a dozen dead bodies, showed dissections and metal knees and how the face peels off of a head. I held a human brain in my hands. It was disgusting and wonderful. Though sadly I lack the genius of Da Vinci and contributed nothing to medical advancement because of this experience, it was nonetheless a moment of a lifetime.
Andy Warhol says it straight up.
There are countless whose creativity bounds in many directions. Andy Warhol, known for prolific work that mimicked new mass production trends of the market, was also a photographer, writer, maker of hundreds of films (most short but one of 25 hours), business man, hoarder, et al. Goethe was a poet, novelist, playwright, natural philosopher, diplomat and civil servant. Cicero was a statesman, lawyer, lawyer, linguist, humanist, republican, political theorist, prose stylist, letterist, translator, constitutionalist, philosopher, politician and philosopher. Thomas Jefferson was a philosopher, author, lawyer, architect, musician, naturalist, botanist, inventor, engineer, statesman, diplomat and political theorist.
It is increasingly clear that I will never, ever, niche or be satisfied with just one form of creativity or with one life to live. I’m on fire. This has indeed been a challenge to market, of course, but not nearly as challenging as trying to become someone else. And not nearly as futile, because after decades of trying to fit into impossible constraints, I realize I never will. I can’t. Isn’t chasing a limitation the real definition of insanity?