When I was a child, I wanted to be an artist when I grew up, or a doctor. The doctor fell off my list when I stopped going to hospital on a regular basis*. But I had the same career certainty all through my adolescence: and as I grew more aware of the realities of life, and it seemed like the only viable option, I wanted to work in advertising. (For a brief idealistic period I also wanted to become a Journalist.) So instead of lukio (the Finnish high school / higher secondary education) I applied and was accepted to a vocational art and craft institution. The diploma course started as ”Drawing” but by the time I graduated, it had been updated to ”Media”. I never once questioned the direction of my studies (except for the part that I also wanted to be a writer), and after graduation, I worked in advertising for two years. Lots of things happened in between, but in 2005 I returned to school (university of applied sciences, or polytechnic, depending on who you’re talking with) to study animation. On the side, I’ve sneakily come to transgress in the field of fine art…
It all seems very straightforward. A couple of posts ago, I wrote about the desperation and stress related to creativity and creative professions, so I won’t dwell on that too much. Without meaning to brag, I’ve pretty much excelled in anything I’ve been interested in**. Things I’ve not been so very interested in I’ve performed on an average level.
I’ve been a ferocious reader all my life. I didn’t use to vary much outside the fields of art, culture and history. When I got seriously ill with depression, I started reading about psychology, philosophy. History and culture opened the door toward religions, languages, science and from there on, my hunger for knowledge and my areas of interest have known no limits. And it’s not enough – I have to be able to use what I know.
Some time ago I googled ”interested in everything” and the top result was a post by blogger Jarkko Laine: ”Seven Signs That You Might Be Insanely Interested In Everything”.
”What if I told you that I want to be a scientist, mathematician, engineer, inventor, anatomist, painter, sculptor, architect, botanist, musician, poet and a writer? If that scares you, you belong to the vast majority of people who believe the modern day mantra of specialization and say that a Jack of all trades is master of none. But if it gets you excited, then you are like me.”
His post opened a lot of gates for me in that I realised how far my obsession with ”everything” goes and that there are others who are unable to focus on just one thing. The above list of professions is that of Leonardo daVinci. The word for this, I learned, is a polymath; the ideal renaissance man. Why is education and civilisation no longer an ideal? Why is it no longer an ideal for smart, creative people to come together to talk about the problems of the world (and other things) and, upon coming up with a possible solution, an ideal for them to then try to apply the solution to the real world?
Why, (I suppose) realistically, is everything always about money? It’s just not fair! [much stomping of foot here] Why is idealism discouraged as nothing but naivety? Granted that these days being a nerd is kind of fashionable (thanks to people like Bill Gates) – as long as you make money while doing your nerdy thing.
Recently, I read a book about feminine talent (Naislahjakkuus by Kari Uusikylä, 2008). I was mentally checking boxes as I was reading. Some things were already familiar to me from my other reading, and I found some pleasant surprises, too. Pirre Raijas, a ”Postdoc researcher, Doctor of Music, Master of Social Sciences, Cellist” (according to her website) wrote – and even if I don’t agree with her on some points, this alone makes me love her: ”Perfectionism is definitely not agonising. On the contrary, it’s a forward-driving force. It’s a source of energy.”
I was in tears reading the story of a writer/scholar/illustrator/translator Virpi Hämeen-Anttila for all the similarities she has with my life. And not only that – her story also gave me a glimmer of hope: here’s a woman who has studied everything and anything she is interested in, and created a career out of that. Several careers, in fact.
Hämeen-Anttila wrote that once she got over her debilitating shyness, she was a well-liked person in school. She attributes this to the fact she was able to adabt and to emphatise with everyone, and since she was interested in everything, people would have no problem finding an avid listener in her. Same as me, she was liked, but she was ‘one of the boys’ – no one was interested in her in a romantic sense. Like me, she believed this was due to her looks and did her best to depersonalise and hide her physical self, and entered the game between sexes fairly late in her life. I rarely idolise people, but Hämeen-Anttila is one person whom I would love to meet.
Because… I guess reading her text gave me some absurd kind of hope of there being a possibility to survive in the world despite being unable to specialise in just one thing and not being an enthusiastic networker and socialiser.
I could do almost anything in academic or artistic fields (see **) and I’ve chosen animation… It seems very selfish. I could re-educate myself for something else, but I’m so tired of being a poor student, and I would not be able to get any student benefits for a second profession. I wish I could do what Hämeen-Anttila did: she was in university before students started getting pushed out of the door as fast as possible. She was able to take courses in things she was interested in, as opposed to having to do mandatory studies according to a ready-made curriculum aimed at creating specialists as fast as possible.
And now, I’ve heard, the university has realised it might actually benefit from people who are able to connect the dots between several areas of studies, to create bridges between fields of study that could benefit from each other. What I wouldn’t give to become something like that. Alas… I’m merely wasting my own time studying things from here and there for nothing but my own education and entertainment, and to be able to bore people with my trivial knowledge. I feel so useless.
If I had given this matter some more thorough thought when I was choosing my educational field, I might have realised*** that I really want a career with a meaning. I wish I could do more than just personal good; if I’m forced to spend so many hours working for someone and something else, I would rather it tried to make the world a little better for everyone. Thinking that working a creative job – whether it’s painting or animation or writing or music – that has a positive impact in the world is being a little too narcissist than (even) I can manage.
I had a test run at a political field, but I think it’s too bureucratical for me. I care too much to be able to live with the fact that most people are really only out for their own benefit and that the ”system” is built on averages rather than ideals, without allowing for anomalies. I was recently satisfied (if you can call it that) to read a former people’s rep reveal in a newspaper article that, when starting up in the congress, he was adviced to be as average as possible: to speak enough to be seen doing his job, but not enough to be considered a windjammer, as someone who, as the Finnish expression goes ”just talks to keep himself warm”.
While I’m creating (painting, drawing, writing, etc.), I feel like I’m doing something important. My heart beats a little faster and I feel feverish; my concentration is impeccable. It’s the same when I’m working on an educated blog post or an essay: even when I’m busy with something else, my brain is processing and my thoughts keep returning to the of art/blog/essay at hand. That’s when I feel efficient and worthwhile – like what I do had meaning. But that wanes as soon as I’ve posted the item in question and got my twenty-or-so hits on it.
The more I read lists like this one; ”The Fifty Things Every Creative Should Know”, the more I feel I’m not the right kind of a person for the field I’m probably otherwise best suited as. It seems the whole list is aimed at making a creative person stand out as little as possible and to conform, and to be as much like a normal person as possible. I think it’s just depressing – since when creativity and ”getting out of the box” was reduced to nothing but the act of selling your idea and getting away with the money?
I often think I live in a different kind of sanity than other people. I think it’s insane to spend your life going to work to earn money to spend on things you don’t need, only to have no time or energy to really enjoy anything, and by the time you retire you’re too broken to do ”all those things you always wanted to do”. Most people just laugh when I say I’m not interested in getting a job and think of me as a slob or a loser or a bum. But it’s not that – I do want to work. And yes, earning money is a kind of an imperative in today’s world.
Although I’m very fond of my dear boyfriend and I would love to be able to rent a place together, and to be able to afford to keep a studio, too… I still think it’s stupid to get a job just to be able to pay for things I want. Someone thought my logic meant that I think some jobs are somehow better than others, and that I somehow looked down on people working in cleaning or as cashiers or in various offices, but that’s not it. At risk of sounding a smug and narcissist little asshole – ”anyone” can do jobs like that. I don’t mean that I’m ‘meant for greater things’ or some such crap; there’s nothing wrong with the aforementioned fields of work and the people who do the jobs are doing an important part of what makes the world run smoothly and pleasantly. But… here’s the really narcissist part … I think since I have the brain and the creative ability to do something more, I should have the moral obligation to do so. But really the world seems to just want me to be a good girl and go do my part to enable more material to be pushed at people, and to pay my taxes and not be too much of a hassle.
I guess I would like to look back on my life, one day, and think I’ve done all right and lived according to my own moral principles, and that I didn’t just go with the flow and do what was easy. Sure, I want to enjoy what I do. But I would like to feel proud of it, too.
*I had a life-threatening kidney defect as a child.
** Except I can’t sing to save my life, others’ lives are in danger when I dance, and I never learned to play any instruments. I don’t have a great head for mathematics, either.
*** Although I may have been too traumatised by the standard 9AM to 9PM office crap, er, job.