Chicken Soup for the deranged and enlightened mind

Posted: January 3, 2011 in Creative Inspiration
Tags: , , ,

Over the course of my (admittedly brief), life, one quote has always stood out as a call to action for all things I hold dear,

“The only measurable difference between genius and insanity is in their degree of success.”~ Author unknown.

There it is. I’m sure you’ve all heard it before. It’s nameless – just search the web and you’ll find hundreds of people who claim to have written it – undeniably true – as history’s proven countless times – simple, elegant, catchy, and to the point. Success is the unit of measure, and the means of building is simply irrelevant.

Or is it? Surely it would be foolhardy and peevish to honestly believe that the Hitler’s, Stalin’s (and, if you ask some people, Bush’s), of the world would truly be “Successful” had their reign of tyranny ended in the complete and total domination of the world. So, it would seem that some clarification is called for.

How can we define success?

To a creative person, and, if you’re reading this blog, that’s what you are (whether or not you know it yet), success can be defined ad infinitum; there’s creative, monetary, competitive, virtual, physical, palatable… and the list goes on and on. Truth be told, depending on your mindset/field/and overall personal barometer, success is measured not by societal standards, but rather by the individual, I.E.: you. So, I submit for your approval (as you’re the only person who can give it), that the question is not, “How can we define success”, but rather, “How do you define success?”

“Always dream and shoot higher than you know you can do. Don’t bother just to be better than your contemporaries or predecessors. Try to be better than yourself.” ~ William Faulkner

How do you define success?

This one’s a toughie; it’s partly why I love that lofty nameless quote at the top, and most of the reason I started this blog in the first place: to help creative people get over their own personal hurdles, and achieve greatness – however you measure it.

Success, we must always remember, is incremental. If you’ve ever played a RPG (Role playing video game), you already know exactly what I’m talking about; gain a level, drop some points into strength, magic, dexterity, etc… and you have an observable gain in your skill set. So, being a lifelong gamer, I have to wonder, why should this philosophy of incremental growth not work for all aspects of life and not merely just the virtual one? My answer, and I hope you’ll adopt it as your own as well, is; it shouldn’t.

Did you know that when you learn something new, that a fresh neural pathway is forged in your brain? Think of it as a super highway. Here’s the cool thing about highways (aside from all the decidedly un-cool dust that’s kicked up), once they’re built up, all the areas surrounding them quickly find themselves far busier than before. A simple rural farm town that has a highway forged through its heart will soon adopt (whether they like it or not), traffic, tourism, offers on their land, and a bolster to business. The amazing elastic brain – you know, that thing sloshing around between your ears – works very similar to a super highway in this regard. When you learn something new, and a brand new neural pathway is forged in your mind, each of the areas surrounding that new pathway gains an added boost to efficiency. What this means, is the more you learn, put yourself out on a limb creatively, and stretch your mind’s capacity to do the impossible; the easier it becomes from that point forward.

In this regard, “success” can be defined by the determination, and follow through, of even a single task (and, if I’m not mistaken, that’s uncannily similar to the dictionary’s definition of it).

I encourage you – creative person – to create!

This is what kills me about war, and all the unessential death that goes along with it (hey you, yeah you who’s about to try and beat me to death with your right-wing war activism speech, just take a pill, and listen to what I have to say), I honestly believe that the next great idea to change the world can come from anywhere; a trailer park, a hospital bed, and, much more likely, a bright young mind – that may or may not be on the front line of a battle.

I’m sure I’ll get some unwarranted heat for this, as some will pervert what I’ve just said to mean that our brave men and women overseas have died in vein (they haven’t, and I am forever in their debt to be able to write with complete candor as I do), but someone has to say this, especially someone with the foreknowledge of what we just spoke about with the brain: the next great, world changing, and revolutionary idea, can come from anybody. A-N-Y-B-O-D-Y.

I mean that. If your brain get’s better with continued use, and all it takes to work faster, better, and more efficiently is repeated attempts at what was previously thought to be impossible, than anybody who has the confidence, and the steadfast determination to try, can achieve greatness. That’s not to say that greatness will come easy, it won’t (trust me), however there are some things that you can do to get the whole process of creativity out of neutral, and into first gear.

Free yourself of unnecessary distractions

When I came to NYC from my hometown it was with stars in my eyes, and hope in my heart: I wanted to be an actor. Having moved here just after college, it quickly became evident that if I was to hope to get anything accomplished toward my goal (other than paying $1000 in rent every month for the sole right to have a cool story at some point down the road), that I would have to shed some bad habits that I’d acquired while living at home with my parents.

* T.V.

Ah T.V., How I miss you’re gentle embrace, and the hours we spent together just staring into each others eyes. We laughed, we cried, we fell in love, and, in the end, you broke my heart. Now it’s clear – the hours I’d spent in front of your dynamic façade were nothing more than a waste. I could have had real love, real passion; if only I sought it out. But, instead, I allowed you to substitute my search for these things in the physical world, with the visuals you proffered as poorly veiled mire.

I was addicted to you like a drug back in those days. Between you and that insidious comfy couch, how was I to stand a chance? It’s just so easy to lay back and relax… Even now, I see your blank face staring ominously at me from over my shoulder, beckoning me for just a half hour romp of rekindled passion. Maybe i should give in… after all, I’ve worked hard on this blog so far… just one show wont hurt…

No – Don’t do it. I didn’t, and hey look, the article’s done. I’m not saying don’t watch TV (or only watch when I’m on it, which would be swell), I’m saying take a good hard look at how your relationship with the device might get in the way of your life.

Are you a creative person? Good. Now put up or shut up. It’s a big enough club without you, and if you want to be just another drone in the mineral line (where are my Starcraft fans at?) that’s fine by me, just don’t go around complaining that there aren’t enough hours in the day. There are, it’s just many of them get wasted in a sentient very American way: forging a relationship with an inanimate object (which, by the way, in your brain can emulate the same sensation as going out in the real world, and making actual friends. So, every time you watch “Friends”, your drive to make real friends, or to strengthen bonds with old friends, is lessened, because to your brain… you’ve already done it.).

*Internet

Spam, spam, spam, spam, (Monty Python fans?), how many hours a day do you waste on Spam? Spam is defined as: unsolicited junk mail, but why stop there? In my opinion Spam (and the negative connotation it brings to mind), should be applied to anything unsolicited, or – more specifically – undesired.

Ask yourself, how many (Spam) relationships do I put a lot of time and effort into maintaining, that, at the end of the day, don’t mean squat? Probably quite a few. Believe me when I tell you that Sandy from Dakota, who you met on a field trip back in the fourth grade, will be just fine without you in her life. Social networking not your style? Perhaps Porn is.

Procrasterbation – obviously a technical term – is one of the leading causes of wasted time (not to mention hairy palms, and missing lotion). This type of Spam can actually be considered a workout (see: Shake Weight), and, mostly, is medically irrelevant. Purge people purge. This type of spam is particularly troublesome as, unlike TV which only simulates the sensation of friends in your life, it can mask your desire to search out love, and (relative) happiness with your partner. Much like it’s entertaining TV counterpart, you can be addicted to a false feeling of euphoria, which brings me to my next big distraction from life.

*Drugs

Shall I take the blue pill, or the red pill, or the one with the superman crest on it? Forgeddabouttit eh-oh! Seriously, drugs had their time and place in the spotlight: the 60’s. Now a days it’s financially wasteful, personally degrading, and mentally trying. You want to do some drugs? Stake out a campsite, far, far away from any other living being, eat some mushrooms, and veg out for a few days once every couple years. I don’t recommend it, but I do acknowledge the transformational power of certain phycadellics – as does the medical world recently – and far be it for me to deny you something that scientists, psychologists, and pharmacologists have begun to take seriously, as treatment for PTSD, glaucoma, gout, chronic pain, and (in most of California’s cases) inability to swallow pills.

*Friends

Yes; idiot at the back of the class, I want you to lose all contact with friends, family, and loved ones. There are no stupid questions – but you sir are a moron. Evaluate your friendships, and take them with the same grain of salt that you should season your online associations with. Ask yourself,

“Is this person a friend, or merely an acquaintance?”

To be fair, I have a strict gauge on what a friend is as opposed to an acquaintance, and it’s always been my guide when telling the two apart. When called, and told, “I’m in trouble; I need your help”, friends will ask, “Where are you”, and acquaintances will ask, “What happened”.

It’s subtle, but can you tell the difference? Friends share the burden of your existence. Their reaction to know where you are is an indication that they want to come help, and as fast as possible. Conversely, the reaction to know what you did – as employed by a mere acquaintance – should reveal their character, and their attitude toward you: they want the story of your trouble (perhaps for some good water-cooler banter), but not the actual involvement in your life, or the burden of helping. They take a passing interest in your affairs – as a child with a magnifying lens might take a passing interest in an ant hill – if this sounds like trouble, that’s because it is.

Now I do understand that the nature of certain businesses require that you make tons of connections to people that otherwise you wouldn’t know even exist, but be warned; never fool yourself into thinking that these people are true friends. That should be a title that is earned, not given lightly, or easily won. Don’t be judgmental, be observant, and this distinction should be easily sifted.

Ok, I’m free of distractions… Now what?

That’s the beautiful part… whatever you want. Do you remember looking forward to art class in school? Then try your hand at pencil sketches. Sketches not doing it for you anymore? Try some charcoal. Charcoal not scratching that itch anymore? Head on up to pastels, paint, oils, canvases, art shows, museum exhibits: whatever it takes to make you feel like a success. Key word here being you. Don’t ever compete with the Johnson’s (Damn them! *Shakes fist at the Johnson’s*)

You see how it all comes full circle? The brain wants to learn. Help it. You’re creative, and you want to have fun with life, so go for it: no excuses. My good friend (and “brother”) Kenny Bailie once gave me a piece of invaluable advice when I was younger, and still stubborn to actively chase after my dreams. I had complained that Acting would be too hard, Writing too difficult, and I simply wouldn’t have the time to make it happen. Kenny listened to me gripe – far longer than I myself could have managed – until I had no more words to describe my transient argument, and then he told me this,

“If you want something bad enough, you’ll find the time, and make it happen.”

…and he was right. All along I had been making excuses: “One more TV show, one more movie, one more text message, one more level on my character (Diablo II was a huge problem for me), one more porno, one more, one more, one more, one more, one more…” Until I went to sleep, only to wake up the next day and do it all over again.

If you want something bad enough, you will prioritize, and make it happen

And, even though some will call you Insane for trying to break the mold and be different, and others will label you a Genius for having the vision and the knowhow to achieve your goals, only you will actually know how it happened: you took responsibility, defined your own success, and went after it. At the end of the day Michael Jackson was right, it’s all about the man (or woman) in the mirror.

Welcome to Chicken soup for the deranged and enlightened mind, where being deranged and enlightened are one and the same, and, as creative types, we can collectively sip some chicken soup every now and again to keep us on the path to success – whichever way we measure it.

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