Thursday, March 31, 2011

Resentment, Shame, and the Sleeping Bear

Confession time.

There are moments when I'm really consumed by what I'm doing.  I'm painting along in my own little world, closing in on a breakthrough or about to finish some crucial part of a piece, and then it happens: I get called away.  I have to go somewhere, or do something.  I have to stop for dinner or spend time with Amy.  In that moment, when I am torn from my focus and prodded like some sleeping bear, two feelings strike almost simultaneously.

The first feeling is sheer resentment.  I resent the real world, the other obligations, the trash that I need to take out, the snow that needs shoveling, the food that needs eating and the family and friends who want to take an ounce of my time.  How dare they!  There's genius at work here.  So help me, when I become high and mighty I will smite them.  Smite them all, I say!  Then I will be left alone to do as I please and they will rue ever trying to take me away from my precious painting!

Even stopping to take care of the mechanics of nature cause me more than a little irritation.  When I make it big, I'll hire someone to pee for me!


I wouldn't admit to it if it didn't happen, and it's certainly not something I'm proud of.  In fact, that is where the second feeling comes in.  The resentment and irritation are quickly followed by the sheer horror and shame that any of those thoughts or feelings passed through my head to begin with.  What a jerk!  How can you think these things?  There's a lot more to life than your silly painting full of goblins and fairy dust. You are, without a doubt a horrible person and if there wasn't snow to shovel right now, it'd probably be best if you just walked into the woods and disappeared for a while.  That'd do the world some good!  You don't belong among the regular humans.

'Course this doesn't happen every time — just when I've gotten so deep into a piece that tunnel vision has started to occur.  When pretty much everything but me and the piece I'm working on falls away into a haze of nothingness, the hours ticking away like minutes with each minute lasting hours.  I lose reality in those moments.  I become singularly obsessed with completing some aspect of the piece I'm working on using a timeline that only I know about and wouldn't make a whole lot of sense to anyone else anyway.

It's horrible to feel resentment towards things that are important to you, even if the feeling is a quick flash.  In reality, I don't actually resent any of my other obligations or loved ones.  Then why do those feelings pop up in the first place?  Again, I liken it to waking a sleeping bear.  Allow me to explain what I mean in another flashback.

I've mentioned before that my father was a hard worker.  He was an equally hard sleeper.  I remember after a long week of toiling at the steel mill, he'd often be napping come dinner time on the weekend.  When dinner was ready, my mother would task either my sisters or myself to wake Pop up.  Once, when I was very young, while attempting to do this I prodded the old man trying to bring him around.  I must have startled him in the middle of a dream because his response to my prod was a blind flailing swing that I barely dodged.  Pop wasn't swinging because he was angry at me for waking him or anything.  He took a swing because there was a lot more going on than just a man sleeping peacefully on the living room floor.  Just as he had toiled all week, his unconscious mind was toiling away as he slept.

And so it is with me.  Often the waking part of my brain shuts itself off as I work.  Things that human beings usually do or care about fall by the wayside.  I become something less than human.  There is no Dana, only Zuul.  The resentment is a fire sparked by the friction from the tectonic plates of the waking and sleeping minds snapping into realignment.  It is a blind swing attempting to hit reality in the face before it can hit me.  Reality always wins.

That my work is done primarily in the absence of others is probably for the best.  I can go to town on a piece, lose myself, then pick up the pieces and reassemble them before anyone's the wiser.  It is one of the reasons I've never really been attracted to a shared studio environment.  I'd likely only shut everyone else out, anyway, and there'd be too many witnesses to the crazy.


  1. great post, Steve. I've experienced this ever since I was a young man. The resentment of the real-world intruding. The wish that reality would give me a break and let me be where I want to be (ie: not in IT). I used to tell my ex-wife to give me an hour or so after work, then I'd be human again. It's not the reason she's "ex", she understood it. Funny thing is I don't feel it as strongly as I used to. I don't think I dive out of reality as deeply as I used to. Not sure why that is, but it makes that "snapping out of it" sensation less pronounced.

  2. Can't really add to that except to say, heck yeah! I wish that transition were easier, or that it just didn't exist... I keep thinking there must be some way to be a whole person all the time, with everything that I value integrated into every activity. Sounds like something mastered by top-of-the-mountain-gurus, unfortunately.

  3. Chris,

    That the symptoms have subsided over the years is encouraging — especially when viewed within the context of your continued creativity. I'd like the transition to be a little less consuming. I guess I'll just have to wait it out.

    Fortunately, Amy understands a bit. After all, I think she suffers from the same problem and I've been known to jar her focus from time to time.


  4. Sean,

    There probably is a way to keep more attached, I just am completely unaware of it. The really crazy thing is that that deep focus isn't always beneficial. Sometimes it only results in work I'm going to have to redo anyway. Hopefully those gurus you speak of have a solution. Should you ever stumble upon it, please let me know!



I welcome all comments, questions, and discussion so long as you keep it civil.