let's all stay on topic, shall we?
There is a center. It’s where most of us live. Sometimes we call it the mainstream. In the center we all agree to certain core values, and for the most part, we’re all quite comfortable there. When someone strays from the core values of the group, we isolate them and lock them away because they’re considered dangerous to the rest of us. The farther a person strays from the center, the more dangerous they become. The ones who congregate closest to the center, are the most normal. And the safest.
Have you ever tried to act? I have. It’s not easy. To give yourself to words on a page and actually ‘become’ the person who says those words is tough. If it weren’t, more of us would do it. You have to be really creative to make a career of acting. That’s because you have to let go of your mind, and step into the mind of someone else. In front of people. And cameras. And the more convincingly you’re able to become these other people, the more your talent is celebrated.
Without getting too far into it in this post, I don’t believe that any human is capable of creating anything original. That said, I believe that every person is creative. Some of us more than others. And for the most part, creativity is our attempt to be divine. Or, if you prefer, to be a ‘Creator.’ Some people even compensate for the fact they’re not a Creator by drawing attention to themselves to make others think they’re just slightly (or sometimes vastly) different than the rest of us. They don’t want to be seen as being part of the mainstream. These people might get tattoos, piercings or dye their hair purple. They want others to label them as creative. The more creative the better. But the fact is, most people are extremely limited in their creativity. Most people have never been out to the edge, or anywhere near it. Sure, you might be celebrated as being a creative cook to people who enjoy your food at PTA meetings, but that level of creativity is intrinsic to all humans. We just have to acknowledge it and use it.
But some of us really are different. And we don’t necessarily have to draw attention to ourselves to prove to the world that we’re farther from the center than other people. We are ok in knowing that our brains are programmed slightly differently, and we are happy to just go through life doing our jobs and using our creativity to have a life that is similar to our friends in the center. Some of us are even lucky enough to actually find work in creative fields where we can utilize our creativity and possibly let it run free. Creative geniuses are oftentimes considered eccentric because they live farther from the center than the rest of us. They’re not criminals, so they’re not locked up. But their ideas are sometimes so different that the rest of us can only stand from a distance and think, ‘Wow. Look at that.’ Artists, writers, musicians, and yes, actors are all types of people who do their best work away from the center, but usually for the center. Some of us are eccentric, some of us look exactly like you. Some of us have even attempted to go out to the edge with our creativity. And some of us fall off of the edge, or worse – get lost out there wandering.
Enter Charlie Sheen. Unless you live under a rock, you know that Charlie Sheen has been in the news lately. But, I don’t think he’s crazy. Whether you think that Sheen is a ‘good’ actor or not, doesn’t really matter. He’s still made a life out of acting. And because he keeps getting roles, he’s obviously got marketable talent (aka ‘appeals to the center’) and understands how to move outside of himself into a character fairly convincingly. As mentioned earlier, the ability to do this one thing is not easy. Because most of us cannot do it, it’s obviously a skill that exists somewhere outside of the center. Just because we all have the ability to be creative doesn’t mean we all utilize this talent to its fullest expression. It takes a special disposition to do this. A disposition that most of us don’t have.
I’m a copywriter by trade. Sure, I’d like to spin some tales for longer, less commercial purposes one day, but I’ve made a career at being able to convince people of things. I do this through emotional appeals that affect an audience. The only way I’m capable of doing this well, is to actually become a target audience in order to discover what kinds of things are important to them. Copywriters are considered creative people. We change how people think. It’s not easy. Well, it’s not hard for me since I believe that I had virtually nothing to do with my ability to ‘become’ other people in my mind. In front of a camera? That’s not my schtick. But in my head, I can jump from person to person with relative ease. And have meaningful conversations with them. Alone. In my brain. Trust me when I tell you, this is not something most people can do. And it’s why I can command (hahaha that’s very funny) a certain wage for my work.
By now you’re probably thinking – ‘Um, I clicked this link to read another article about Charlie Sheen and how crazy he is.’ I get it. But first I want you to think about why you are comfortable in labeling him crazy in the first place. It’s because he’s not now, nor has he ever been, close to the center. Rather than try to empathize with people who aren’t like us, it’s much easier to give them labels. Why is Charlie Sheen on drugs? Because he’s an addict. Why does he say the things he does? Because he’s crazy.
Except, he’s not. He’s just out there floating in the ether between the center, and the edge. And yes, because of the drugs, he’s probably closer to the edge than the center. But he’s still out there. And we like to put monsters like that into metal boxes. It makes us feel safe.
Not only am I a copywriter, I’m also an alcoholic. I didn’t find my career in advertising until 12 years ago. Before that, I went from job to job and state to state doing everything from driving a UPS truck in Manhattan to selling my plasma for beer money in Gainesville. I worked as a hand on a migrant farm, a house framer, a car wash attendant, a waiter, a headhunter, a logistician – the list goes on and on. I tried to fit in everywhere I went, but couldn’t. So I wandered. And looking back, it’s very easy for me to point to alcohol as the reason for my problems. Except it wasn’t the reason. It was a byproduct of being a creative person who was lost. I quit drinking long before I got into advertising, which in itself is hugely ironic, but when I did find a place to push my creativity, it felt like home. Had I found advertising before I got sober, I may have ridden my creative high to my death. Strike that – I definitely would have. Creativity and addiction are strange bedfellows.
Back to Charlie Sheen – I’m convinced that he’s not crazy. He’s just a creative guy who is saying things that are really in his head. The F18 remark. The winning thing. All of it is true in his mind. Unfortunately for him, however, is the stuff with the drugs. In moderation, drugs and alcohol are not devastating to a creative person and can even help safely take us farther from the center to explore realms that others have not yet considered. Only, many of these vehicles are physically addictive – whether we accept it or not. And it doesn’t matter how powerful or creative you think you are, we’re all still fallible machines that are as equally susceptible to things like addiction as we are the flu.
I’m not saying Sheen is an alcoholic or drug addict. And neither can you. Only he can say that. I’m just trying to explain how these things work with the creative mind. And I don’t want to focus on the addiction part, either. But when someone like Charlie Sheen talks about having a different brain than you, or having tiger blood, what he’s really saying is that he lives farther from the center than you. He recognizes his own creativity. The fact he is a celebrity simply proves that he has the resources to sustain his creativity. The part that he probably doesn’t grasp fully is that he’s still a biological machine that can break (and break down). I can tell you from experience, it sucks waking up hung over day after day after day. It doesn’t matter how creative you are or how much money you have. But, it also sucks to be a creative and not have a place to push that energy. Sheen does. And so he’s got that going for him.
Laugh at Charlie Sheen if you want to. Call him names. Hell, you can even pity him. He doesn’t care. He knows what he is, and knows that because you’re tucked into the safety of the mainstream, you’ll never know what he’s talking about. And he’s cool with this. He’s winning whether you like it or not. I fucking applaud him for coming out and doing these interviews. He’s running with his creativity and giving people a glimpse into the space between the center and the edge that few of us can ever know. If drugs or booze are stealing from his creativity however, then that’s a shame. Likewise with the allegations of violence. If he routinely goes into fits of violence, he needs to be locked away. Violence has no place in creativity. Creativity’s purpose is to create, not destroy.
So the next time you find yourself mocking someone who is different than you, celebrity or not, stop for a second and think about how comfortable it is to get in your car and drive to work each day to a normal job like everybody else. And be grateful you don’t have to leave that comfort zone in order to have a something like a normal life.
Jim Mitchem #winningMarch 4, 2011