Sunday, February 15, 2009

A Few Thoughts On Self-Deprecation, Victim Culture, And So On

I have mixed feelings about this one -- but I like the mood. An early attempt to mix paleo-art and brocade print influences. You'll see more of this in the future.

"Goodnight, cedars. Goodnight, Allosaurs. Goodnight, moon..."

I have to write a couple of different biographical notes on myself, one for an art show and one for The Impending Big Mystery Project. I've been dithering about them for quite a while now and this is turning into a source of stress in my life.

I've been realizing a few things about myself lately. One is that my habit of self-deprecation is not charming. It's kind of odious. There's a difference between humility and self-abuse and I frequently cross that line. Last year a teacher gently pointed out to me my habit of deflecting compliments and after contemplating her comments for a while I came to a realization.

When you tell someone that you really aren't worthy of their compliment, you aren't just insulting yourself. You're insulting them as well. You aren't doing a damned thing to make them feel good about having done something nice for you. This goes against my ethics. When someone compliments you, it's appropriate to respond in a way that gives them positive feelings in return. I know, this is obvious, but I'm...

Heh-heh-heh. If you're familiar with me, at this point you know that the following words are gonna be some variant on, "a fucking idiot," or "a social retard." See what I mean?

Let's take a step back. While that concept may be a familiar one to a lot of people, I'm not all that comfortable with the positive, happy side of life. I'm trying to come to terms with the possibility that life is a good thing. And so I have to make an effort to learn a lot of lessons that other people have given to them in childhood.

And this is another facet of the same problem. There's a temptation here to present myself as a victim when I make those kinds of statements. When I grew up, the people around me who were able to claim victim status seemed to get a hell of a lot more out of the people around them then I did. I see victimhood as a source of power.

When I look at the bio section to the right of this, the statement in the blog title above, I can see how deeply this is ingrained in me. The message I'm putting out here is, "I'm damaged goods and deserve extra care on that basis."

That doesn't do me any good. I'm trying to put myself out in the world and marketing myself as an object of pity is a one-way ticket to loserville.

One of my old friends from high school contacted me a couple of days ago. It was great to hear from him but I felt a sense of anxiety about how to tell him about my current position in the world. Was I a hardworking Joe who had a streak of bad luck? Was I a parasitic loser?

When the missus asked me what was wrong and I explained my worries to her she got angry.

"You aren't either of those. I wouldn't be with you if you were."

There is something about the idea of being a success, of feeling pride in myself and my work, that scares me. I'm not an ordinary person -- I have gifts and deficits that keep me from being able to even consider passing for normal. But I need to work past the feelings of shame and superiority that are engendered by these things. Right now my sense of self is a bubble blown from a pipe -- it's big and shiny and it swells and swells and swells...

... and then it bursts.

I need to develop a set of good feelings toward myself that aren't grand and flimsy. And one way of moving toward that end is to present myself to the world in a less sweaty and desperate light. Rather than saying, "For the love of god, take pity on this hapless soul, this tormented genius," to say "Here I am, and I've got something to offer." And then to prove it.

It's the old fake-it-til-you-make-it principle. I mean, I'm always going to be a seething mass of neurosis, but I can modify this. I can be more healthy. And the next step is to stop making an effort to burden myself with false humility and genuine shame.

Wish me luck. I'm gonna need it. (Shit! There I go again! Do it right , oafboy.)

It's about time I allowed myself a little pride. It won't be easy but it'll be worth it.

(Not perfect -- but better. Give it an 'E' for effort. One step at a time, oafboy. One step at a time.)


Glendon Mellow said...

Excellent as usual.

Sean, your confidence should stem from your ability to practice and succeed in many art styles, your willingness to engage in meaningful conversation, and your caustic wit.

For all I know you are also a whiz at making creme brulee and mountain-climbing, but what I know is enough.

Just go ahead and rock it already.

Sean Craven said...

Thank you, Glendon. Your kind words mean a lot to me and I'm gonna try and take them to heart.

It's been really exciting to find out that there are times and places where I can feel at home and make a contribution. The acceptance I've found on the web has been a big part of this.

The way I look at it is that it may not be easy being a late bloomer -- but it makes for a good story arc.

Anonymous said...

Better self-deprecating than self-loathing... or self-centered... or definitely than self-righteous

"A wonderous place the world would be if only everyone were more like me..."

Face it dude, you ain't half bad, and you might even be half great.

Much love, Oaf Boy.

- Screams at Fish

Sean Craven said...

Hey, folks, Screams At Fish and me ran in the same pack back in our teen years.

We walked the streets of Richmond like mean kings. There's probably a tale or two in circulation to this day.

Good to hear from you, man.

Peter Bond said...

This is a telling post, Sean. A good one. One that open up to who you are and let's us get to know you more. I appreciated it!

And as Glendon and Screams at Fish state, you don't need to be self-depreciating cause we see here that you are a talented writer and artist! I know so too! Keep going...

Sean Craven said...

Thanks, Peter. It's always nice to see a new name in the comments section.

And praise rarely hurts my feelings. I appreciate it. It's not so much that I need to verbally abuse myself; it's... Well, a lot of it is a sort of primitive superstitious feeling that my hubris could offend the spirits and bring bad luck.

I identify as an atheist; intellectually analyzed I'm closer to an agnostic...

... but what I really am is a heathen.