Sunday, April 23, 2017

Obsession or Creativity

I was in a restaurant eating lunch when I happened to re-check (for the 50th time) the website for my upcoming project (which launches publicly next week). I noticed a minor error. And while I didn't sputter or stress over it, I did feel a very strong impulse to abandon my meal, run home, and fix it.

Of course, I did no such thing. But a daemon, had been created, and would not easily relent. I was gripped by a powerful urge.

Again, this was only a very small issue. So my behavior might seem "obsessive". But labeling it that way would show a poor understanding of the creative process. It's taken me over five decades to understand that this sort of thing isn't neurosis. It's a feature, not a bug!

"Obsession" is the unhealthful and unhelpful application of deep attention to random, trivial, or even self-destructive tasks. It's the neurotic misappropriation of a perfectly admirable faculty. When, by contrast, a mother checks in on her baby just one last time before going to bed, we wouldn't call her obsessive. We'd recognize her to be elevating to her best self; showering her loving care and attention. Though the baby would be fine without the extra check, few of us would sneeringly deem the mother "obsessive". She's being a good parent!

Creativity is being a good parent, too!

OCD happens when creative people deny themselves a creative outlet (or have never stumbled upon an apt one). Their impulse to deeply care and commit becomes overwhelming, so they latch on to any (or every) random stupid thing. It's a perversion of the creative process, but it's a far worse perversion to use the language of dysfunction to describe someone engaged in genuine creative activity.

Your neighbor who stays up all night counting his rice grains is certainly "obsessive", but a Beethoven, wearing a diaper to ensure unbroken concentration while composing his symphonies, would be a very different case. An artist isn't a more functional obsessive; obsessives are malfunctioning artists. The behavior itself is only as detrimental as its application! (examples)

OCD is not the only mental health scourge that arises when creative impulses are misapplied to pedestrian or negative ends. Consider depression.

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