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Yeats never cried over handpoke artists

By: Kat Mulligan

Photo Credits: Pinterest


Wearing the night like a hood, I sit stale and muttering in a fluorescently lit metro car. I do my best to avoid strangers’ gazes as the track streams with regrettable sluggishness towards my neighborhood. But with the anonymity of the hour, I am nonetheless free to don any sour expression I may choose. The metro slides into home base, I exit the station with alarming briskness, and the shadow-tinged streets pick at my bitterness until all that remains is its disconsolate skeleton. Onto the church steeple and sidewalk cracks, I project the evening’s misfortune—I have been abandoned, or rejected, or belittled, and this midnight affords me no pity. A melancholic caricature, I stare through sore eyes at the moon and, attempting courage, whisper to myself, “What do I care? I am a fine poet.” Just like that, on the wings of my verse, I fly above the petty drama of my life as a twenty-one-year-old university student—but this is no release like that of tears cried out in earnest. The ache persists, but is painted over with fragile vanity.

Years ago, before my identity had reconstructed itself out of my poetic habits, I turned to so-called logic and willpower to comfort myself in moments of disappointment. One morning while I was living in the Netherlands, the dress-shirt-and-sweater-clad boy of the hour, in whom I had hastily invested my every romantic fantasy, informed me that he would not be visiting my city the next day due to personal circumstances. After ten minutes of sobbing, I composed myself and drilled these words into my head: “Logically, it would not make sense between us. He lives in another city, and in any case, I decided last month that I had had my fill of yearning.” Pinpointing my current emotional state and my desired emotional state, I would hammer in affirmations in order to will myself towards my goal of mental peace. Despite preaching the beauty of the human condition like any high school writer, I found my negative emotions nonsensical and cumbersome. I resisted feeling them to their end, and dreamed of living in control of myself, never projecting unfairly onto others or inflicting undue harm upon myself.

As I have grown into myself and dedicated myself to my interests, my quest for self-control has taken another form. Having concluded at some point that the true meaning of my life lay in my writing and curiosity, I have begun to use this newfound purpose as a bandage for the wounds brought upon me by the more “vulgar” side of my existence, the side which I normally rejoice in so long as it treats me well and offers itself up to poetic interpretation. For example, I’ll sometimes leave a party sick with insecurity about my shoddy small talk, until I remind myself, “You have written three plays, you are going to write more plays, and no one can take away your right to write plays.” I am soothed by what I imagine to be my life’s work, the accomplishments I will die with which can be enumerated and immortalized on paper, and these fleeting blues suddenly appear less imposing as a result. Once again, I deny myself feeling, and tell my roommate when he asks how I deal, “Now that I read books, these things just roll off my back.”

Other times, afflicted by what I would consider a particularly embarrassing and unbecoming misfortune, I seek solace in the titans of the art world. I ask myself if Yeats wrote his love poems about people who, beneath their charm and fantasy, didn’t know what cardinal directions were—the answer is no. His poetry oozed with yearning for the very capable and unattainable Maud Gonne. Surely, then, this lamenting of mine is beneath me, I tell myself. What I fail to remember, however, is that even our long-gone idols lived unromantically from day to day. We see in our life’s breadth, by virtue of it being immediate and our own, every prosaic and unfulfilling moment, and the era in which we live is marked by that same breadth. It is not merely cell phones and corporate architecture that make our life bleak; it is our infinitely dimensional familiarity with life. Romance hides out in privileged moments—it has never constituted the atmosphere, not even back then. And in any case, Yeats was a fascist in need of a muse, which often begins, if not endures, as a hollow archetype propped up by creative self-interest. He, too, embarrassed himself time and time again with his undying affection for Gonne. I could write a poem just as beautiful about a DJ with anger issues, and historians would call it tragic love—and writing it would grant me the catharsis I so often deprive myself of. Comparing myself to esteemed artistic figures from the past is yet another escape from my emotions.

Regardless of the sustainability (rather, the lack thereof) of my technique, it has proven momentarily effective enough to rule over my psyche. If offended by someone who doesn’t write poetry, I take to the streets, contemplate my situation, then, before turning into my apartment, remind myself of the poetry that I write and that brings me joy and fulfillment—and just like that, I am part of a grander, nobler scheme. This flimsy (and undeniably vain) remedy does not, however, account for those who match or outshine me in my areas of interest. I learned my lesson a year and a half ago, when I dated someone a few years older whom I admired so much as a thinker and creator that I interpreted his approval or disapproval of me as an appraisal of my artistic worth. When he ended our relationship before it ever really took off, it felt as though an implicit reminder that I was not as interesting as I needed to be to match wits with someone truly accomplished (although maybe this speaks to some fear of mediocrity or competitive energy instead). He had dealt a blow to my artistic self-esteem, and, obviously still moored in my ways, my only relief was to somewhat comically produce a list of my best attributes, my accomplishments, and the most story-worthy moments in my life, in the hopes of discovering an equality between us that I had initially overlooked.

At this point, I am much more secure in myself as an arts enjoyer and creator. This has not, however, immunized me against sadness or rivalry. The tricky thing is that, no matter how much I try to override my emotions, I cannot squash my vulnerability; I can only redistribute it. I have triumphed over last year’s turmoil, but as long as I assign importance to the creative domain, I am bound to stand in the line of fire of other people’s successes. When my best friend at the time, whom I lovingly considered my rival, began dating that admirable thinker and creator, my sensitivities converged at the tenderest point imaginable. I had fallen short of the mark, while she had fallen into favor with him. By allowing peace of mind only as a reward for my competencies, I brought this jealousy upon myself.

Art, in any case, is too unstable to place one’s bets on. Artistic self-esteem fluctuates like the tides, for it does not content itself with the cumulation of past achievements. Art is only slightly less digestible than food, disappearing into the abstract once the dopamine has been squeezed from it. Your current artistic output often takes precedence over your past—the former, if accused of not being up to par, enviously interrogates the latter. To decline, even to stagnate, seems like certain death to the creative mind. The protection that my “Whatever, I read Yesenin” habit affords me depends on my satisfaction with my artistic or intellectual side at any given moment. Negative thoughts cannot be warded off if they emanate from the shield I use to do so.

What solution do I propose then? If I had a concrete answer, this essay would not exist. What I can only hope to convince myself of, is that no manmade thought pattern can usurp the hardwired emotional system that we all possess. Whether we like it or not, we must feel until we reach the bottom of feeling. It is this very lack of a shinier incentive that drove me towards my maladaptive habit, though. If nothing else, I might remind myself that we learn lessons from adversity, and that the substance of what made my creative idols memorable in the first place lay in their struggle with their own and others’ turbulent humanity. Art is compensation for being cut deep, not a preventative measure.


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