Inspiring Enchantment & Illumination with Tarot & Intuitive Guidance

False Virtue

The more original your idea is, the less good advice other people will be able to give you.
– Hugh MacLeod, from Ignore Everybody: and 39 Other Keys to Creativity

What do we do when the pottery class we want to take is at the exact same time as the Little League practice we’re expected to attend? When there is a writers’ retreat at the beach, but spouses are not included? When we have to choose between a new lens for our camera or a new couch for the family room?

These are some examples of the conflicts that Julia describes as The Virtue Trap. Even if we are already seeing some creative output, to what extent has it become the safe, easy stuff, that doesn’t challenge the needs and demands of our families or day job?

For instance, we can crank out those necklaces with our eyes closed and without disrupting the family routine. We placate ourselves, remembering the thrill they once brought us in the early days, and telling ourselves that this proves we haven’t sold out on our artistic dreams.

But what we really long for is to set up a studio with a blowtorch and glass rods to make our own lampwork beads. What we secretly desire is to disappear into our work for hours and hours at a time, challenging ourselves, pushing our skills to the next level. But how can we do that, and still be constantly available, the rock everyone leans on, the good parent/worker/friend?

Maybe we can’t. At least not in the ways we have been.

Does the kid really need a new, upgraded iPod? We could spend that money for a new pottery wheel, a loom, or one of those new sewing machines with the embroidering gizmo. But what kind of mommy or daddy would do that? Wouldn’t that be immature and selfish of us?

Julia warns, “Many recovering creatives sabotage themselves most frequently by making nice. There is a tremendous cost to such ersatz virtue.

“Many of us have made a virtue out of deprivation. We have embraced a long-suffering artistic anorexia as a martyr’s cross…

“We strive to be good, to be nice, to be helpful, to be unselfish. We want to be generous, of service, of the world. But what we really want is to be left alone. When we can’t get others to leave us alone, we eventually abandon ourselves. To others, we may look like we’re there. We may act like we’re there. But our true self has gone to ground.

“What’s left is a shell of our whole self. It stays because it is caught. Like a listless circus animal prodded into performing, it does its tricks. It goes through its routine. It earns its applause. But all of the hoopla falls on deaf ears. We are dead to it. Our artist is not merely out of sorts. Our artist has checked out. Our life is now an out-of-body experience. We’re gone…”

She goes on to declare this a deeply self-destructive act. Okay, honestly, I think she goes on to rant for several pages about this. Maybe it’s a bit much. But the question of what self-destructive means, especially to creatives, is a fair one, and one that we’ll explore tomorrow.

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  • June 17, 2009, 3:50 pm Star

    It is challenging to find a balance, when what I really want is to be left alone much of the time but come out to play with others when I am ready. There has to be some threads that continue to connect me to others while also maintaining boundaries and space for my own blossoming. A dilemma….

    Star*

  • June 17, 2009, 5:34 pm Thalia

    What do we do when the pottery class we want to take is at the exact same time as the Little League practice we’re expected to attend? When there is a writers’ retreat at the beach, but spouses are not included? When we have to choose between a new lens for our camera or a new couch for the family room?

    Those all strike me as having fairly easy answers. 1) The husband can take off work early and take the kid to little league; 2) Leave the husband home; and 3) new lens. There. Done!

    Though I am really more than half serious about those, I realize in practice it's not that simple. But what is striking me here is how these problems are primarily women's problems. In that, women are expected to be the ones who do the sacrificing, the ones who are supposed to bend their needs around their families. Of course you didn't include all of her 'ranting' on the subject, but does she connect it to gender inequality at all? Because I think the problem is bigger than just being something artists have to deal with (though I'm not saying it isn't) but that it's something that women artists will find falling on them disproportionately.

    So I suppose I'd recommend feminism. 🙂

  • June 18, 2009, 7:57 am Beth Owl's Daughter

    Thalia.. I agree with you that it is especially challenging for women who are trying to be taken seriously as artists. But no, I don't get the sense that her ranting on this topic is about gender bias.

    Because she had already taught TAW as a workshop for a long time before writing the book, this may be a danger point, where she really has seen a lot of people falter and even backslide. Or it may be her own issues really coming up.

    In any case, her three or four pages of examples are pretty even between men and women. Her tone, especially the parts about about self-destruction, just seems so intense, it almost rings a little untrue..

    I'll be sharing more about it in today's post!
    – Beth