All posts by ross

Creative Insanity

I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about the types of things I would like to share with the world. Probably more accurately, I’ve squandered a lot of time worrying about what others might deem worth reading. Having a readership is important to me; and I loathe wasting other people’s time (irony?). I think I want to write something creative, but simultaneously practical. The practical part should [in theory] be easy, since I struggle with nearly everything in my life. I have to be aware and consciously intentional about what I do and how I approach problems and challenges, otherwise my brain will run far ahead of me and everything will occur on autopilot. Sloppily.

I try to read everything I can, in hopes to decode secrets others have learned (probably without knowing they’ve learned them, or that they are sharing them), or find the inspiration that will lead me to a new chapter of my life. One of my favorite people in history is a man named William Halsted. I was excited to see that HBO made a series loosely based on him, as he was quite a fascinating person. Halsted was an American surgeon born into the dawn of modern medicine, aseptic technique and anaesthesia. He was a witness to a major revolution of cancer treatment, but he was a surgeon. His modus operandi was physically removing illness from the body. There are gruesome tales of his patients with breast tumors, where simple removal of the tumor would not suffice and they would always return a year or two later; so Halsted cut deeper. He removed the breast, and the axillary lymph nodes. Now his patients would return after about five years of remission. Halsted went even deeper, removing pectoralis minor muscles that lie beneath pectoralis major. He’d remove everything down to the ribs, even amputate the arm and clavicle. This type of procedure became known as the “Halsted Radical”. His patients were transformed into grotesque experiments, and no matter how much the surgeon removed, they would invariably return with metastases and die. If only he could know that the cancer had spread before he ever had the chance to operate, he might’ve picked another battle to fight — though he did.

Apart from being a renowned surgeon and founder of Johns Hopkins (besides the radical mastectomies there were numerous successes of his career, clearly), Halsted was a drug addict. Many admired his ability to maintain focus for long periods of time, work tirelessly, and operate slowly, meticulously; to abandon the bloody slashing methods of his compatriots in the day. Halsted owed all of that to regular injections of cocaine. I think the reason I admire this man is because he was so skilled, so visionary, so radical and experimental and unshaken by consequences of failure that no one even seemed to notice that he was clutching desperately to a whisp of control, always teetering on the edge of insanity. Maybe it is the closeness of insanity that we mistake for brilliance. To have such a devotion that throwing your life away would seem trivial in the pursuit of its merits — what does that say about fulfillment? about purpose? Marc Maron said, “I personally have no respect for people who don’t have the courage to lose complete control of their lives for a few years.” I don’t know if courage is the most appropriate word there, but I certainly understand what he’s saying. Plus, it’s good for a chuckle.

Insanity isn’t always so blatant, and it clearly is not always productive. My insanity, aside from overthinking everything, is difficult to identify from the inside. Sometimes I think that if only I knew my destination, I would know in what direction to head. But other times I realize that having a destination at all foils my plans of getting there — at least in a creative sense. If I know what I want to create before I begin, the whole creative process is botched and the unexpected no longer has the same opportunity to arise. Creativity is always part discovery, and by choosing an afore-known goal the need for exploration has been abolished. Abandon objective.

One of these days I will stumble upon a problem that excites me. Something that keeps me up at night and sends me out into the world with unobscured purpose. [At least] until then, I feel the compulsion to share thoughts and pieces of my journey, hoping that someone may find it useful or even entertaining; that I may look back on my thoughts at some point and be able to see more clearly where this path is leading me. I have relied heavily, in places of many crossroads, on someone to stand where I stand and tell me which way to go, but I feel that changing. Less self-reflection, more action. I often ask myself, “what did I do today? Did I create, rather than consume? Do I have anything tangible to show for it?” If not, it’s okay. But creativity is important — probably to everyone. Creating is a way to discover things about myself and my world, draw thread between the two and bring them closer together, more intertwined, more interdependent. Without that I feel like a static component of a dynamic system. A cog with no purpose; that to turn would not effect any change.

My life’s purpose is to have purpose. I yearn for a vocation of implicit skills, to have a sense that I am maybe the best at what I do; to perform fluidly, with the unconscious execution of a practiced ball-player – to compile together the seemingly disparate activities from which I derive joy and accomplishment. For now, that constitutes a practice of articulating the jigsaw pieces of a calling until they fall into place of a larger mosaic. Through transparent expression and the community it fosters, through honing my instruments like a surgical knife, perhaps a domain can be illuminated and mastered.