Monday, April 23, 2012

A Cohort, Not A Competition

There's a type kind of music video that gets made sometimes, when folks don't have a lot of money, but they do have some really good-looking friends and maybe a cute baby to bounce on their knee. Everyone goes to the beach and gets silly and they shoot it on an iPhone, and the whole thing costs about a hundred dollars. These kinds of videos are often made by really tight guy friends who grew up being mind-blowingly cool and not aware of their coolness in any way.

These dudes seem to band together because they're all reasonably good-looking, and have weird, marketable-in-grade-school talents (drawing comic strips, constructing forts, or not looking stupid in sweatpants), and they have laissez-faire parents who will both give them video cameras and then throw them outside to play. The alchemy of all these things together creates hot artists who have no skills at all when it comes to girls.

Obviously, these dudes are hot commodities, so girls either get up on them, or they figure out that saying "hi" at house parties will likely lead to some heavy petting. But their primary and fundamental way of being isn't stereotypical artists' loneliness - it's surrounded by other creative dude types.

I, obviously and for a number of reasons, have not had this experience.

I wasn't ever really confident enough to let my freak flag fly at full-mast: I was the kind of weirdo who created elaborate stories about the fairies who lived in the front garden, and would spend hours acting out dialogue for all my imaginary playmates. This was helpful for my development as a writer, but it was cyanide for my social life.

Does creativity thrive in a vacuum? That group of guys churned out musicians, writers, and illustrators; on the other hand, they might be flukey freaks of nature who would've done fine even if they hadn't had each other to laugh at their silly cartoons and listen to their first attempts at the looping pedal. But part of the process of becoming an artist is growing your confidence: it took me until my late 20s to figure out I was supposed to do this. They put that issue to bed in elementary school. Their friendship probably helped.

There are plenty of famous creative male friendships. Think Gaugin and van Gogh. Think Hemingway and Dos Passos. Think Scorsese, Lucas, Coppola and Spielberg. These guys drank together, womanized together, and competed with each other for firsts and bests. They formed uniquely creative brotherhoods that left a lasting legacy on the arts community, one that isn't matched by a corollary sorority. Prominent girl-groups, like the Brontes, tend to be lumped together because of bloodlines, not because those ladies hung out and went shooting together. And they're far outnumbered by solitary female artists, like Sylvia Plath or Virginia Woolf, who loom large in the artistic unconscious.

These days, I feel strange reaching out to fellow creative types. I rely on those who have come before me: I grill them on writing best practice and business questions, but we don't often get together and jam, just to have fun. Did I miss something? I still have loads of fun doing my thing, but I wish I had the kind of experience those music-video-making guys had. I crave a cohort, not competition.

Part of the thrill of freelance writing is that you get to be first, and best, at what you do. You need to be tough, and independent, and cultivate your brand. I know it's naive of me to yearn for collaboration - the writerly equivalent of homemade beach videos with friends - but that doesn't make the feeling go away. I want a room of one's own, sure - but I want it full of compadres.