High highs, low lows

I'm a flaky, creative type. Should I be with someone like me or someone more stable?

By Cary Tennis
Published July 17, 2003 7:06PM (EDT)

Dear Cary,

I am in my 20s, gainfully employed, and until a month ago in a six-year relationship with a woman. I met another woman recently I immediately fell for but have now become good friends with. In this process of falling in and out of a crush I realized what attracted me to this person was the same thing that attracted me to my ex-girlfriend and what was lacking in my soon-to-be-over relationship.

I am a flaky creative type and when I am around people like me I feel like I'm capable of just about anything and this was how I began to feel after making this new friend. It dawned on me that I hadn't felt this way the whole time I was in my last relationship and thus should've ended it a long time ago. Fortunately my ex-girlfriend took the news better than I thought she would and we still share an apartment and are both enjoying our freedom. She has even offered to take me back when I come to my senses.

I feel like the me I knew years ago, but lately I have started to see the darker side of being a flaky creative type again. While the highs are really quite high, the lows are very low. When I'm not doing painting, writing, playing music, etc., I am drinking more than I should and in a generally foul mood. My last relationship was very safe and middle ground and at times a bit boring, but I always felt I could be alone and not break down. I feel that I am at a crossroads -- do I find another flake like me, do I go back to a "safe" relationship, or do I just become a crazy old hermit?

Flaky P. Creative

Dear Flaky,

It does sound like you're at a crossroads. But if you're a creative type, you should probably start pricing houses there. If you're a creative type, the crossroads is where you live.

Regular folks just drive on through the crossroads. They're going somewhere smart and important. Creative types stop in the middle of the intersection and say, gee, check it out, there's a lot of energy here! The crossroads is where Robert Johnson met the devil, after all. So get yourself a lawn chair and put it on the traffic island. You're going to be there a while.

The ability to live at the crossroads is the key to creative endeavor. I know you were only speaking metaphorically, and that you really want to solve your romantic entanglements. Still, what I'm saying is that you don't necessarily have to solve your entanglements; you just have to learn to be who you are, do what you do, and live through it with calm and focused integrity. You get what I'm saying? The reason you want to do that is because what's really important is for you to be doing your painting and your music.

It troubles me, however, that you call yourself a flaky creative type, because it sounds like you're selling yourself short. It's possible you're just flaky, but if you were just flaky, I don't think you'd call yourself a flaky creative type. I think you'd probably just shut up and drink. I think you may be genuinely creative but ashamed of your inability to manage your affairs the way normal people do. If so, you don't need to apologize. But you do need to accept your talents and your limitations. You need to design your life accordingly. And you need to get to work.

On that note: Do you need to surround yourself with wildly creative people whose excited chatter fills you with a sense of endless possibility? No, you don't. Is it a good idea for your mate to be just as wild-eyed as you are? No, it's not. Don't fritter away your creativity in witty conversation. You need to find that sense of endless possibility in your work itself. I know what you're talking about, that sense that with similarly imaginative people you feel you can soar. But all that soaring doesn't get you anywhere. You land with empty pockets, just like you started with. If you're a creative person, the only thing that gets you anywhere is the work. And to do the work you need a stable but stimulating environment. That's why you live at the crossroads.

You don't say much about your own feelings in all this. Again, if you're a creative type, perhaps your focus is on finding some order in the sounds and shapes that appear spontaneously in your mind. So you might be a little retarded in the area of human relationships, particularly relationships with women. If your girlfriend loves you and understands you and is willing to take you back, it might be the best thing for you. Creative, sensitive but emotionally unsophisticated men get hurt easily in relationships; it's sometimes better to settle down with someone you love, even if she doesn't always make your head spin. Otherwise, you spend so much precious time just trying to get comfortable emotionally that the rest of your life suffers, and you never get around to doing the work. And the work is what's important. You have to dedicate yourself to the work. That will keep you sane.

You label yourself flaky and creative, and society lets you off the hook a little. You're not expected to dress in a suit and tie and show up 9 to 5. But in return, you have to produce. In producing, you not only keep your half of the bargain with society, but you keep yourself from going mad.

So make a commitment. Choose an artistic path and stay on it. That's the best chance you have for happiness. Choose a relationship that works for you -- don't expect it to give you ultimate happiness -- that's what your work is for. And if the devil greets you at the crossroads and offers to tune your guitar, tell him no thanks, you can tune it yourself.

Want more advice from Cary? Read the Since You Asked Directory

Cary Tennis

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