a priori/a posteriori

Thursday, January 19, 2012

An Artist

There are so many words.

Even if you don’t count “dog” and “dogs” as different words, there are about a quarter-million different words in the English language, at least.

The world is becoming more and more connected. Because of this, unique languages are dying or merging together. But as of right now, there are roughly 6000 different languages, throughout the world.

Some of those languages probably aren’t as annoying as English. But for fun, let’s say each language has the same as English - a quarter-million words.

250,000 x 6,000 = 1,500,000,000

Right. So about 1.5 BILLION words in the world, give or take a few.

When you look at it like that, it’s tough to really care that much about any single word. Should I really waste 2 hours writing a blog about the word “artist” when there’s still one-billion,-four-hundred-ninety-nine-million,-nine-hundred-ninety-nine-thousand,-nine-hundred-ninety-nine words left after that?

I don’t think anyone had ever written out that number before. Damn it. We’re up to 15-billion-and-1.

Language is so damn annoying! I wanted to finally get into my point by saying “Comics often disagree over whether we should even call ourselves ‘artists.’” But then in my head, I said “Hmm...should I say ‘comics’ or ‘comedians?’”

I think language’s heart is in the right place. Language wants to clarify things. But a lot of the time, it just ends up getting the way.

A story:

When my older brother and I were kids, we used to go to the creek by our house, and we’d try to catch crayfish. Preston would actually catch them, and I would always pretend I wanted to, but I never would, because I was afraid of getting pinched.

Catching crayfish was a blast - during a warm summer day, they’d just chill out, nestled safely under a rock. So if we found a decent-sized rock, odds were, there was a crayfish under it! The gameplan was simple: you pull up the rock, they freak out, and then the chase is on.

We haven’t done this for 20 years, but I still remember the process. And what always impressed me was how well Preston slid his hand through the water. And how precisely he was able to lift the rocks at the bottom of the creek, six inches below the surface, without disrupting everything around it.

That was the trick to catching crayfish. Before you put your hand in the water, you could see everything, crystal clear. It looked like the water was just thicker air. But then as soon as you moved that rock, all hell broke loose. The movement jostles the dirt and the dust around the rock, and in a split-second, it’s everywhere, and you can’t see a thing. The water’s murky, and muddy, and it holds that way. It takes about 30 seconds for the water to even start to trust you again. And by then, the crayfish is long gone.

That’s language. We want the rock out of the way, but we don’t realize how much that will complicate everything around it. We want to use words to explain how we feel. But most of the time, we’d be better off looking someone in the eyes, and trusting they’re going to understand. We worry they won’t, so we move the rock. And our water gets muddy.

I consider myself an artist. Not in the sense that the term makes me special, but in the sense that...well, it’s a word. So it has to mean something.

You can look at the technical definitions here. But the technical meanings of words don’t always mean much in our daily lives. There is a very simple, technical definition for the term racist, but the odds are we all have a pretty personal opinion of what makes someone a “racist” and what doesn’t.

So at the end of the day, we all kind of make up our own, personal language. My “Brysenglish” is pretty similar to English, but I make edits as I go, and that Merriam Webster guy can kiss my ass, thank-you-very-much.

So if anyone disagrees and says I’m not an artist? Then I’m not! In your language, I’m not. And that’s cool with me.

But in my language, I am. Because this is how I define the word “artist” :

As living things, we have compulsions. As in, things that our bodies, and our “hearts,” tell us to do. Even if it doesn’t make sense, logically, we still feel compelled to do things. We feel pulled to do them. We aren’t sure why, and we aren’t sure where the feeling comes from. But we know we feel it.

We are constantly compelled to do something - at all times, always. Some of our compulsions make sense - like eating food. Everyone is pushing me in that direction anyway, so it doesn’t feel like I’m compelled to do that. But I am. There are other compulsions that I have that aren’t nearly as universal. Last night, at an open-mic, I told a story about when I was in middle-school, and I was masturbating (which was a practically constant pastime there, for a while), and I tried having a rape fantasy where I was raping a fellow male student.

Over the next few weeks, months, or maybe years, I’ll find a way to make that funny. Or maybe I won’t. I don’t know. But what I do know is that I felt compelled to acknowledge that. The voice inside me was saying to trust it - that for some reason, doing what felt right, was right. Even if every voice outside of me says that I shouldn’t. What good can come of me admitting that in a public forum?

Honestly? Lots of good, probably. Maybe some men don’t feel as ashamed of a similar thought, and so they don’t feel a need to be as hateful toward openly gay men in order to make up for their shame. Maybe me putting myself out there makes a woman feel less ashamed about a rape fantasy she’s had, and then she feels a little less ashamed if she ever does get raped, and a little more likely to report it.

I don’t know. Maybe there will be nothing but negative repercussions. Certainly, more likely, there will be short-term negatives that come from this blog post. I don’t exist on an island - my friends read these posts. So does my cousin, who looks up to me. My mom reads all these, for God’s sake. I’m not thrilled for the moment when she scrolls down and thinks “Well, that explains why he showered before and after school every day.”

And yet, last night, I felt compelled to be honest onstage. My existence was pulling me to be fully honest. And so I gave up the fight. And I give up the fight as I write this.

An artist is someone (or something) who spends their whole life fighting to stop fighting their compulsions. At times we fail, and at times we succeed. But we spend our whole lives fighting - to not fight. You are a perfect artist in the moment that you are fully yourself.

I consider myself an artist. If I don’t, who will?

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