Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Friend or Foe?

"I'm selfish, impatient, and a little insecure. I make mistakes, I'm out of control, and at times hard to handle. But if you can't handle me at my worst, then you sure as hell don't deserve me at my best."
– Marilyn Monroe
When I emailed my last monthly newsletter, Studio Notes, which mentions my brief profile in Vogue Australia, most of the people who unsubscribed were either former friends and lovers or artists and musicians who were long-time acquaintances.
Over the last year I've received indignant emails from some of them, complaining about receiving my newsletters instead of personal emails from me. They tell me, huffily, that if I can't be bothered to write to them individually, they'd rather not hear from me at all. On the few occasions when I've caught up with them in person, their discomfort with my success – and the isolated life required to achieve it – is palpable.
I don't understand how anyone can be threatened by a friend's success. Why wouldn't anyone want good things for the people they care about?
Too often, in the past, my boyfriends were jealous of the time I spent painting. One even accused me of having affairs but he had only to visit my studio – something he avoided – to find me alone with a canvas. Another, who was also an artist, put down my work under the guise of 'helping' me. We collaborated on a painting, once. I'd been invited to participate in a group exhibition and I wanted to include him. After 'showing' me how to paint, he ended up covering everything I'd done with his own work, so it was really just his work - instead of ours. (Intriguingly, he still tells everyone who'll listen how much I 'owe' him).
I've never had a lot of female friends. I have less now. I stopped being in touch with one after a string of subtle put-downs about the nature of my recent work (like 'joking' that she hoped my family didn't see it). Another, an old friend from art school, attributed my success to my manic depression: according to her, the narrow focus and nervy hypermania gave me some kind of advantage. I was, at once, shocked and hurt: I am not my illness. Besides, hypermania might contribute to bouts of physical and imaginative energy but extreme mania and depression are debilitating and destructive and I fight both constantly. Even one of my oldest and best friends decided our paths were too different and we didn't have anything in common anymore.
Ironically, the one close female friend I do still have is married to a farmer and lives far away in rural northern New South Wales. They have two beautiful daughters. It has crossed my mind, more than once, that she is fine – and very supportive and caring – about my life and work because she is secure in her own.


Dion said...

Yeah, we're a petty species. I have never been able to figure out why people are threatened by the success of others. It's almost an Australian trait; with the tall poppies.

I love hearing about the success of others, and even more so when its a friend.

Hazel, it doesnt sound like you have lost much by losing these "friends". Life is too short to be hanging around small people.

Anonymous said...

Haze ever lovely and ever so fond in my thoughts! I can't imagine why people who know you would put u down for your success, it's a shame is all i can say, for them! I never tire of your work, glad of the changes in styles, and I'm always right there with you honey, in the wake of depression there is resilience! Rock on! Make em weep! Kellie

drips of paint said...

ahh ha... your last sentence your final conclusion ... that is it ... said it all.

Explicit Academia said...

It always hurts me to hear how petty and small people are. I agree with Dion, life is too short to be dealing with such people, time is too precious.

I've found myself w/ few friends for the very reason that so many of them turned out to be fair-weather, but those that I have are near and dear to my heart, and I love them deeply--even if I don't see them or talk to them as often as I'd like.

I would also like to have more female friends, but only true friends.

Mike R said...

It's interesting that you should mention the manic-depression/talent thing. I think it's one of those artistic myths - the idea that some kind of mental health thing makes the artist a "tortured genius" who makes better work because of it.

My own experience is that my mental health issues often prevent me from painting rather than enhance the work. People love the romance of a Vincent Van Gogh figure who'd cut their own ear off, but the reality is nothing like that, of course.

I'd say the same goes for addictions to drugs - the idea that one is more creative when loaded is a complete crap, IMO - though thankfully that has not been part of my experience.

Heather K said...

Unfortunately, people think people who are successful get a big head, or ego, even if it's not true. When that happens, it has more to do with the projections of those people than you. It's a fairly normal reaction that people have when someone gains popularity. They feel like they're not "good enough", even if it's never discussed or suggested by the person who's suddenly gaining some success or fame. Also, if you're suddenly too busy for them, then of course, they're going to feel left out of your life.

I can see why someone may be offended by being included in a "fan" newsletter, rather than a more personal message. They feel like you're putting them into a general category of followers or fans, instead of being cared for as the friend you've always treated & known them as. I have relatives who mail out a blanket Christmas letter. I don't feel offended. I am happy to read about their lives, and don't take offense to being included in a mass-mailing format. They're a busy family, which is detailed in the letters.

All this put aside, I also agree, if they can't handle the fact that you're being recognized for your talent, then let them go. You need supportive people, not people who tear you down out of their own insecurities.

Cindy said...

About the manic-depressive creative thing... I too have bipolar disorder. Notice I said "have a disorder" not "am bipolar". I agree strongly with you - I am not my disorder.

I spoke to a doctor once about Van Gogh. I asked, "Do you think Van Gogh still would have painted even if he wasn't ill?" The doctor said, "Yes but I think he would have painted differently."

I think this is key. The illness does effect us but it doesn't define us.