Curly and I were talking yesterday about some of the people we went to college with who are doing extremely well in creative careers. This was a group of arty/boho/hipster types who are still that way, and hang out in a group entirely comprised of such types.
“I guess it pays to be a cool person,” I observed.
Curly agreed. “It pays off to portray yourself as a cool person. I feel like we were just having fun and not posturing enough.”
I’m not so sure. For one, I didn’t just have fun in college. I was pretty serious academically, especially since I was finally studying things that came naturally to me and that I was deeply interested in. Then, I started writing for a newspaper, which is another thing that I’m surprised to realise. I always thought I never worked when I was in college like kids in the West do, but actually I did. When I graduated I had a whole file of press clippings and I had got paid. And in my second and third year of BA, I was involved in the college festival and the literature journal and helping out as department assistant (a shit job I should never have put my hand up for) to the extent that I had a mini breakdown just after because I had taken on another freelance writing job as well (and also a close friend died which added to it). So yeah, I was not just having fun.
But the difference was that I didn’t know who I was. I hadn’t cottoned on to an identity and run with it. Curly’s and my point is that what differentiated this group from the many creative people around was that they not only were creative and intelligent but they dressed the part, flaunted their cool interest (like obsession with Tolkein) and talked intensely about their stuff they thought was cool. They were also visibly bored in class when they didn’t think the teacher was sufficiently interesting, and this I find plain rude.
Even if I had decided I wanted to be a creative type, which I probably knew all along, I couldn’t have played the part as unironically as the arty kids did. I just find that kind of intensity a bit weird. I always feel the need to be counter-counter-culture. I just cannot take myself that seriously.
“But why are we like that?” Curly questioned. I don’t know. I have a devil’s advocate in me, I guess, and so do many of my friends. A lot of us play The Flake to different degrees. I’ve been playing The Flake less and less and embracing my inner Miss Serious and Intense (which according to Curly is not that inner) but I don’t want to lose The Flake entirely. I think having Bridget Jones’s diary side by side on my bookshelf with Mrs Dalloway is a good thing. It’s my thing anyway.
I also believe in apprenticeship. I want to learn the trade before wearing the uniform. I had been writing professionally as a journalist since I was 17 but I refused to call myself a writer until much later, when my work had been evaluated from someone other than myself and been deemed worthy and when I felt I had enough experience and skills to take on the mantle. I have turned down boots that seemed too big for me to fill. I know a guy from the same group who was offered a column a year into his first job. I don’t know if I’d have the strength to turn down a column – it’s part of the idiocy of journalism in India that these things happen. But I wondered at how cocky he was, like it was totally his due to be doing that so early in life. I’ve also known another guy who was much more deserving who was promoted quickly, and remained humble throughout. But overall, I think the first guy is doing better career-wise. Maybe there’s a moral in there for us about being less humble if we want to succeed.
That’s the other thing though – I’m not that interested in success. If it means I have to posture excessively – I’ve learnt to do a bit of it – I can’t be bothered. I would love to be acknowledged as a creative genius, but I don’t want to compromise on the slow plod onwards.
These people defined their dream early and did what it took to get there, including cultivating their personality appropriately. Which is great for them, but I’m not envious, though just a little dubious. I still have a bit of skepticism about people who project the brooding intellectual vibe but nothing stunningly original ever comes out of their mouth. Or maybe they save those pearls for their friends.
Which is another curious thing – how that group is entirely peopled by creative types. If you’re not sufficiently creative do they reject you? Or you can join and then you become creative by osmosis?
Even in friendship, I was unable to commit to a single cause. My own friends are quite diverse. Only now with one leg into a PhD can I say that I have a fair distribution of academic and non-academic friends. And even though I’ve decided to embrace Ms Serious, I know I will not wholly fit into academia – for one, I have a whole other identity that’s tied into my kids and a latent ambition to be picked to read a story to my son’s kindergarten class during circle time. I also have an interest in fashion and a propensity to wear little dresses in bright colours paired with diamonds. I don’t know if I can entirely be a kurta-jhola type or the Hong Kong version of it. So yeah. I have these alter egos and for now at least I’m keeping them.