I have ADD. Or, more up-to-the-current terminology, I have ADHD, Inattentive Type, commonly known as Adult ADD. The reason I bring this up is this: I have been doing a lot of thinking lately about the generalization of being an artist, or the artistic temperament. I have suffered all my life from the same sort of things that the “typical” artistic type struggles with: inattentiveness, boredom, hyperfocus, zoning out, intensity, lack of social skills, touchiness, being misunderstood, being “weird,” being admired, lack of organization, forgetfulness… And I’ve been wondering. There’s a point where we are humans and this is the human condition. There are other points–points where you take a group of people and you lump them together–where a label can help you identify and cope and understand. Is this one of those times?
There are other things I wonder about this group of people that we consider the typical artists. Is it necessary to suffer for art? (Because I have had–for a middle class American–my fair share of pain and loss, especially as a child.) And are we a selfish group of people? (Because I definitely feel selfish, and more to the point, feel that I am going to have to get more selfish in order to pursue my art to the degree that I might become successful.)
When I was a kid, I loved The Babysitter’s Club. It was like pre-teen book candy. I have this odd fixation on one scene from all 60+ books I read from the series: I loved Claudia the best, and she was the artistic type. Her mother, well, she was a real, live, grown-up artist. And during one scene the mom rushes out of the house for some odd appointment or another and Claudia reaches out to help her since she has on two different earrings and is wearing a rubberband around her wrist. Oh, crazy artists! How wind-blown, how eccentric!
The truth is, my family would argue adamantly that the artistic disposition is alive and well in my life. My only surviving biological sibling is the level-headed type. She has none of the above symptoms/issues that I mentioned. A common phrase around our family, in reference to me and me alone: “She’d lose her head if it wasn’t attached.” (That, and “Please stop taking photos of your feet.”) Ha. Ha.
The truth is, growing up in a family that did not all suffer from ADHD, I was taught very specific coping mechanisms that even to this day do not really “fit” me, but they make my life so very functional. At least most of the time. It took me years of practice to learn to organize the world around me so that my brain, which can never be organized, could relax a little. It also took me (even more) years to learn to keep a calendar of some sort. Yes, sometimes I forget it, but for the most part it is a daily habit to write everything (and I mean everything) down. My desire to keep friends in high school led me to teach myself very deliberately to become a better listener (as in, lean into people, look at their faces, nod, wrestle your own budding thoughts down and out of the way). Lately, my husband-the-nursing-student has realized the little things I do all the time to keep me functioning, like when I am trying to focus (on a lesson, on this blog), I constantly jot notes off to the side and force my mind to let go of those things to deal with them later.
I also strive not to be selfish. But it is so hard when I am fixated on writing and reading (and whatever thing happens to be right in front of me) and becoming an author.
The current trend in understanding ADHD is embracing the positives of this category of people. Sure, our brains may be disorganized and unfocused, but they also tend to be creative, energetic, quick, good in crisis, adventurous, and our ability to hyper-focus has led to great discoveries and accomplishments. I’m hoping mine will. Personally, I am happy that I can brainstorm my way through just about any problem, am able to picture just about anything and intuit what I can’t, and clip through any hands-on project you can throw at me, always setting the trend in a room full of crafters or temporary artists.
The truth is, I do find it helpful to jump on a band wagon every now and again, because in a group with common obstacles you’re likely to find some solutions, too. And let’s not underestimate the need to feel included and identified with (despite the fact that I am very strongly an INFJ and I thrive on uniqueness). Do you have to be any of these things to be an artist? Of course not. Not a single one. But do these things often exist in the perfect storm inside the artistically-bent? I think so. And so be it. I love being an artist and I accept what I have to deal with because it continues to make me who I am and will be what raises my children, loves my husband for the next 50 years, and writes the great American novel.
And now to return to the notes I have jotted off to the side.