To the "Idle Question" post yesterday, a lot of people answered that the photographer they would like to be is themselves. Which is entirely comprehensible and completely laudatory. It's a good answer and I don't quarrel with you if it was yours. (Although I was asking more about hero-worship than anything else—that's what I meant to convey with the bits about the Walter Mitty daydreams of rocks stars and sports glory. Personally, I would rather be Roger Federer than face Novak Djokovich in the finals at Wimbledon as an overweight 60-year-old with one bad knee and two bad shoulders. Get where I was trying to go?)
And while I'm a bit stymied by my own question, I know one thing: I'd like to be better.
Let me count the ways
...Better than myself, I mean. There are a number of facets to this idea. I'd like more talent. I do have talent, but perhaps I've been uniquely situated in my career to understand more deeply than most the limitations of the talent I have. It comes, I reckon, from trying for so hard for so long to analyze and understand the talents of others through their accomplishments.
But there are other ways.
I wish I'd had a better work ethic. Although maybe I'm being too hard on myself. I actually might not mind being as good as my best pictures, just more of the time. Maybe I should say that I wish my work had been more focused, more goal-oriented. I get distracted easily.
But no, really, I wish I had worked harder.
I wish I'd had more belief in myself. Self-effacement (pace poor "Thomas Rowley"), lack of self-belief, or low self esteem can be a formidable impediment for an artist. Perhaps for any person in any ambitious career...but I won't speculate on that. Confidence is essential, even if it is faked. Fear of success is a more common psychological disorder than is generally accepted. I got discouraged easily.
I wish I had embraced failure more enthusiastically. To carry around the dead embryos of ideas, cosseting them lovingly and protectively, is Miss Havisham-ish; better to boldly attempt the idea when it comes to you and let it fail if failure be its fate. Growth involves failing early and often. Learning how to deal with failure is more valuable than money.
And I wish I had been more myself. Truer to myself I mean, than as myself I was. Am I contradicting myself, here? Very well then I contradict myself. I wanted to be a writer when I was young, and one Winter when I lived on a remote farm deep in the hills of rural Vermont I set myself the task of writing 100 finished short stories. I made it past 50, almost to 60. But I was also drinking heavily and feeling very sorry for myself at the time (both for good reason, which doesn't make either one a good thing to do), and I got very drunk one night and, in some sort of demented Sorrows of Young Werther gesture, burned all my stories in the fireplace. (There were at least three of them that I wish I had back.)
Later I wrote two stories and one poem which unflinchingly drew on the darker and less savory recesses of my character, and you know what? That terrified me. They weren't even about me; the protagonist was clearly, cleanly fictional. Even so I hated what those stories implied about their author. So I did not have the courage to continue to mine that vein. I was aware even at the time that I had hit upon a key, and that I should have followed where those early discoveries might have led. Instead, I stopped writing stories. So, turns out my superego was possessed of a conventional finger-wagging middle-class morality, which makes me cringe to think it. Gad. A fragile ego is a wretched affliction.
And I wish I'd had stronger principles. Remind me to tell you my story about the evolution of my styles of portraiture someday.
Some day when taxes aren't due soon.
...But talent, mainly. I just wish I'd been someone with a little more of it, is all. Just someone who handles the camera better and sees pictures more easily.
So I don't know who I'd want to be. But I know I'd want to be somebody better.
I liked lots of other peoples' answers to my question better than this one. It was especially nice to be reminded of Sudek, via Nigli's "sick joke" (see the Featured Comment with the illustration in the "Idle Question" post). But this is what came up for me.
Even if you'd like to be yourself, wouldn't you like to be yourself but better? Just wondering. Maybe you're already as great as you can imagine yourself being. I don't know your work, note bene.
Okey-dokey, back to taxes. My fourth appointment with my tax guy is tomorrow, and I'm still not ready for him to tell me why I'm not ready for the fifth appointment. Miles to go before I sleep. My kingdom for a W-2....
P.S. Literary figures referenced in this post: Thurber, E.B. Browning, Chatterton, Dickens, Whitman, Goethe, Frost, and Shakespeare. Don't think you don't get your money's worth around here.
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Featured Comments from:
Peter C.: "I, personally, resolved a few days ago to stop comparing myself to others, and to only compare myself to, well, myself. When I compare myself to others, I'm always going to come up short, but by all measures, the work I'm doing right now is the sort of stuff I would have envied three years ago. This is far easier said than done. I am a naturally anxious person, and my first inclination when I'm unsure of myself is to look at what somebody else is doing, but I'm starting to realize how useless this is in any creative endeavor."
Kent: "Ouch...stop that! Just turned 62 myself, and would rather not even get into weight and bad knees and all the rest. They tell me these things are related.
"But as for getting better, I have a theory that you can and in fact should improve at whatever you do after the age of 60, assuming reasonably good health and the ability to find time to work at it, and I'm danged-well not letting go. There are so many things that haven't been achieved yet, for many (if not all) of the reasons you mention. And now, on the post-60 downhill stretch, when much of the interference from 'life' has been taken care of, I figure it's time to stop making excuses, chuck caution out the window, and devote every waking minute to achieving some long-neglected goals. Not giving a shirt about what people think every step of the way (without imposing, of course). It sounds kinda selfish, but I figure if I'm satisfied with the results, someone else out there somewhere will be happy too. It's worth a shot.
"To hell with the 10,000 hour rule (how I hate that concept), although I'm pretty sure I've spent at least that much time on the things that matter over the years. To clarify, I'm not talking about becoming any kind of athletic champion at this age (although I certainly wouldn't discourage anyone so inclined from trying), I'm talking about the creative pursuits that still get me charged up, physically and emotionally. Photography is one, music is another, woodworking yet another...just generally creating beauty in any way possible. For pursuits like that, 60 sounds more like a starting line.
"There's a catch though: it'll require work. The trick for us old farts, I believe, is to work smarter, with all of that experience driving and guiding the process.
"I'd get started if I were you. :-) "
Peter Conway: "After reading your post, I was reminded of something I came across several months ago (no attribution): Somebody once told me the definition of hell: 'On your last day on earth, the person you became will meet the person you could have become.' Sobering, but thought-provoking."