Image by Hugh MacLeod
Of all the painfully funny cartoons on Hugh MacLeod’s Gapingvoid blog, for me this is the funniest and most painful.
It’s painful because I know exactly how Eric feels. A few years ago, I was in his shoes. And I feel for him – because I know if he doesn’t change, his story is going to have a messy ending.
The humour, of course, turns on the idea of what is ‘asking for too much’. In Eric’s universe, it’s perfectly reasonable to expect a minimum level of comfort and freedom to pursue his own interests.
In the world’s eyes, this is enough to brand him ‘a deranged lunatic’. The world doesn’t work like that. Comfort and pleasure are reserved for those who toe the line and get a haircut, a shave and a steady job. Anything else is asking for trouble.
What Is Eric’s Problem?
Eric’s situation reminds me of the famous words of George Bernard Shaw:
The reasonable man adapts himself to the world; the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable man.
Eric’s problem is that he isn’t doing either. He’s not conforming to the ways of the world. But he isn’t adapting the world to himself either. He’s sitting around expecting the world to adapt to him – not going out and making it happen.
Eric may think he’s just sitting there quietly minding his own business. But the longer he sits there, the sooner he will feel the impact of Brutal Economic Reality colliding with his expectations. No prizes for guessing who’s going to come off worst.
So, should Eric grow up and stop being a deranged lunatic? Not if you ask me. He should embrace his lunacy and go for it. But first, he needs to stop kidding himself.
Eric fancies himself as a bohemian, a lateral thinker and a rebel. In reality, he’s a stereotype – the poor neglected artist with a misplaced sense of entitlement and a grudge against society. His heroes include Charles Baudelaire and Gustave Flaubert – but nobody has told him that they could afford to be rebellious artists railing against society because daddy was footing the bill.
So unless Eric can find himself a trust fund fast, he faces a stark choice: get in line at the job centre or face the consequences. Unless, that is, he’s serious about living his alternative lifestyle – in which case he needs to work out a way to make it happen. Which means less lateral thinking and more lateral action.
Of course, Eric isn’t stupid. Deep down, he knows all this. But he’s ignoring it for two reasons:
- It scares him shitless.
- He’s in the grip of his Inner Whining Artist
Beware of Your Inner Whining Artist
You’ve probably heard of your Inner Child. You may even have tried to ‘get in touch’ with him or her. And if you’re of the artistic persuasion, you can probably recognise your Inner Critic – you know, that nagging critical voice telling you your work is crap and will never measure up to your ridiculous ambitions, however hard you try.
But I’ll bet you’ve never heard of your Inner Whining Artist, so I’m here to warn you about it. You see, if you’re not careful, this little insidious part of your unconscious mind can sabotage all your dreams and keep you stuck like Eric – forever.
Your Inner Whining Artist (IWA) is the part of you that tells you you’re a genius waiting to be discovered. If only the big bad world would sit up and recognise your talent, the IWA tells you, all your problems would be over. Audiences and critics would bow at your feet, agents would queue up to represent you, and all the people who’d ever rejected your work would be gorging themselves on humble pie. You just need to get your break, to be discovered. It can only be a matter of time …
Who could resist a voice like that? A voice so sympathetic, so concerned for your well-being? Certainly not Eric. He’s been listening to the IWA for so long, he doesn’t even realise what he’s doing. He’s taken on the voice and persona of the IWA so completely that he’s forgotten what it’s like to think and act for himself. From the outside, of course, it’s painfully obvious he’s on a hiding to nothing – but every time his friends try to tell him that, the IWA just adds them to the list of insensitive people who don’t appreciate his genius.
The IWA is the ultimate wolf in sheep’s clothing. It knows all your weak spots and all the right emotional buttons to push. It plays on your vanity and even manages to twist your ambition to justify sitting around doing nothing but complaining.
Once upon a time, the IWA and I were good mates. The big difference between me and Eric is that I realised what was happening and gave the IWA the boot. It hasn’t vanished completely – on bad days, it knocks on the door to see if I want to have a chat for old times’ sake, but it’s not so hard to shoo it away. Here’s how you can do the same.
How to Lose Touch with Your Inner Whining Artist
1. Know Your Enemy
Next time you catch yourself listening to your IWA, notice what it’s like. What tone of voice does it use? How does it make you feel? Can you picture its face? Is it male or female? Does it look like you or someone else? When is it most likely to pop up and start telling you how unfairly you’re being treated?
2. Don’t Give the IWA Airtime
Imagine the IWA is like a radio playing in the background. Switch it off. Or change channels. Or whistle or sing to yourself to drown it out. Or strike up a conversation with someone else. Or listen to whatever sounds you can hear around you, right now. Or get on with some work. Whatever you do, stop listening to the IWA. It’s like that annoying teasing kid at school – it only wants attention, ignore it and it will go away. For now.
3. Accept Things As They Are – Then Change Them
The IWA thrives on telling you about an ideal world that is much fairer/more interesting/more beautiful than this one. It keeps the fantasy going to distract you from the reality of your situation. It knows that as soon as you see it – really see it – for yourself, you’ll start waking up to your real life. You’ll feel the fear – but also the excitement of making your dream a reality. You’ll stop complaining that life ‘isn’t fair’ and start doing something about it.
You’ll start facing down the fear and taking action, doing the difficult things you’ve been shirking. You’ll start making a difference to your own life and to other people. You’ll make new friends and leave the IWA behind…
Of course, you don’t have to do any of this. You can carry on listening to the IWA and forget you ever read this article. Maybe life will be easier that way.
How Do You Deal with the Inner Whining Artist?
Do you recognise the Inner Whining Artist?
Have you given your IWA the boot? If so, how did you do it?
What would you do if the IWA vanished from your life?
About the Author: Mark McGuinness is a poet and creative coach.