Just ask Vincent Van Gogh, Kurt Cobain, Virginia Wolf and countless other casualties of reckless passion and life. These men and women feel the sting of existence and all of life's complexities and paradoxes ripping their souls in two. It is a consciousness of ecstasy, pain, sorrow, emptiness, horror and then the cycle starts over again.
Needless to say, I don't want to be an artist anymore. There was a time when I did. I'd like to think that there is a time when everybody thinks they can be. A time when every idea you have seems new and intriguing, every artistic endeavor, plausible; every abstract truth, revealable. We all want to be artists, though few can. Good news is finally on the way for those who can't paint a picture, write a story, film a scene or play "Smoke on the Water" to save their life.
I have found lately that the artists that I respect are the ones who can't wait to share their thoughts on...well, other artists. Stephen King writes a regular column for Entertainment Weekly in which he shares his thoughts on his favorite television shows (Lost, Prison Break), laments the state of horror in the cinema (aside from The Strangers) and tells you what you should be reading (Lunar Park, Harry Potter). Director Kevin Smith can be found at any moment on a soap-box chanting the names of all the movies you should be watching on DVD. Kanye West and Jay-Z are always happy to talk about their musical inspirations and what new tracks you should be looking forward to hearing this summer.
These artists get "it". They understand that you are not defined by what you make and what you produce, you are defined by what you watch, what you listen to, what you read; you are defined by the art that you love and can't live without. That is the good news: that your are defined by what you love and not what you can do.
We live in an age where there are few mysteries about humanity left to explore. We know the human genome. The physical and emotional aspects of our entire lives are for the most part controlled by tiny collections of cell structures and the existence of nucleic acids and other microscopic material. Your DNA decides who you are. You are bound to these tiny tyrants: your stars and your fates. They control you...but even they can't define you. Only culture can define us.
That is why I list everything. For a long-time I thought it was just my brain degenerating into a compulsive madness (which could still very well be the case). But now, I know why I do it. I make sure I record every single piece of culture or art that I have ever loved or has ever meant something to me. Because eighteen years in, I have found that everything you forget is another piece of you that is gone forever.
I think the most well-adjusted, secure and happy of us know this. They know that the key to happiness or even just plain sanity is knowing your DNA, not the collection of nucleic acids and genetic material that created you but the memories and experiences and images and thoughts and feelings that move you. Your eye color may be "Adenine-Guanine-Thymine-Cytosine-Thymine-Cytosine-Guanine-Adenine" but your soul is "Faulkner-The White Album-Da Vinci-The Godfather- Cheers-Hawthorne-Hepburn-The Taming of the Shrew."
This post is the perfect example of what happens when a slow news day meets sudden access to a whole residence hall's iTunes playlist online. But my message will always be the same: human being, know thyself. If Heath Ledger's Joker's black eyes and grim smile haunted you this summer, never forget it. If Coldplay's Cemeteries of London gave you goosebumps, never forget it. If the last episode of The Sopranos made everything fall into place for you, don't forget it.
Know your DNA.