There is a center. It’s where most of us live. Sometimes we call it the mainstream. In the center we all agree to certain core values, and for the most part, we’re all quite comfortable there. When someone strays from the core values of the group, we isolate them and lock them away because they’re considered dangerous to the rest of us. The farther a person strays from the center, the more dangerous they become. The ones who congregate closest to the center, are the most normal. And the safest.
Have you ever tried to act? I have. It’s not easy. To give yourself to words on a page and actually ‘become’ the person who says those words is tough. If it weren’t, more of us would do it. You have to be really creative to make a career of acting. That’s because you have to let go of your mind, and step into the mind of someone else. In front of people. And cameras. And the more convincingly you’re able to become these other people, the more your talent is celebrated.
Without getting too far into it in this post, I don’t believe that any human is capable of creating anything original. That said, I believe that every person is creative. Some of us more than others. And for the most part, creativity is our attempt to be divine. Or, if you prefer, to be a ‘Creator.’ Some people even compensate for the fact they’re not a Creator by drawing attention to themselves to make others think they’re just slightly (or sometimes vastly) different than the rest of us. They don’t want to be seen as being part of the mainstream. These people might get tattoos, piercings or dye their hair purple. They want others to label them as creative. The more creative the better. But the fact is, most people are extremely limited in their creativity. Most people have never been out to the edge, or anywhere near it. Sure, you might be celebrated as being a creative cook to people who enjoy your food at PTA meetings, but that level of creativity is intrinsic to all humans. We just have to acknowledge it and use it.
But some of us really are different. And we don’t necessarily have to draw attention to ourselves to prove to the world that we’re farther from the center than other people. We are ok in knowing that our brains are programmed slightly differently, and we are happy to just go through life doing our jobs and using our creativity to have a life that is similar to our friends in the center. Some of us are even lucky enough to actually find work in creative fields where we can utilize our creativity and possibly let it run free. Creative geniuses are oftentimes considered eccentric because they live farther from the center than the rest of us. They’re not criminals, so they’re not locked up. But their ideas are sometimes so different that the rest of us can only stand from a distance and think, ‘Wow. Look at that.’ Artists, writers, musicians, and yes, actors are all types of people who do their best work away from the center, but usually for the center. Some of us are eccentric, some of us look exactly like you. Some of us have even attempted to go out to the edge with our creativity. And some of us fall off of the edge, or worse – get lost out there wandering.
Enter Charlie Sheen. Unless you live under a rock, you know that Charlie Sheen has been in the news lately. But, I don’t think he’s crazy. Whether you think that Sheen is a ‘good’ actor or not, doesn’t really matter. He’s still made a life out of acting. And because he keeps getting roles, he’s obviously got marketable talent (aka ‘appeals to the center’) and understands how to move outside of himself into a character fairly convincingly. As mentioned earlier, the ability to do this one thing is not easy. Because most of us cannot do it, it’s obviously a skill that exists somewhere outside of the center. Just because we all have the ability to be creative doesn’t mean we all utilize this talent to its fullest expression. It takes a special disposition to do this. A disposition that most of us don’t have.
I’m a copywriter by trade. Sure, I’d like to spin some tales for longer, less commercial purposes one day, but I’ve made a career at being able to convince people of things. I do this through emotional appeals that affect an audience. The only way I’m capable of doing this well, is to actually become a target audience in order to discover what kinds of things are important to them. Copywriters are considered creative people. We change how people think. It’s not easy. Well, it’s not hard for me since I believe that I had virtually nothing to do with my ability to ‘become’ other people in my mind. In front of a camera? That’s not my schtick. But in my head, I can jump from person to person with relative ease. And have meaningful conversations with them. Alone. In my brain. Trust me when I tell you, this is not something most people can do. And it’s why I can command (hahaha that’s very funny) a certain wage for my work.
By now you’re probably thinking – ‘Um, I clicked this link to read another article about Charlie Sheen and how crazy he is.’ I get it. But first I want you to think about why you are comfortable in labeling him crazy in the first place. It’s because he’s not now, nor has he ever been, close to the center. Rather than try to empathize with people who aren’t like us, it’s much easier to give them labels. Why is Charlie Sheen on drugs? Because he’s an addict. Why does he say the things he does? Because he’s crazy.
Except, he’s not. He’s just out there floating in the ether between the center, and the edge. And yes, because of the drugs, he’s probably closer to the edge than the center. But he’s still out there. And we like to put monsters like that into metal boxes. It makes us feel safe.
Not only am I a copywriter, I’m also an alcoholic. I didn’t find my career in advertising until 12 years ago. Before that, I went from job to job and state to state doing everything from driving a UPS truck in Manhattan to selling my plasma for beer money in Gainesville. I worked as a hand on a migrant farm, a house framer, a car wash attendant, a waiter, a headhunter, a logistician – the list goes on and on. I tried to fit in everywhere I went, but couldn’t. So I wandered. And looking back, it’s very easy for me to point to alcohol as the reason for my problems. Except it wasn’t the reason. It was a byproduct of being a creative person who was lost. I quit drinking long before I got into advertising, which in itself is hugely ironic, but when I did find a place to push my creativity, it felt like home. Had I found advertising before I got sober, I may have ridden my creative high to my death. Strike that – I definitely would have. Creativity and addiction are strange bedfellows.
Back to Charlie Sheen – I’m convinced that he’s not crazy. He’s just a creative guy who is saying things that are really in his head. The F18 remark. The winning thing. All of it is true in his mind. Unfortunately for him, however, is the stuff with the drugs. In moderation, drugs and alcohol are not devastating to a creative person and can even help safely take us farther from the center to explore realms that others have not yet considered. Only, many of these vehicles are physically addictive – whether we accept it or not. And it doesn’t matter how powerful or creative you think you are, we’re all still fallible machines that are as equally susceptible to things like addiction as we are the flu.
I’m not saying Sheen is an alcoholic or drug addict. And neither can you. Only he can say that. I’m just trying to explain how these things work with the creative mind. And I don’t want to focus on the addiction part, either. But when someone like Charlie Sheen talks about having a different brain than you, or having tiger blood, what he’s really saying is that he lives farther from the center than you. He recognizes his own creativity. The fact he is a celebrity simply proves that he has the resources to sustain his creativity. The part that he probably doesn’t grasp fully is that he’s still a biological machine that can break (and break down). I can tell you from experience, it sucks waking up hung over day after day after day. It doesn’t matter how creative you are or how much money you have. But, it also sucks to be a creative and not have a place to push that energy. Sheen does. And so he’s got that going for him.
Laugh at Charlie Sheen if you want to. Call him names. Hell, you can even pity him. He doesn’t care. He knows what he is, and knows that because you’re tucked into the safety of the mainstream, you’ll never know what he’s talking about. And he’s cool with this. He’s winning whether you like it or not. I fucking applaud him for coming out and doing these interviews. He’s running with his creativity and giving people a glimpse into the space between the center and the edge that few of us can ever know. If drugs or booze are stealing from his creativity however, then that’s a shame. Likewise with the allegations of violence. If he routinely goes into fits of violence, he needs to be locked away. Violence has no place in creativity. Creativity’s purpose is to create, not destroy.
So the next time you find yourself mocking someone who is different than you, celebrity or not, stop for a second and think about how comfortable it is to get in your car and drive to work each day to a normal job like everybody else. And be grateful you don’t have to leave that comfort zone in order to have a something like a normal life.
Jim Mitchem #winning
20 CommentsLEAVE A COMMENT
Mar 4, 2011
Fantastic Post! Kudos
Mar 4, 2011
Nice work Jim – a beautiful riposte to the mountain of content that’s waving the “Charlie Sheen is crazy!” flag. I can’t speak to whether Charlie’s magic carpet ride of excess has made him nuts, but I can say that I find him to be the cultural equivalent of an adrenaline shot. Impossible to ignore and a giant wakeup call to everyone sleepwalking through life. Maybe everyone could do with a little #tigerblood – we might be less comfortable with the idea of being behavioral lemmings. I’m not suggesting that a steady diet of “goddesses” and “7 gram rocks” is the way to roll, but living life with greater passion? That’s the message we should extract from this circus.
Mar 4, 2011
Thanks for writing an article about what it takes to be a creative person, and to live to left of center. I like this statement in particluar – “Creative geniuses are oftentimes considered eccentric because they live farther from the center than the rest of us. They’re not criminals, so they’re not locked up.” Living in a society that is afraid of creative people, when it is the creatives who keep things moving forward. Thanks for a thoughtful article about creatives and an interesting take on Charlie Sheen.
Mar 4, 2011
This is the smartest, most thought provoking post I have read yet on Charlie Sheen. I have turned away from all of the snickering, irresponsible journalism and judgment. I just couldn’t stand it anymore. However, your perspective reveals another side, a possibility that no one has considered (at least not publicly). And, although I don’t agree with everything you say (I mean, if it is “real” in his head but totally not reality than The Crazy just might fit), I think your view on “the center” is spot on. Many of us spend a lot of time trying to convince ourselves and others that we are closer to the center than we really are.Thanks for this.
Mar 4, 2011
I’m so glad to have run across this today! I wrote a blog post yesterday about my belief that underneath the “crazed” delivery, Charlie Sheen just may have a valuable message about accepting and celebrating oneself. Like you, I’m not excited about his violence and I am concerned about his health. I also question whether it is really appropriate for the media to take him up on his “offers” to do these interviews when there may be a real question as to his, ummm, stability right now. It kind of feels like they are taking advantage of someone who is vulnerable right now due to mental health issues. Just my thoughts!kim
Mar 4, 2011
I’m more obsessed with conformity (sorry, had to take it) than celebrity. What grabs the mainstream’s attention more on the highway?a) An award-winning billboardb) A wreckAll of this hub-bub over Sheen is rubber necking, plain and simple. 2/3 are just waiting to see him crash and burn while the other 1/3 idolize and imitate.Is he a creative person? Sure. Does he deserve the attention we’re wasting on him? No. In all the crazy crap that’s spewed from his mouth recently, not one bit contributes to improving the human condition unless you take him as an anti-example.I don’t need a coke addled hedonist to tell me to live my life with gusto. I do now. Full bore. But my fulfillment comes from growing, learning, and doing good work. Nobody who knows me would call me close to the center. I jam culture and don’t give two shits about possessions or accomplishments.So Sheen comes off as a poser. He’s picking and choosing which parts of society to rail against. He’s got a palatial estate that looks *exactly* like the center’s ideal of a home…but then he splits it in half. One half: pornstar goddesses and drugs. The other half: he’s raising children.He’s a waffler. One foot in the middle, the other at the edge. I don’t believe for a minute that there isn’t a chorus of PR and legal experts helping him plan his next move.Let’s quit rubber necking folks.(and good article, Jim)
Mar 4, 2011
you’re #winning as usual Jim 🙂 Very well put, could be the best commentary on the whole Sheen thing we get.
Mar 4, 2011
A great article Jim, This article goes way beyond Charlie all the way to everyone who is different. It’s just that not everybody does it as publicly..
Mar 4, 2011
“Creativity and addiction are strange bedfellows.” One amazing part of this post. The perspectives of being “mainstream” is the other. Either way, whether someone agrees with your entire commentary or not, it’s brilliantly done, Jim. You had it before, but this certainly reinvigorates both the admiration and respect I have for you. Keep doing what you’re doing … it works!Best,@IanGertler
Mar 4, 2011
What a load of crap, we are all better at some things than other people. That does not make us better than them in way shape or form. And, a little respect costs nothing, a hello, a please and a thank you are the hear beats of life, so we know it. Disregard the fundamentals and like most of you guys/girls know, you are ALL frightened or emotionally so ‘switched on’ to the possible perils of just walking down the street. Why? Because of the acceptance of the above being OK. Walk on the wild side, go for it, but walk with pride and dignity and you/we will never walk a lone and respect will follow. Than again all you clever people above will no doubt be teaching your children the CS way, of that I am sure.
Mar 4, 2011
Well said Jim… I like Charlie for what he is. He’s authentic, faults and all. I find a lot of Hunter Thompson and David Lee Roth in the way he speaks, of late. Funny how all those comfortable people listen and say “wow he must be on drugs.” Yes he sounds like he is off on a different tangent. Yes he uses different words to describe how he feels. So did Hunter Thompson and DLR. Check out old interviews and you’ll see so many similarities between how all three of these creative folks spoke. They spoke differently than most. All were viewed differently, from genius journalist, smooth talking rock star to crazy actor…Most people are comfortable in their lives… Hunter wrote a brilliant essay about this…i feel for Charlie, his back is up against the wall. He’s defending himself.
Mar 4, 2011
I have found Charlie Sheen to be facinating this week. With his #winning and #tigersblood and all the unusual ways he has managed to express himself verbally. As a writer I have found the phrases and his expression quite creative. I am not sure he is crazy at all. He knows he loves drugs and alcohol, he hates AA and “recovery”. He dislikes “normal people” and he never wants to be one. Like you said however, there are physical limitations that no person can beat. Drugs can cause brain damage and so does alcohol.He may be fine with his love of them and honest in what he tells us, but he does not look healthy and his behavior under the influence has been far from good.He has a very long documented history of violence and threats and that really seals the deal for me. I would not let my kids be around him at this point.I think he is not doing his children any favors at this point. He seems manic and scary to me from a child’s view.. Good luck Charlie, I hope you find a healthy way to be creative and be with your kids that does not involve destructive behavior.
Mar 4, 2011
One interesting bit to note: One of the things that defines “pathology” in mental illness is to what extent it negatively impacts your life. So for example, you have meaningful conversations with other “identities” in your head. Could you be diagnosed as having a mental illness? Perhaps….but if it doesn’t negatively affect your life (or anyone else’s), then so what? Those of us who possess some degree of OCD or ADD experience the same thing; we might be a bit obsessive about certain things in our lives, but if they don’t take over and make our (or others’) lives a miserable hell, then it’s probably not worth worrying about. It’s the same thing with Charlie Sheen. Does what he seems to be describing fit in with a mental condition? Perhaps – I’ve heard the diagnosis of Bipolar Disorder bandied about quite a bit, and from my own experience in the field, it certainly seems to fit. But does any of that stuff negatively impact his life? Certainly, his drug addictions do…but what about the fact that he thinks he’s “bi-winning” and that he “operates on a whole other level” from the rest of us? You could argue not.So: Could you diagnose him as mentally ill? Perhaps. Does it matter, if it’s not hurting him or anyone else in his life? Probably not.
Mar 4, 2011
Jim, you make a lot of great points. Truly. I have to disagree with you about whether Charlie Sheen is the only one entitled to decide if he’s an alcoholic. Denial is a huge characteristic of alcoholics, and many who’ve sought help will say they were the last to catch on as to how bad it was… that they always thought they just needed better control. For family and friends of alcoholics, there is no requirement that you have to wait for an alcoholic to label him/herself as such before you can attend Al-Anon. Anyone who is feeling the pain of someone else’s addiction is welcome there. Highly recommend it.
Mar 4, 2011
You can only call Charlie Sheen an “actor” if you acknowledge that he is a member of the Tom Cruise School of Acting. i.e. you only play characters that resemble yourself. Whenever I see Tom Cruise in a movie I’m always acutely aware that he’s Tom Cruise (his hilarious turn as a bald hairy Jewish producer in Tropic Thunder is a rare exception). Charlie Sheen has turned into a “personality.” And sadly, trainwreck personalities are the bread and butter of the entertainment industry in this country. The more fucked up Charlie Sheen is, the more middle america likes it; the more people can sort of live vicariously through him, the less they have to examine their own boring lives. What “normal” man wouldn’t want to make millions on a TV show and share his house with two “goddesses?”
Mar 4, 2011
To Andrew Sharpe’s response: “Than again all you clever people above will no doubt be teaching your children the CS way, of that I am sure.”Let’s be clear – at no point did I endorse how Charlie Sheen has represented himself, I merely commented how Jim framed his perspective … and how it related to his own life situations. With that said, I think your comment was a bit out of line — especially since anyone that knows the way I teach my children would find issue with your comment. We are all given the right to express our opinions — and I certainly welcome any from you, but don’t try to stereotype everyone here and their parenting skills based on a few comments to Jim’s post. That seemed to be a bit more like “the CS way” than anything the people here have written. Just my two cents, but apologies if your I took your words the wrong way.
Mar 4, 2011
JimThis article is absolutely fantastic. It tells such a story of who you are as a writer and you give so much to us by sharing your thoughts. I believe as you do that we are all creative. It comes out differently in each of us but our minds are always giving us something that we have to process and grow the thoughts or push them aside. I was thinking of you the other day while watching Sheen. I knew that your take would be very insightful. I am so glad that you wrote this and really went to the core and not wrap us up in the chaos. I watched so many of the interviews and he does believe what he is saying. That is his mind. I do not think that he is nuts at all. I am not an addict so I cannot in any way comment upon that part of his situation. I have no frame of reference. I do love him as an actor and want him to come back to be able to shine and continue to humor us and wow us with his incredible talent. Thank you so much for writing this. It is so incredibly powerful and really just the best I have read about Charlie.
Mar 8, 2011
no doubt, YOU are #winning.
Mar 8, 2011
I may be in the minority, but I love Charlie Sheen. He’s one of the few people who can make me laugh out loud until tears run down my cheeks. It’s a shame that his desire to live close to the edge has caused the demise of his show. That’s our loss, too. I honestly think that Three and a Half Men has been so popular because there’s a little Charlie Harper – and a little Charlie Sheen – in all of us. He gives us permission to look at ourselves as screw-ups and feel like it’s okay. And permission to live a little closer to the edge if we want.My husband and I were discussing who and how he could be replaced on the show, as the network is suggesting. We’re much to savvy to accept a different actor as the new Charlie. This is not the era of the new Darrin. Charlie Sheen, some excellent writing, and some well-placed supporting roles have made for good television. I’d just sooner put it to rest, and hope that Charlie Sheen gets himself straightened out to the point where another network will give him another chance to make us laugh. And they will.
Feb 12, 2014
right on. i’ve thought about this alot thru out my entire life – always felt different, my brain always thinks differently than most and i can’t help it. luckily i finally found a place i fit in life – i work in the mental health field. Thanks for describing this issues so well.
My novel – Minor King
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