February 19, 2014

Vampires

Not the kind with teeth.

My comrade-in-arms (or “fellow knuckleballer” as he calls it) Austin Kleon has a new book coming out soon called Show Your Work. It’s a wonderful book, with good solid advice about how sharing and showing are as essential to creativity itself as they are to making a name for yourself. Austin is a big proponent of teaching what you know as part of that sharing, as a responsibility to your community. He’s also a very astute observer of the trouble with egos and creative community.

Austin’s got a word or two about vamipires. The kind that drain your creativity instead of your blood.

“There’s a funny story in John Richardson’s biography, A
Life of Picasso. Pablo Picasso was notorious for sucking all
the energy out of the people he met. His granddaughter
Marina claimed that he squeezed people like one of his
tubes of oil paints. You’d have a great time hanging out
all day with Picasso, and then you’d go home nervous and
exhausted, and Picasso would go back to his studio and
paint all night, using the energy he’d sucked out of you.
Most people put up with this because they got to hang
out with Picasso all day, but not Constantin Brancusi,
the Romanian-born sculptor. Brancusi hailed from the
Carpathian Mountains, and he knew a vampire when
he saw one. He was not going to have his energy or the
fruits of his energy juiced by Picasso, so he refused to have
anything to do with him.

Brancusi practiced what I call The Vampire Test. It’s a
simple way to know who you should let in and out of your
life. If, after hanging out with someone you feel worn out
and depleted, that person is a vampire. If, after hanging out
with someone you still feel full of energy, that person is not
a vampire. Of course, The Vampire Test works on many
things in our lives, not just people—you can apply it to jobs,
hobbies, places, etc.

Vampires cannot be cured. Should you find yourself in the
presence of a vampire, be like Brancusi, and banish it from
your life forever”

The metaphor is so sharp and apt, and it made me mournful. There are people I love to spend time with, and who I admire, and they aren’t malicious, they are lovely and vibrant and even generous. But I leave them and feel that exhaustion. They bring out my own anxieties, they inspire me to measure myself against things besides my own ambitions and standards. They are vampires all the same.

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