The Power of Two: What Works for Creativity Also Works for Recovery
This is a piece about friendship. But it starts with a discussion on creativity. Bear with me ...
I’m half-way through Joshua Shenk’s latest book, The Power of Two, which explodes the myth of the solitary creative genius. Instead, Mr Shenk makes the case for what happens when two simpatico people with complementary skill-sets and temperaments team up.
A couple of months ago, in an article in The Atlantic, Shenk used Lennon-McCartney as his Exhibit A. Music critics and Beatles fans, he says, tend to downplay the creative partnership, engaging in endless arguments over who wrote which part of which song.
But they’re missing the point, says Shenk. Strawberry Fields, for instance, is John’s song completely, written in rural Spain during a break from the band. It’s his own personal take on childhood. But what happened after he came into the studio with it? Paul penned his own personal take on childhood, Penny Lane, that’s what.
Creative partnerships are less about division of labor (lyricist/composer, artist/patron, visionary/organizer, etc) than about two minds engaged in a whirlwind of swirling yin-yang tension. Each feels a level of comfort with the other. This, in turn, creates the environment where one can push the other beyond human limits, beyond what anyone else conceives as possible.
There may even be role reversals - the organizer, say, coming up with a creative idea, the visionary demanding that deadlines get met.
It’s almost as if the two have become one organism. At the end of the day, it’s virtually impossible to sort out who had which idea, who said what.
Even so-called loners have their silent partners. Vincent Van Gogh’s brother, Theo, for instance, provided far more than financial support and encouragement. He also acted as the artist's muse and critic. Women invariably receive no credit for their men’s accomplishments.
And it’s not just about formal partnerships. JRR Tolkien and CS Lewis, for instance, authored their own separate classics, but it is impossible to imagine either Lord of the Rings or Narnia outside of the context of the deep and abiding bond the two shared.
So anyway ...
Here we are, engaged in our recovery. Our healing demands time to ourselves, perhaps a lot more than what is considered normal. After all, it’s a crazy world out there.
Joshua Shenk makes reference to this, particularly in the context of introversion and in being highly sensitive to our environment. Moreover, Mr Shenk is no stranger to mental illness, having authored Lincoln’s Melancholy (2005), which I never tire of citing.
By the same token, however, we are doomed to fail spectacularly on our own. Isolation kills. We need our connections. We need companionship. We need support.
Mr Shenk was writing in the context of creativity. But in the process, he made a very strong case for the positive benefits in having people close to you. It’s so easy, when things go wrong, to end up alone. Coming back in from the cold takes time and effort, lots of it, and Mr Shenk is the first to acknowledge this.
Maybe we need to start by phoning our mom. Maybe we venture out to a support group. Eventually we can aim higher. How high? Ask yourself: If you’re John, where is your Paul? If you’re Vincent, where is your Theo? If you’re JRR, where is your CS?
Nothing wrong with thinking big.