I’m watching “Genius” on the National Geographic channel; a dramatic representation of the life of Einstein. It’s fun.
Einstein is portrayed as the kind of crazy, self-destructive genius we love to watch. He fights with teachers. He’s careless with women; both charming and confident but casually distant about long-term plans.
In episode three, as other characters are fighting to get the credit they think their genius deserves, Einstein says “I don’t care about awards, I care about science!”
He doesn’t want a real job making commercial things that people buy; he wants to think for a living. But he can’t get a job, anywhere, because he publicly challenged and disparaged his teachers’ authority and they won’t give him a positive recommendation.
So his first challenge he needs TIME – to write a paper and show people what he can do, but he also needs MONEY. So he’s forced to take whatever shitty job he can.
His friends tell him, “Be practical – if you cannot get a real job, how on earth will you survive?”
At the same time, he gets his girlfriend pregnant. And even though he loves her, he’s afraid he’ll never have the chance to take flight if he marries her. He gets a tutoring job, and is fired. He’s unreliable. Easily distracted.
He refuses a job at the patent office because it’s beneath him, even when he’s in dire straits. He just needs to finish his paper. He starts losing hope on his father’s deathbed, and says “I’m just a dreamer.”
His rich friends tell him not to be tied down with a family; his father tells him to marry the girl he loves. The baby dies; Einstein and Maleva are free from obligation.
He marries her anyway. The dramatic reproduction is full of encouraging quotes.
“Show them that your ideas cannot be snuffed out by those who lack imagination.”
Sleep depravation and coffee leads to genius ideas.
“I want to wake up in the morning to pursue my passions instead of being confronted with a constant sense of dread that I’m wasting my life.”
These are so relatable, we can’t help cheering him on.
By episode four, his peers recognize his work and call him a genius.
The dark side of creativity
Food for thought: these revisionist histories imply that it’s OK to be singularly focused on your creative genius, to be bad and life and relationships, and to leave a wreckage behind you because nobody else “gets it.”
But that’s only if you’re successful enough.
For MOST creative people, juggling life and work is a constant, never-ending struggle.
We can tell ourselves, our work matters more than anything else, but that’s often an excuse for bad behavior. In Einstein’s case – his brilliant “partner” Maleva is stuck at home, completely invisible and unrecognized, on the verge of a mental breakdown, her life squandered.
The point of this blog, and creativindie, is to be successful enough in life to make a positive difference to others, and not ONLY through the work. The greatest gift you can give someone is your attention.
It’s easy to tell yourself that your work is the only thing that matters; you can get another job, or romance. Everything is replaceable except the work only you can do. It’s a motivating ideology, but also needlessly reckless, because in most cases, that Great Big Idea you have isn’t really going to change the world; even if it’s perfect; even if it’s successful; even if people love it.
That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do it.
Just that you should occasionally mend bridges and be responsible for your own damage.