FOM (Friends of the Monkey)

3-monkeys

While your inner critic, that churlish monkey, sits glowering in your head, he has allies all around. They are camped on the hill and are riding in from all points of the compass, waiting for their colleague on the inside to lower the gates and let them flood in and maraud.  Most of these confederates are unwitting. They don’t know they are part of the army that can bring you down. But the monkey knows.

Some of them are driven by monkeys of their own. When you share your creative plans, your intention to start making art or to invest in yourself, they will start chattering from the trees, gibbering in fear. Fear for themselves. When you announce your brave decision to reverse the course of your life, to begin to make things again as you haven’t since third grade, you will set a shining example that will reflect back their own failures to live up to their dreams.

This isn’t universal of course. Many will applaud you and offer you encouragement. But skulking in the crowd will be those who are resentful and bitter and frustrated. And they will begin to lob suggestions, improvements, cautions, and advocacy for the Devil, designed to make you balk and backtrack.

Creativity is a particular magnet for this sort of monkey convocation. In my decades as a creative professional, I have encountered this spirit time and again. When I am awash with excitement at a new project or the possibilities of an assignment, these monkeys slink into my office, slump on to my couch and start to tell me the latest gossip, the latest management bungle, the latest reason to lose faith. They will complain about the assignment, the industry, the market. They will try to drag me into long sessions of venom and bile. They will splash me but I work to remain unblemished. Better to get up and leave that be infected with their toxicity. They are creative at coming up with reasons to stall and malinger, such is their monkeys’ gift of gab, and my own internal monkey howls with glee and joins the chorus.  These voices get me nowhere and need not to be heeded. Cut the chat short and get back to work.

And, while I am busy pointing fingers, let me point them at the mirror too. For in my own moments of weakness and doubt, I have been equally capable of joining or even initiating these grumblefests, feeling insecure in myself, acquiescing to the primate within and dragging in to a colleague’s office, leaning on my hairy knuckles. It’s a toxic affair that makes everyone feel, not purged, but depleted and sick.

Another band of accomplices are the media. The monkey loves the mindless vegetation of watching TV, numbing you with celebrities and gossip. Not the stories of artists and creative inspiration but the mindless doings of fabricated and often malignant chitchat. Besides being a time waster and anesthetic, the media can also skew your perception of art, artists and the true nature of success.

The banker is another friend of the monkey, cajoling you to focus on the bottom line. So is the electric company and the credit card company. They can make you do the monkey’s bidding, downscaling your ambitions because you feel trapped. They don’t deal in might-bes, they want theirs and now. They warn you not to take risks, to keep your day job, to be sensible. Of course, they have the right to get paid. But not to decide your future.

If you are a creative professional, you had to overcome the monkey just to get your career started. The monkey probably warned you and your parents: Don’t be a designer, an art director, an illustrator, an architect, a programmer, a musician, etc. It’s too risky, too competitive, etc. but you did nonetheless. But maybe now you see that the monkey finally let you follow this professional path but now won’t let you pursue your true passion — making art, speaking in your own voice, being your own client. The monkey giveth and he taketh away.

If you are wrestling with this issue, stop thinking. The monkey wants to engage you, wants you to obsess about his heckling and turn your creative energy into a response ego him. Don’t. Focus instead on what you want to do. Draw something. Write something. Then don’t look at it. Don’t judge it. Don’t show it to anyone else. Turn the page and write some more, do another drawing, dream another dream. When the books is done, fill another. Just keep going. Don’t ask for feedback from anyone who might derail you. Better to work alone in a cave than throw your work to the monkeys. Distance and perseverance are the best antidotes to this scourge. Build up your ramparts and lock the beast in your darkest, deepest dungeon.

Then get back to work.

Do you find your monkey has allies? What do they say? How do you deal with them? I’d love to know.

14 thoughts on “FOM (Friends of the Monkey)

  1. Danny,
    I love this theme of the monkey as an ever-present art pest. However, I keep thinking about Lynda Barry and her meditating monkey. Somehow she’s latched onto the monkey image as both a positive and negative animal totem. Check out this NPR article on how she came to the monkey image:
    http://www.npr.org/2010/11/11/131247663/doodle-your-way-out-of-writer-s-block Whatever animal you choose, I suppose the point still remains: get those animal(s) out of your life or learn to tame them!

  2. This really spoke to me. My monkeys do have a couple of allies, and they are family members. I remember an occasion a few years ago when one of said allies saw a painting I was working on and said, “is that supposed to be so and so? I guess it kind of looks like them. A little.” Why do I feel guilt talking about it? Anyway, I think those kind of comments sting more when they come from someone close to you. I put away everything I’m working on when this family member is around, and thankfully it’s not often.

  3. Love this post. Exactly why I’ve become much more selective about who I choose to spend my time with. No time for a longer comment – I’m off to sketch and write! :)

  4. My monkey belongs to the Monkey Mafia. It feeds off the life-and-death drama. I have to constantly go looking for Elliot Ness-is-more when it comes to giving my art priority.

    Great blog!

  5. Another inspiring post, Danny. My monkey drove my bus for most of my life, and I believe he was hired early on by my parents, who themselves made a comfortable living in the creative world.

  6. Danny,
    again I’m a “member of this unhappy monkey-club” -

    In these days my monkey has a big time:
    Several days ago, I had a fall with my mountain-bike and a very painful traumata on my left calf (pulled tendon) and I can hardly walk and cannot do my essential side job for several days and this horrible monkey tells me:
    “Matthias, I told you since decades, to look for a safe job as a “tax inspector”, instead of wasting time with art-dreams”! :-( Oooops!!!

    Now, this monkey nearly knocked me out –
    but when I’m lying in my bed with ice on my left calf, running over the pages of my sketchbooks and reading biographies of my “artist-heroes”, I’m feeling very relaxed (and a little bit happy…:-) ) and I think:
    “Tax-Inspectors” can be injured too, but while there lying in bed and moaning, they can only look at grey walls – they have no inspirations, only black clouds – and so I’m lucky, to be not a tax-inspector…”

    I told this the mokey and he is quit now!!! :-)

    -Matthias

  7. I have nearly eliminated the jabbering monkeys in my own head, but I am realizing that like the Werewolf during the full moon, I am in danger of BECOMING a monkey who harrasses her own offspring. I love the idea of them being artists (they are 20-somethings) until the bills come due and I’m still paying for the cell phone, the projector, the GRE, etc., So like the Werewolf in the old classic movies, most of the time I am able to fight my baser instincts and bite through my own tongue rather than plague them… ouch!

  8. I enjoy the way you’ve written this. Very easy to relate to and reflect upon. A great reminder to stay true to our passions and not get sidetracked from distraction. Thanks for the inspiration to push onward.

  9. I think the monkey is more likely to shut up if one realizes that drawing is like any craft in some ways: it takes time to get comfortable with the tools and the process. Think of carpentry: would most of us be cool with a jigsaw/circular saw right away? Nope- there might be some fingers flying about! SO each time you sit down you learn ONE SMALL THING more ( and in life many important big things come to us as a series of one small thing after another…) and you adopt ONE SMALL THING as your goal if you really need one to hand to the monkey. People who are adept at things make it look like they got ONE BIG THING immediately…but really it is mostly that they started THE ONE SMALL THING PROJECT early in the game and had some natural aptitude to drive them—or that they are folks who more easily run off the grid due to personality.

    DO ONE SMALL THING.

  10. Danny: ‘And they will begin to lob suggestions, improvements, cautions, and advocacy for the Devil, designed to make you balk and backtrack.’

    Funny you should be talking about this. I happened to come across a vid of someone talking about being cloaked in despair – a literal garment that marks you for failure!

    Good stuff, Danny.

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