I’m sure I’m not alone in admiring the talents of many cheaters. I really can’t think of many great artists, leaders, or musicians that weren’t also total shits in their personal lives. Here’s a few I admire: Sam Cooke. Alice Neel. Jackie Wilson. Picasso. Gauguin. Dante Gabriel Rossetti. Franklin D. Roosevelt. Martin Luther King, Jr. Lyndon B. Johnson. Diego Rivera.
I wouldn’t want to be married to any of these people. Hell no. But I admire their gifts. They are the rare narcissists whose talents transcend their shittiness. Does anyone admiring a Gauguin painting consider that he left six children to paint topless women in Tahiti? How many people know that Sam Cooke was shot in a hotel room while cheating on his wife? Does anyone care that Jackie Wilson purportedly fathered 10 children out of wedlock before age 17? The man could DANCE and SING. “Mr. Excitement” was the Sparkliest. Man. That. Has. Ever. Existed.
(I love this clip, except for the part where he is consumed by a legion of square white people in bad sweaters trying to snuff out his coolness.)
As I wrote in an earlier post, I think you can enjoy the giftedness of some artists without boycotting them for their fucked up personal lives. Where you draw that line is your personal call. The point is that many people confuse talent with fucked up personal lives. “I have a fucked up personal life ergo I’m Very Special in a tortured kind of Greater Purpose way.”
Some rare creatures have both talent and fuckupedness. Most merely have fuckupedness.
My cheater must have imagined he was a great International Man of Mystery, with his secret spy phone, hidden bank accounts, and awesome powers of seduction. In truth, he was a paunchy, bald civil servant up to his eye sockets in debt. The OW was an aging alcoholic. The height of their romance was an afternoon fuck at a mid-priced hotel in Harrisburg, Pa.
I know. This is the stuff of celebrity. I did often wonder how I could compare with that kind of wonderful.
The myth that My Chaos Is Special and Destined for Greater Things seems to be all-pervasive in our society. Heck, I’ve been seduced by it myself, when I was younger, chumpier, and hadn’t been played yet by a cheater.
I’m a big fan of the portrait painter Alice Neel. She persevered as an artist for decades, completely unrecognized and stuck with portraiture while abstract expressionism reigned. She didn’t get her due until her 70s. But her personal life was a train wreck. Actually train wrecks are the model of sanity compared to Alice Neel. She lost one child to diphtheria. The other one was taken from her. She attempted suicide. She recovered and hooked up with an abusive sailor who burned nearly all of her art work. She was on the dole. She had two children out of wedlock, raised them quite heroically alone in Harlem, but one of her lovers beat the shit out of the kid who wasn’t his. Oh, and she was the Other Woman to one patron in particular. Helped destroy his marriage.
There’s an amazing film about her life, and Neel’s son (the one who got beaten) says painfully, “I don’t like Bohemian culture. I think a lot of innocent people are hurt by it. I consider that I was hurt by it.” The daughter that was taken from her never reconnects with her. At one point, she listens to a lecture Neel gives and doesn’t tell Neel she is her daughter. Later, she kills herself.
There was a time I thought this was romantic.
The rules do not apply to Alice Neel. She must’ve had narcissism of steel to persevere as an artist when nobody gave a shit. But innocent people paid the price for that narcissism — her children, her lover’s wife. Neel suffers and is rewarded in the end. Those innocent people just suffered.
It’s an incredible story of personal vindication of one’s talents. It’s a rare story. How many other people create chaotic lives, tell everyone it’s for a greater purpose, and are never vindicated as special. All the entitlement, none of the fairy tale ending. The banal narcissists with no talent who want special considerations for their self-inflicted “brokenness.”
You could argue that Neel’s accomplishments weren’t worth the people she hurt to achieve them. You could argue that about a lot of people.
What a seductive narrative to think that self destructiveness has purpose. Yes, people are going to get hurt, but it’s for a greater cause. A cheater imagines they are tortured and star-crossed, but hurting everyone is okay because it’s a Higher Love, that ordinary people can’t understand.
When you’re living in a chaotic whirlwind, the highs are high and the lows are low. There is an edge to the pick me dance. A win or lose excitement. This shit, the intermittent rewards, is even addictive. We are characters in a great romance! Will we be loving and all forgiving? Can we martyr ourselves for love? Or can we seduce our lover back from the Great Danger of the other person? We get hooked on the narkles. We get caught up in the game.
How much more sobering to step out of the drama and see it for the banal crazy that it is. You are not exceptional. Your cheater is not exceptional. There is no purpose to this chaos other than chaos. Most likely your cheater is not going to go on to Greater Things. It’s all third-rate fucks in Harrisburg and no Nobel Prize.