The fourth lesson in the second section of the Brene Brown course was about, in her words, “superpower and kryptonite.” It’s based on the idea that every strong point in your personality has a weak side, every weakness you have is also a strength a different area. If your weakness is being bossy, your strength is that things get done when you’re in charge. If your strength is sensitivity and connection to others, your weakness is that you get upset too easily. It’s something we used to talk about in teaching character: for every strength your character has, there’s a corresponding weakness; for every flaw, a corresponding gift. I like this, I believe it’s true, but I had a helluva time figuring out what my superpower was. So I reverse engineered and started with the flaws. Flaws are always easier.
Note: This is long because I used it to work out the assignment. Skip down to the part in bold if you just want to read about doing the art journal. You won’t miss anything important.
My flaws are that I waste time day-dreaming (not plotting books, day-dreaming). I lose track of time. I don’t prioritize: I’ll spend a day painting a chair I don’t really need while a book I absolutely must finish languishes, the dishes go undone for a third day, the laundry rots in the back of my car, and every surface in my house is covered with stuff that belongs somewhere else. I also have a really hard time finishing things; I’m excited by the potential in the beginning of things, but once it’s down to the hard push to the end, I wander off and start something else. I’m lazy and slovenly and disorganized, I’ll do anything to avoid making business calls or dealing with people, I lose contracts, and I can never find my phone. Oh, and I prefer night to day: it’s quieter and I can think better and people don’t bug me and expect me to do things in the real world.
So yeah, I’m a mess. My distaste for reality is what Brown calls Kryptonite, which is actually pretty descriptive because that reluctance to deal with the real world weakens me. It make my life more unpleasant, and in so doing makes me tense and unhappy and saps my strength.
So what’s the other side of that coin?
I’m endlessly inventive. I can think up six new worlds before breakfast. I have entire other lives I live in my head, everything I see when I leave the house makes a story in my head, every person I meet becomes the center of a drama. I move through the take-out line at MacDonald’s and wonder about the woman I see there most days, if she’s on the fast track for manager–she has a really powerful persona–if she’s working her way through school, if she sells hamburgers because it never interferes with her real life as a DJ or a standup comic, if she paints in her garage at night, huge canvases full of stars. I see a chair by the side of the road, and I think, “I could make that amazing.” I see piles of yarn and see limitless potential, stacks of fabric that could be anything. There are no boundaries in my head, I can go anywhere, do anything, be anyone, as long as it never gets out of my head.
Because when reality enters the picture, everything kind of falls apart. That woman in the drive-through is probably not painting stars at night, she’s probably trying to get her kids to bed so she can watch TV in a state of exhaustion. If I stopped after she handed my credit card back and asked, “Do you paint stars in your garage at night?” she’d think I was demented and close the window. Reality and my imagination do not mix; the few times I’ve tried have always ended with people backing away slowly. Yes, I know I make up stuff for a living, but the stories I put on paper are not the stories I live with for days; nobody would publish those and I wouldn’t want them out there anyway. There are enough people who think I’m nuts already, I don’t want it to reach critical mass. The stuff in my head is perfect; reality is just . . . real. Bleah.
So the journal assignment is to make one page for my superpower and one page for my Kryptonite, which I decided was Limitless Imagination and Avoidance of Reality. Or something like that. The key is what to do with that. Brown quotes a friend of her who said, “I made the decision to move from hiding to harnessing,” leaving the job that didn’t fulfill her to work on projects that used the things that were powerful within her. I already did that; I quit teaching (which I loved and which did use my strengths) and became a professional storyteller. I made the leap. I’m good. What can this exercise possibly tell me?
Well, it’s shown me one key thing: I’ve always summed up my problem as “I live in my head, of course I don’t see the squalor around me,” but I’d missed the fact that they’re the same damn thing. I was excusing my squalor because my creativity was more important, I hadn’t seen that the unlimited chaos my body lives in is the flip side of the limitless imagination my mind swims in. Creativity doesn’t come from doing things right, it comes from doing things wrong, or at least being willing to do things wrong, to stick out your tongue at convention, to say over and over and over again, “Thanks, I’ll do it my way.” The electric company and Blue Cross frown on this, as does the health department when the dishes in the sink reach the second week.
So, as Brown points out, it’s a spectrum. Until I’m fabulously rich and can afford to pay somebody to do the dishes and clean the house and pay the bills and deal with customer service, I have to live on all the parts of my power line, and I can’t do that until I know what my damn line is. So back to the art journal assignment.
The Art Journal Assignment:
So my superpower, limitless imagination, goes on one page and my Kryptonite, avoidance of reality goes on the other. I kept the Limitless Imagination page light, but I added heavy black marker to the reality avoidance page. One surprise: I’ve always thought of reality as Reality, That Bitch, kind of Angelina Jolie as Maleficent, but when I drew it, it was just this heavy frowning blob, which is a lot more true to life.
Then we had to break down both sides a little more. So as my subsets of superpowers, I put, “I live in many worlds,” “I make wonderful things,” “I see beauty in everything.” I’m not sure that makes me powerful, but they all make me happy, and happiness is powerful. Also, I think my imagination is so important to me that protecting it makes me fierce and strong, so that’s power, too.
The Kryptonite side was depressing: Because I avoid reality, I don’t connect with people. They’ll disapprove of me, I’ll say something stupid and they won’t like me, I’ll hurt somebody’s feelings . . . better just stay home by myself. (And Krissie can visit.) But my real life is chaos because I don’t connect; the customer service person at Blue Cross is probably not going to like me anyway, and I’ve been putting off calling her for weeks. The last line was the one that got me: Real life is too risky. If I never go anywhere, I won’t be taking the risk of making a fool of myself, being less than other people need, hurting people. But because I don’t go anywhere, I’m less than other people need and I hurt them by avoiding them. And god knows, I still make a fool of myself regularly.
So maybe it goes back to not hiding but harnessing. Maybe if I look at reality in a creative way, I can stop not seeing things through avoidance and start paying attention to the detail in real life. That can be beautiful, too. The sink’s a lot more beautiful without the dirty dishes, absolutely. Maybe what I need to do with reality is think, “Wait, I can make something with this.”
Or maybe I just need to do the dishes.
Here are the finished superpower/kryptonite pages:
Then the Dig Deep stuff was about meaningful work, concentrating not on what you should be doing (as defined by someone else) but on how you define meaningful work. “Pick three words that describe meaningful work to you,” she said, so I picked creative, joyful, and true. Then they’d talked about slash careers, and anybody with any experience with fan fiction knows where my mind went, but instead she’s talking about hyphenates, people who do more than one thing (producer-director, writer-illustrator). We were supposed to design our own hyphenate/slash career (sorry, just cannot see slash in any other way at this point), using our current career and another career we want. Mine was writer/artist/teacher, and that’s pretty much what I’ve got now, so I think I’m good there.
Two more lessons and I’m finished with both courses, and I’ll be really sorry to see them end. There’s been a lot of enlightenment here.