Recently, Graham Greene's (in)famous quote about observing other people's tribulations has been on my mind:
There is a splinter of ice in the heart of a writer. I watched and listened. There was something which one day I might need . . .
And, in a similar vein, Peter Schjeldahl on the artist Paul Thek:
But he was always coolly acute in his mind as an artist, with an inner detachment that characterizes first-rate talents.
I certainly do not possess Greene's chilly sliver, always averting my eyes from uncomfortable or painful scenes in movies, and cringing from social awkwardness rather than relishing it the way some are able to. And it's always difficult for artists to look upon their own work with a measured gaze, but now more than ever, I aspire to a Thek-like measure of detachment. It wasn't until rather recently that I even understood that separating myself emotionally from my work — at least a little — would actually improve it. Looking back on earlier years, I feel as though I was being boiled alive in my own emotional stew, struggling to see my work through the murky broth, but unable to extricate myself from the soup. But I think I'm seeing things a little clearer now. Or at least, I feel clearer about what my work is, and perhaps more importantly, what it isn't. An important first step.