[I] wonder if creative people have a core of fierce insecurity inside of them that's so profound that they see any legitimate praise as a form of sycophancy? As a creative professional, I am wracked with various insecurities but they've never spilled over into a belief that people "want" something from me if they tell me they like my work.
First: If you're not already reading that blog, dooo eeet. Easton doesn't post often — unlike most of us Netizinians, he has a life — but when he does, it's inevitably memorable and intelligent stuff. He has a lot to say about the "geeks of color" issue (I hate that term, but it's more or less all we have), and how too much of the time being a) black and b) nerdy turn out to be problematic. What's worse is how the problems don't stem from society at large, but from other blacks, or, worse, other nerds.
One of the fandom groups I'm in that meets up locally has a heartening mix of both ethnicity and gender, but I have to remind myself that a lot of people don't get this lucky, and that it's also not about what I do in the safety of my own clique. It's also about challenging this stuff whenever its stupidity rears its head in front of you.
But this post revolved around something else — namely, the problem of meeting your heroes, and finding that maybe they weren't worthy of heroism. Or, as he noted, what happens when you meet them and find that they seem more interested in being flattered than simply being connected with.
I had a deeply heartening — flat-out beautiful, let's just call it that — experience when I met Phil Yeh a couple of years ago at Comic-Con. I think I was the only person that entire day who came up to him knowing full well who he was and what he'd done, and we ended up talking for something like two hours about how many great creators have to go outside their milieu to get anything like decent recognition. (He's well-known in Europe, but in his native U.S.A., he's nobody, and it's a shame.) He didn't strike me as someone who just craved flattery, but connection. Ditto Larry Marder, the creator of Beanworld, who I met at the same show on another year.
But there are a lot of people who are simply not like that, and because of their station and their status, have no obligation to not be like that. The cartoonist who revealed himself to be a fire-and-brimstone fundamentalist and xenophobe; the fantasy illustrator with delusions of tin-plated dictatorhood; the astoundingly embittered horror author; the voice actors, plural, who threw one variety of spoiled-brat tantrum or another, or who couldn't keep their bigoted venom to themselves ... but who are able to do the right thing by enough of the right people to never have the rug jerked out from under them.
The problem with talent, or rather being told you have talent, is that it becomes easy to assume it substitutes one-for-one with being a good person. Talent forgives a multitude of sins, at least in the most practical terms. A person whose insufferability as a human being is outstripped just far enough by their talent is deprived of the chance to learn humility. And not humility embodied in a great, outwardly-advertised moment, but the humility of the endless succession of small moments — the smile, the handshake, the autograph with the dedication to one's dog. A million of those little goodnesses matter far more than any three big ones.