When My Creative Hero Came Down To Earth

Everyone has these fantasies of meeting someone they idolize in some way, dead or alive.  The kind of person you’d meet and expect to simply be unable to speak to because you’d be dumbstruck by how awesome they are.

Some people fantasize about meeting Michael Jordan.  Or if they’re holy, they want to meet someone like the Rebbe.

I’m a writer and a dork and unfortunately not quite so holy, so for me, the meetings I had always envisioned were with someone behind the Simpsons or Futurama, two of my favorite shows.  Especially a writer.  I mean, how did they come up with that stuff?

I am in awe of TV shows.  The way something can be consistently funny or deep or dramatic week after week.  The way characters develop (or don’t).  It’s incredible.

And so when Eric Kaplan commented on one of my posts on Pop Chassid a while back, my head just about blew off.

For those who don’t know, Eric writes for the Big Bang Theory.  But he has also written for many other shows, including the Simpsons and Futurama.  In fact, he wrote my favorite episodes of Futurama.  He wrote the now-famous episode “Jurassic Bark” with the ending that I can’t give away because it is so beautiful and poignant.

So for me, this was like I was shooting hoops on some dinky park court and Michael Jordan came up to me and told me that he liked my moves.  For a dorky writer like me, it was something I could hardly believe happened.

Eric and I got talking online.  Again, I was kind of flabbergasted.  Michael Jordan wanted to talk to me.

Ironically, although I was vaguely aware of how inaccurate it was to idolize someone for their work, I couldn’t help it.  There was this inner force compelling me.  Even as we spoke, at the beginning, all I could think was, “This is Eric Kaplan, writer of Futurama.  Of Three Hundred Big Boys.  Of Jurassic Bark.  WOW.”

And then we started talking, and it was all about G-d and Judaism because that’s what happened to be on both our minds at the time.  He didn’t know it, but I was starting to question a lot of what I believed, and he was himself looking for a community of spiritually engaged people to interact with.

It still amazes me, as I look back, just how quickly my image of Eric fell to earth.  I had never gotten to know a Michael Jordan until I met Eric. 

When we spoke, even after a few minutes, but especially as the days and weeks passed, he just couldn’t hide the fact that he was human.  That he was wrong (in my mind) about a lot of things.  That he has hangups.  That for all his brilliance he is still just a person who’s going to die like the rest of us.

Our society tends to enjoy hero-worship.  We write effusively about the greatness of our cultural heroes, from Michael Jordan to Albert Einstein to Bill Cosby.  And yet, relative to the amount of worshipping we do, we rarely speak about their glaring flaws.

As it turns out, Michael Jordan is apparently not such a nice dude.

Albert Einstein was a pernicious womanizer.

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Bill Cosby… well, we don’t need to get into that discussion right now.

Eric is none of those things, but he also happens to be human.  And my experience getting to know him, and now having him on board here on Hevria, is that there are two aspects to creativity, and they both hold their own special truth.

1. A creator is not his creation

The funny thing is that we have a million examples of actors, musicians, sports hall of famers, and more who are full of personal failings.  Despite this, we seem to still have this inner urge to look at the with the same awe we have for their work.  There is a part of us that has trouble separating their creation from who they are.

I think we do this because when we have a “perfect” experience watching or reading or experiencing some trascendent form of art or performance, we want to believe that such a reality could also exist in a person.  That a person could be perfect, beyond reality.  And so even when we’re aware of Einstein and Jordan’s failings, we can’t help admire them still: we still want to believe in their perfection.

Which brings me to the next point.

2. A creator is his creation

I think, though, that there is something true in our experience, and it should be acknowledged.  It should be seen for what it is, or we may be missing out on a fundamental experience of truth.

When an artist or performer or scientist or athlete performs in such a way that we simply cannot help but have a transcendent experience, we are tapping into something very real.  We are tapping into that person’s heart.  Their potential.  Maybe even their soul, if we’re lucky.

Really what we’re experiencing is a hint of the divine: the part of eternality that we are all connected with, that is why we matter, that is why we value human life so dearly.

In other words, those transcendent moments remind us that there is a G-d, and that within each person exists g-dliness.

I suppose that’s why Jews are so anti-idol-worship: they want us to remember that the beauty we see in this world comes from more than the body of the person possessing it or the physical reality that expresses it.

Which brings me back to Eric: I think that if I didn’t know Eric for who he was, for his art, I wouldn’t have been able to connect with him in the way I eventually did: we disagree in so many ways, and we see the world so differently (externally at least), that I wouldn’t have been open to speaking with him if I didn’t respect his work so much.

And now I value his friendship so much for the two reasons above: because I understand he is just human but that he is also divine.  That for all our disagreements, for all our debates, he is a fundamentally beautiful person who deserves more than respect and admiration: he deserves to be valued for his inherent worthiness.

And so maybe I can come out of all this with a lesson: that, while a person is not his creation, perhaps we can use our awe of his work to remind us that this person has an infinite soul.  And that infinite soul is so beautiful because it is attached to the essence of all things.

And thus, all living things, especially humans, deserve our awe.  Not in a worshipping sense, but in an awareness of the infinite and its role our lives sense. 

Maybe when we experience that awe, rather than focusing it on one person we can shoot it out to the world, and realize that the homeless man you pass on the street, the person quietly reading across from you on the subway, the person drinking alone in the same bar… every single one of them possesses that incredible beauty.  That inherent worthiness.