Pitcher Plants of Emotion

Dee Richards
4 min readFeb 19, 2024

My friend, and relation by marriage, an artist, Daisy Angst, and I were talking about artistic envy. I am not sure if we meant artistic envy — it feels a lot more like artistic disability to me. It’s an odd feeling of limitation of my ability as an artist. It manifests in knowing how much I love surrealist horror, but struggling so intensely to produce it. I believe that I have achieved it three times that I can think of. However, these efforts have found a lot of criticism and scrutiny. I don’t know what limitation my friend feels since they are already such an amazing artist, but it is nice to know I’m not the only one who struggles with this.

What I mean by artistic disability is relating only to my own experiences of disability. I have an autoimmune degenerative joint disorder, which, at times, leaves me completely immobile. I need a wheelchair when I am going places with extended walking, not because I can’t walk, but because I never know when I will suddenly stop being able to. Also, my brain works differently than others. Hence the “neurodiverse” self-identification on my profile and all official bios. I see parents climbing rope ladders with their kids, and despite being proud of my identity, I am sad that I can’t do that. I am intensely proud of being neurodiverse and love neurodiversity in others but, in classes, it’s hard not to feel like an alien when all of your answers are so different from everyone else’s. That is my experience of disability, knowing that others can achieve something that I wish to do but can’t. Still, this idea of “artistic disability” is both a correct and incorrect way to describe what I feel.

Unlike disability, my ability to write will change. Maybe if I learn the right lessons, practice enough and put my all into it, I will write what’s in my mind. I may still one day compose tales about the true horror of plants, as I am completely fascinated by, or the sucking pit of emotional manipulation. But, whenever I sit down and try to make these things appear… I draw a blank. How do I create this horror? How do I find these words? I feel as though it should be a natural ability, but it simply isn’t. I can write, to be sure. I can even write decent stories, at times. I can learn writing craft, and read books, and try to emulate those books until I figure out my way of doing things. In that, maybe it is like a disability. But doing it with such efficiency, like Clive Barker or Neil Gaiman, feels completely outside of my ability.

When I was a child, I did not want to be a child. I know that it is not how everyone feels, because my son loves being a kid. However, he also gets intensely frustrated at his lack of ability. His stature as a child, his mouth formation abilities, and his still-developing mental capacity make him angry to be small. It has been so long since I was a child that I do not remember if I just hated being a kid, or hated being limited. But, despite these limitations, my son loves being a kid. He thinks being a grown-up sounds stressful — he’s not wrong. But, I really wouldn’t choose to go back and be a kid again. I wouldn’t even wish to be in my twenties again. How can I be this old, this developed, and still not be able to communicate what’s in my mind? It’s almost as though the limitation never ends, just changes. I wonder if Neil Gaiman still feels limited.

So maybe it is artistic envy. Yes, I envy Neil Gaiman’s ability. I envy that he did so much more with his craft than I have. I am disabled in very specific ways, but I doubt it is artistically. The empty wishing well of my artistic intent could be filled one day. I doubt I’ll ever fill it with envious pennies of self-serving sob stories about my inability. I will have to fill it with effort, and practice. Still, artistic disability is my only way to relate the feeling I have when faced with my limitations. I truly do not feel disabled when I am alone, sitting at my desk, writing. It is only when I have to enter into the sphere of another that I feel it. When I have to feebly attempt to explain my thinking, I feel disabled. When people felt it necessary to say they wished they could be in a wheelchair to get disabled access to a Knott’s Berry Farm ride, I feel disabled. When I submit my favorite surrealist horror pieces, only to be rejected (and one time, absolutely shredded for being “ridiculous nonsense), the feeling is similar. It isn’t envy exactly, but it isn’t a disability either. What is it?

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Dee Richards

Dee is a neurodiverse writer from San Diego, with 3 awards in CNF & 9 short-form pubs. Subjects: feminism, identity theory, surrealism, horror, media analysis.