Archive for December 16th, 2010

Yeah, yeah … Christmas blahs and blah, blah, blah, but the fact of the matter is holidays like this are really nothing more than a bit of a spike on the blah chart and I have to admit I’m simply not the jolly type. Never have been. Never will be.

Sure, I have moments of great joy, and how I relish those, commit them to memory, drag them out, dust them off and roll around in them when I can … meaning when doing that doesn’t just make me sad.

But it’s not the Blue Christmas thing that prompts a post today, and I’m actually doing pretty well in putting on the happy face around the house; the tree goes up today and the kids and I will be rockin’ around it as we do the festooning.

No. Today I’m dwelling in the House of Blues for a short time this morning because a young writer friend is breaking out in spontaneous mental and emotional bruises and wondering if he should worry.

Well … yes. And no.

The connection between writers and depression is well documented … any quick Google of the topic gives more than six million links … as the condition has been well studied, as this from the NY Times illustrates:

Kay Jamison, a professor of psychiatry at Johns Hopkins University and the author of “Touched With Fire: Manic-Depressive Illness and the Artistic Temperament,” said writers were 10 to 20 times as likely as other people to suffer manic-depressive or depressive illnesses, which lead to suicide more often than any other mental disorders do.

It is not surprising that these mood disorders seem most at home in the artistic mind. “The cognitive style of manic-depression overlaps with the creative temperament,” Ms. Jamison said. Researchers have found that in a mildly manic state, subjects think more quickly, fluidly and originally. In a depressed state, subjects are self-critical and obsessive, an ideal frame of mind for revision and editing.

This is not to say all writers face such issues. Writing news copy or discourses on quilting or self-agrandizingly embellished journals or anything meant simply to describe, boost ego or sell stuff can amount to skin scrapings, a slight grating of a surface that leaves a residue others can observe. I’m not suggesting journalists don’t often gouge deeply enough to draw blood or some aren’t passionate enough about handicrafts to work up a sweat.

Neither do I make allegations that writing about the mundane is in any way ‘less than’. In the same way that mechanical drawing isn’t fine art, mechanical writing may require no more connection than fingertips-to-keyboard, the results of which can be interesting, instructional, even entertaining.

It’s not only a difference between writing nonfiction and creating an entirely new world. There is such a thing as the formulaic masterpiece, bestsellers and box office blockbusters, all the outcome of dedicated linking of one word to the next to the next. In other words, writing.

It takes neither depth nor depression to write, as can be seen by the vast amount of shallow prose and numbers of jolly writers, and there is value in the light read, the contrived tale with the satisfying resolution, the amusing amble down familiar paths.

There is also, however, a shit-load of evidence that writing from the gut takes a toll … or is it the other way around? William Styron’s chronicling of his battle with depression, Darkness Visible, is a fascinating read for anyone, but for writers struggling through the paradox of “Do I write because I’m depressed, or am I depressed because I write?” … or any angle, actually … it resonates.

Perhaps because I deal with this shit, too, the man makes sense to me …

“The good writing of any age has always been the product of someone’s neurosis, and we’d have a mighty dull literature if all the writers that came along were a bunch of happy chuckleheads.” ~ William Styron

Happy chuckleheads. Yeah … well …

As Aldous Huxley put it well:

“There is something curiously boring about somebody else’s happiness.”

And perhaps it’s this attitude that keeps most writers from describing their profession as fun.

At the same time writing helps me process life, it also isolates me, a fact that makes processing a lonely endeavor that has me making it up as I go along. Stories and characters form and a need builds to put them to use, to flesh them out, to see where they’re going. This, of course, means I live in my head a lot, and since my head rather defines solitary space, even when it gets a bit crowded, it’s alone I face not only my own life, but the lives of all those stewing in my creative juices.

Even my thoughts need form, and since I’m a writer, not a painter or a musician, they take shape in words and words must be read, internalized, not simply reacted to. Sure, a bit of short verse can prompt a quick impression … a ‘that’s pretty’ or some toe-tapping … but anything longer requires some commitment from the audience, an arrogant demand on every level.

When I write for pay, I write for the person paying me. When I write for myself I may have hope others will take something from what I’ve written … a piece of me … but that’s not why I work toward the end. It ends when it’s done, when there’s no more to say than “The End”.

Like preparation for a great meal, much time is put into the effort and the consuming happens quickly, but it’s days or weeks or months of prep and what’s served up is more of a child I’ve gestated than a roast. Is there any wonder there’s stress in the process and hopes that what’s offered is appreciated?

Funny thing, but what began this morning as a brief look at writing has taken all day. Life and Christmas tree got in the way, but also the realization that this topic is a thorny slide down the brain stem, and that surprises me. The more I think about writing the less I like what I do, yet the more I feel I must do it.

The tree is now up and the kids want to get to the beach. Sounds good to me. Tomorrow, I’ll pick an easier blog topic for kick-starting the brain and fingers and get some work done, giving nary a thought to anything electro-chemical happening between my ears.

And that, peeps, is how I manage to get through a day and write.

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