“The very least you can do in your life is figure out what you hope for. And the most you can do is live inside that hope not admire it from a distance, but live right in it, under its roof.”~ Barbara Kingsolver, Animal Dreams
Wow. Can I just tell you how good it felt to put up a post yesterday? I know that I didn’t exactly reveal any great truths or ponder any of life’s deep mysteries; nevertheless, it felt good to write something. Since my computer died, I’ve been spending more time on tumblr, reblogging other people’s pictures and quotes, which is always nice as far as finding new things, but just isn’t the same as moving some words around the page.
So much has been happening on the political front, but I’m not in the mood to castigate Neanderthal thinking tonight. Instead, I thought that I might just write and see what comes to me—open the window, so to speak, to allow whatever thoughts are drifting by to coast inside and cogitate a bit.
“You see, I am a poet, and not quite right in the head, darling. It’s only that.” ~ Edna St. Vincent Millay
I found out yesterday that Brett hasn’t been taking his medication, not for about five days. I am of mixed feelings about this. I mean, he seems to be doing okay, and perhaps without the steady stream of stress from school he really is feeling balanced at the moment. However, he starts college in less than a month and a half, and if that’s isn’t a stress inducer, I don’t know what is.
I do understand his desire to be off medication, to be normal, as it were. I often think of being without medication (not pain medication, but the other kind). I know that as far as writing, creating, it is easier without medication than with. I know from times past that the highs and lows, the keen sense of soaring when things are good, and the abysmal sense of falling when they are not—these undulating moods can be like a drug to the one who is being tossed about on the waves.
Pain can be addictive. Pain can make the sufferer feel more alive. Pain separates the anguished from the even; the heady ride into the unknowing can be positively euphoric when compared to notions of normalcy. The years that I spent without medication, immersed in my grief and pain were some of my most prolific as far as churning out pages and pages of angst. But really, how much of it was good, was readable? How much of it would I put out there for public consumption? I do not think that I can answer that honestly, and certainly not without bias.
“The most beautiful things are those that madness prompts and reason writes. ~ André Gide, Journals, 1894
Those of you who have never ridden these waves probably find me incomprehensible. How could anyone possibly enjoy suffering? Well, enjoy is not the best word. I don’t think that anyone enjoys suffering (well, almost anyone). It’s more that the suffering becomes so entwined in the very fiber of being that to be without it feel as if a hollow has replaced the niches in which the pain and suffering resided.
Consider Emily Dickinson. Hers was a life of complex solitude that led to pages and pages of contemplation about life, death, grief, spirituality, hope, and pain. Dickinson’s poems often expound on the idea of what life must be like for other people—their dreams, sorrows, etc.:
I measure every grief I meet
With analytic eyes;
I wonder if it weighs like mine,
Or has an easier size.
I wonder if they bore it long,
Or did it just begin?
I could not tell the date of mine,
It feels so old a pain.
I wonder if it hurts to live,
And if they have to try,
And whether, could they choose between,
They would not rather die.
That no one found the poet’s written pages until after her death reflects her intense need for privacy. Perhaps Dickinson believed that no one else would be able to comprehend that of which she spoke, that no one else would care to share her intimate thoughts. Of course, many years later Dickinson has become a mainstay in the American literature canon.
“Artistic temperament sometimes seems a battleground, a dark angel of destruction and a bright angel of creativity wrestling.” ~ Madeleine L’Engle
Does the individual need to be mad to be an artist? Of course not. Is there a tinge of madness in many artistic souls? Probably.
I think that it, this kinship with madness, comes from feeling too much, that there must be something in the artistic temperament that makes bearing witness to life and death, love and hate, elation and despair—that makes the knowing too hard to be left untold. Hence, reams and reams of poetry and prose, canvases awash with emotion, photographs that capture that absolute essence of a moment in time, songs that run so deep that listeners weep upon the hearing; sculptures, carvings, tapestries, mosaics, and architecture that reflect a connection with beauty, a knowledge of pain, a reflection of loss.
It’s all here. It always has been, ever since the first person took a finger, dipped it in blood or berry juice, and began to draw on a cave wall, ever since someone else took a rock with a sharp edge and hewed into a larger stone. The need to translate what is felt into something tangible is as ancient as time.
“The creative person is both more primitive and more cultivated, more destructive, a lot madder and a lot saner, than the average person.” ~ Frank Barron
So, the question perhaps is whether or not to medicate the artistic mind. To what end? To allow that person to become more normal? To bring that person some sense of peace? Who decides just what is acceptable, what is normal? Can peace of mind be induced chemically?
Or is the call for medication more for those around the artist so that the surrounding family, friends, whatever, can live life with fewer disruptions caused by the shifting moods of the odd one? You know, the one who doesn’t really fit in, who has never really fit in—the outsider.
But consider this: Often when not medicated, the artistic individual will turn to other sources for calming or for stimulation. Alcohol? Heroin? All of it? How many creative geniuses has society lost to the vices employed as balms to the tortured soul?
- Elizabeth Barrett Browning (opium)
- Ernest Hemingway (alcohol)
- Beethoven (alcohol)
- William S. Burroughs (heroin)
- Kurt Cobain (heroin)
- Edna St. Vincent Millay (alcohol)
- Tennessee Williams (alcohol, amphetamines, barbiturates)
- Charlie Parker (heroin)
- Jack Kerouac (alcohol)
- Hunter S. Thompson (anything and everything)
And then, of course, are the artists who were depressed, suicidal, and/or addicted: Anne Sexton, Vincent Van Gogh, Sylvia Plath, James Wright, and many, many others. Would Van Gogh have painted “Starry Night” if he were on lithium? Could he have even envisioned those passionate swirls with all of their intense aching if were pumped full of prozac?
Just wondering. More later. Peace.