Thursday, October 22, 2009

In Praise of the Crack-Up

Jeanette Winterson, for The Wall Street Journal, discusses the demons that often haunt creative types.

From the story...

The collision of creativity and mental instability is so marked that the tortured artist has become a cliché. But with depression rising fast right across the population—and twice as fast among women as men—it is worth trying to separate the cliché from the truth it masks, and to ask whether the connection between creativity and depression can help us think again about the bigger picture.

Such an enquiry is not academic. My creativity pulled me out of a hopeless childhood, and gave my life meaning and shape. But I have always had various forms of manic depression, (just can't bring myself to call it "bipolar"— whoever invented that dismal term must have been uni-polar—a condition I define as being permanently tethered to the banal). But I mostly managed, and, of course, creative people get away with bad behavior. We aren't expected to conform, so our social pathologies —the drink, drugs, failed love affairs, crashed cars, rages and tantrums—are not much questioned by society, and in any case, have entertainment value. Where would we be without Amy Winehouse cracking up for us or Jasper Johns rolling himself and his lovers across his paint-charged canvases?

Although I knew I had plenty of personal failings, and that my mental states were unreliable, I also knew that I could do the work. I have never taken antidepressants because I couldn't face the flatness. I preferred the highs and the crashes, even though it meant the rages and the withdrawals, and anyway, I'd rather have my own suffering than someone else's solution.

Then about two years ago, when I was finishing a novel—which is always a thin-skinned state—my lover left me, and I discovered some difficult-to-swallow facts about my adoption. Result? I fell off the edge of life.

Pictured above: Detail of Michelangelo's "Last Judgment"

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