I’ve been watching one too many TED talks. Maybe only just enough. Or maybe a few too few, since I linger on the ones I watch and think long on them. I was thinking about Elizabeth Gilbert’s thoughts on genius and creativity and the process of agony our culture puts our creative minds through. She draws a clear link between the writer and suffering. It’s an obvious link. Hemingway and Lord Byron and any of our beloved Beat poets lived there in the dark, Sylvia Plath, Anne Sexton, you can name them, the our aching wordsmiths.
I don’t disagree with Gilbert, in that the focus on the individual, the glorification of the “I” in creating art is a heavy burden to bear. But I think there are other tolls as well. This alone is not what hurts.
You know the other whys for which all these writers are pushing themselves toward their own destruction? It’s because we’re dredging up all the dark things from their deep marine trenches. It’s because there are monsters down there, and some of the best writing, some of the best music, some of the best the best the best that aches to read or hear or see is built of worst hurts, seen and lived and unresolved. Writing is a therapy. Writing is self-immolation. Writing is medicine. Writing is is a knife to a cutter.
No wonder the drinking. No wonder the drugs. And myself? There are some nights when I wrestle this stuff onto the page, and all I can do is cry. There are some nights when it’s a transcendent thing, and I am possessed, ridden by ghost or genius or loa, and none of the words are mine. It is arrogant to call the words mine. But there are always times when its is an open sore, or when the water drawn up from the well is poisoned. I wouldn’t trade it. It rests more easily after, but there are still the aches and demons. In the end, we’re sometimes still lion-tamers. And sometimes you’ll lose an arm. Is it just an occupational hazard? Or is it because we give over all our pain as a culture to a class of people to pen our catharsis? Is it because we’re facing our inner monsters, or because we’re trapping them in a labyrinth built of words? Is because writing allows us great release, or because our culture is so averse to emotion that we’ve compressed our pain into hidden bombs that go off when we engage in the act of exploring?