Everyone knows that many of the greatest artists have been certifiable. Most of these people spend more time reimagining the world on canvas or celluloid or CD than they do eating paint or cutting off their own ears, but sometimes the border between creative and insane is hard to define.
In recent months I've had occasion to think about and read about autism a lot, and it's interesting to learn that what in many cases manifests as extreme rigidity and adherence to routine (think Rainman) is just a coping strategy for the autistic, who notice the bazillion things that the rest of us automatically filter and sort. The fact that they notice every last fleck of light and shadow gives them creative possibilities that others lack, but the problem is learning to sort thorough all they see and express it to others.
My brother (lightly loopy, a formidable scriptorian, and one of the hottest XYs on the market) teaches kids who have been committed to the State Mental Hospital in Provo. He sees the whole array, from those who are truly crippled by their illnesses to those who walk a line between madness and mad genius. I got a real kick out of this poem that an autistic student turned out for a writing assignment:
Oh, up on the mountain the sun shines down like a lance,
We've got a new Lewis Carroll here -- someone bust that kid out and let him loose upon this drab world! I'm a bit jealous. My family culture glorified craziness, so I was miffed when a series of high school personality/career tests repeatedly placed me smack in the middle of the left-right brain continuum. Vaguely creative, vaguely analytical, remarkably nothing. I dreamed of making a name for myself as a lunatic guru with a profoundly wacked comeback for all things banal. I wanted to be a Feste, a Python, a Blackadder, a Starkadder, a Tweedle Brother, a Coen Brother. But alas.
Normally I content myself with devouring the work of those who are true originals and pray that God will see fit to remove my left brain in the next life. But I have noticed that when I'm really excited-slash-distressed, it shuts off on its own and odd things happen. For instance, several years ago I stumbled on the first band I'd ever found that tapped into my preferred brand of warm-hearted nutsiness, and for a week or more I was up late listening to their music. Eventually my sleep-deprived self began writing a really wacky poem (more doggerel verse, really) that I eventually attached to the first and only fan letter I've ever written. This goofy poem then led to a friendship with the loony lyricist himself and one of his Pynchon-reading buddies. Almost a dream come true, but....
I was a fraud, and that became apparent when my addled brain returned to normal. I was asked to contribute some edgy copy to the press kit for their new record. My heart pitter-pattered, but my right brain called in sick. In retrospect, the solution was likely some LSD and an all-nighter or two, but with smoke pouring out my ears I begged them to let me off the hook. They knew how much I wanted to contribute and kindly threw me a consolation prize -- I could copyedit their liner notes. I still cringe when I think of it. My big chance to flaunt my inner kook, and I ended up EDITING LINER NOTES.
Maybe I should check myself in and see what I can learn from my brother's students. I know life with a mental illness must be hellish, but life as a terminal derivative is no walk in the park either. Who wants to die of boredom?