Wednesday, February 07, 2007

We're all mad here.

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:

The Mountain

Oh, up on the mountain the sun shines down like a lance,
The spiders prance, the fish growl, and the dragons dance,
And of course all two hundred dwarves run askance.
The squirrels all look around,
At the pizza to be found,
In the sky, but mostly on the ground.
All the varmints hop, to get away from the angry housewives mop
And the Martians hiding in the corn crop,
Waiting to abduct
People that get too close to their hiding spots,
Should know that the mountain is the life for them.
The mountain is big, as in large, as in big,
and the old monkey woman wears a wig,
as she bakes pie, made of pig.
Oh the mountain is big.

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?


jessica said...


You have a fantastic Blog . Keep it up!!
I was looking for ways to improve my Blog and I found your blog searching on Blogger. I really enjoyed reading it, in fact If you want thousands of others to see your blog for free, submit it to .. I send you warm regards and wish you continued success.


wynne said...

This subject--madness, anyway--is always somewhere bouncing around in my head. There is always a danger in seeing the world differently, you know. If you are not classified as having a mental illness or another "disorder" like autism and ostracized accordingly, you are most likely nailed to a cross or a mob stones you to death in middle of the street.

And I have always wondered how people have classified others as being "mentally ill." How can you tell? Is a mass murderer mentally ill or just morally bankrupt? The kid that wandered the nighttime streets in my childhood, talking to his fingers, absolutely nutty or just lonely? My friend's father, who believes he has been administered to by angels who wanted to take his blood--and indeed, did take it--is he delusional or exceptionally holy? Where is the line, and how can someone outside of your head determine it?

But I suppose that is a bit of a digression. The topic was the connection between madness and creativity, wasn't it? (I absolutely loved "The Mountain," by the way.)

It seems to me that the connection is more likely to be found between creativity and *pain.* A mad person may have far less inhibitions and be far more open to the stimuli around them, true, but I don't think that that is the necessary key to creativity. Perhaps a person is mad because of pain in their life, or perhaps the madness has generated the pain--but I think it might be the pain behind the madness that is the motivator. I mean, have you ever been in so much pain that you would be willing to do anything to get out of it? And so you are left with a choice--you must do something--do you destroy or do you create? And so many creative works are born of desperation. (At least, so says me.)

There are some C.S. Lewis quotes on the subject I remember hearing...let me see if I can Google them...yes:
"[Pain] removes the veil; it plants the flag of truth within the fortress of a rebel soul." And what is the soul of creation, of art, if not Truth? Pain forces you to see Truth--or perhaps it is seeing the Truth sometimes that is so painful...and now I'm wandering off into the completely vague and philosophical. Oops.

So do not despair, Marie. A week's worth of sleep-deprived loopiness wears off after a good night's sleep, but there is enough pain in the world to go around, and then some. And you are indeed a creative force that we all envy--really--look at your blog if nothing else--and your creativity has nothing to do with your brain. It's your heart.

wynne said...

Hmm...and one more C.S. Lewis quote:
"God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pains: it is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world."

Did you submit your blog to "autosurfmonster" as Jessica suggested, by the way?

Marie said...

You're probably right -- I don't think the article was saying that "insanity" was the only ingredient in creativity. Maybe anything that jolts you out of a regular groove can inspire creativity, whether a different way of seeing the world, or pain, or just plain old turmoil? Of course, there are "insane" people and people in heaps of pain who aren't creative. I guess, like anything, it's a ultimately a choice. I like your quotes. After seeing Shadowlands I'm prepared to believe that CS Lewis's creativity was the pain-inspired variety. I sobbed in that movie. People in the row in front of me were turning around to make sure I was okay.

As for me, I really have no significant pain. Just the boo-hoo-no-man-loves-me-and-I-may-never-have-babies variety, and that's common enough these days. Most days, I'm trying to pass off clever as creative. You, on the other hand...

That message from "Jessica" looked like some sort of advertisement, so I ignored it. I have no idea what autosurfmonster is. Do you? Is it good to let "thousands" of strangers see my blog? What if they throw tomatoes at me?