“When was super depressed, I wasn’t working—I was always too depressed. Hemingway did his best work when he didn’t drink, then he drank himself to death and blew his head off with a shotgun. Someone asked John Cheever, “What’d you learn from Hemingway?” and he said “I learned not to blow my head off with a shotgun.” I remember going to the Michigan poetry festival, meeting Etheridge Knight there and Robert Creeley. Creeley was so drunk—he was reading and he only had one eye, of course, and had to hold his book like two inches from his face using his one good eye. But you look at somebody like George Saunders—I think he’s the best short story writer in English alive—that’s somebody who tries very hard to live a sane, alert life. You’re present when you’re not drinking a fifth of Jack Daniel’s every day. It’s probably better for your writing career, you know? I think being tortured as a virtue is a kind of antiquated sense of what it is to be an artist.”
In an interview with The Fix, Mary Karr debunks the toxic mythology that it is necessary to be damaged in order to be creative. My own vehement defiance to that mythology is what led me to choose Ray Bradbury – the ultimate epitome of creating from joy rather than suffering – as the subject of my contribution to The New York Times’ The Lives They Lived.
Pair with Karr on why writers write.
This entire quote makes me very uneasy, but in particular I take a lot of exception to “tries very hard to live a sane, alert life.”
All that is happening here is that one kind of false equivalency of virtue is being debunked, only to be replaced with another: assigning a moral value to someone’s health or coping skills, to “getting better.”
People who suffer from depression, from trauma, from alcoholism, from anxiety—many of them try hard, in ways that people who don’t deal with those issues just can’t understand. A lot of us try like hell just to get out of bed every fucking morning.
I don’t think it’s “necessary to be damaged in order to be creative.” I don’t think there’s any virtue in having to live this way. Being depressed or otherwise compromised isn’t noble at all—it’s absolutely wretched, and sometimes the thought of all the incredible things I could create if I didn’t spend so much of my time trying to get out from under this is almost too much to bear.
But for some, being creative is a survival mechanism, and I do think there’s value in taking something that no human being should ever have to experience, and channeling it into something productive and beautiful. Especially if it keeps you from hurting yourself. I think that should be celebrated as a heroic act.
I don’t even like Hemingway, but what a disrespectful and reductive thing to say about his life’s work.
I think what’s dangerous about this is the attempted reduction of all creative people to one ideal. No, you don’t have to be “damaged” to be creative, but equally our struggles do not eliminate that creative power. There are a great many narratives of authors, artists and inventors who have struggled with addiction or illness in many forms, and have been doing their creative work at the same time - not in some ideal, pure, lucid period in between. Pain can inhibit creativity, can inspire it, or can have no connection to it at all. It is reductionist and harmful to erase any one of those truths.
Personally, I wrote far more prolifically and consistently whilst struggling with depression and frequent self-harm than I have at any other time since, but that isn’t to say that I can’t and don’t write when I’m doing better. It isn’t as simple as either this interview or that so-called “toxic” mythology make it out to be.
What: Tumblr Fic War
Who: Anyone who reblogs this post.
When: Until everyone is actualfax dead, because this is WAR suckers!
What: Everyone who reblogs this post is opening their ask box up to the most brutal, feelings-inducing prompts anyone who is playing can imagine. Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to take those prompts and DESTROY EVERYONE with them. Not just angsty stuff either, fluff can be just as bad, as many of you know!