All the Ailments of the Artist

The anniversary of Ernest Hemingway’s suicide just passed. It put me in mind of an NPR interview with John Waters, in which the director lamented the losses of his creative friends and colleagues. The interviewer said that many of these people died from drugs, suicide, and general mental illness, which Waters summed up as (and I’m paraphrasing), “all the ailments of the artist.” It touched me, the way he said that, and it made me wonder about the curse that congeals on the flip-side of creativity.

There’s even a Wikipedia article about it.

I’m no Hemingway. Not even close. I haven’t written a novel, but my mind whirls with ideas and images at all hours, and I feel guilty when I don’t answer my muse. So guilty am I that I often contemplate sharing Hemingway’s end. More than once in my life, at times of boundless despair, my toes poked over that edge. I was lucky: I had people in my life that loved me enough to pull me back from that chilly cliff, but they never learned how to stop me from wandering back there. I don’t even know how to stop me from wandering back there. It’s a mystery, a drive that I cannot fathom or even control at times.

Many of the artists that I’ve known are cheerful and friendly, but also easily depressed. They aren’t miserable, unpleasant people, they just feel the faults of their lives, and the lives of others, more acutely than the “bros” and “babes” that I know. Those folks only seem to think about car and nail styles.

Artists soak up the pain and guilt of life far too readily, but they absorb it, channel it, and discharge it in ways that can both warm and wrench the heart. They are skiffs with cannons: vulnerable to the ravages of the sea, but with a ferocious ability to tear down the ships around them. I’ve sadly found that my darkest nights, the nights when I was lying before the bathtub with blade in hand, were the nights I could be the god-damned cruelest person I ever knew. I know how to hurt because I know where it hurts.

On the other hand, I also know how to heal. I know how to build, I know how to make merry. I know because I’ve done it before. For many years, I thought I knew real recovery, I thought I felt free from the grip of suicidal depression. I tumbled back, though, and other people are paying the price with me. It takes the strength of many to push someone up a hill when he doesn’t want to go.

I’ll find my legs again, though, and I’ll get climbing. With any luck, maybe a few people will see me once I get back up there.

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Author: lisvender

Writer and animator in Central California.

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