If Van Gough had Prozac, would he have explored creative worlds only he saw? If Tennessee Williams had been born in a time where homosexuality was universally accepted, would he have poured out A Streetcar Named Desire? If Hemmingway, Fitzgerald, every other depressed tortured writer and artist had Effexor, or Wellbutrin or any other anti depressant, would their genius have existed, at all? I ask this because I can’t understand how one works at writing or art or anything that requires so much energy and attention, and be wired in a way that causes melancholy. And yet, that very pain seems to have been the catalyst for amazing works, stunning words, pictures. If Van Gough had been given the choice between creating, or less agony, would he have chosen the latter?
Although these chemical combos do equalize moods and stabilize physic pain, they also blunt the very aspects responsible for creative impulse. No, that’s not a scientific fact, just observation by many on those meds and doctors who have treated patients who have expressed a stunted urge to create. So many writers were alcoholics, self medicating for what, they probably didn’t know. It didn’t do what these meds do, drinking is a temporary balm, a way to muddle through, the creative juices aren’t sluiced away as with chemicals altering the brain. If given the choice of a pain free life, would these writers have taken it?
I believe they would have. I think that if Van Gough could have saved his ear, and sanity, he would have, despite no Starry Night. If Zelda and F. Scott were happily Xanaxed their total creative output would have been a calm and uneventful marriage. Do artists need to suffer to create? Isn’t this a age old question brought up at 60s cocktail parties? Has any one since the Swing Sixties delivered a definitive answer?
I’ve sat at my desk doing repetitious mind numbing work for my other job, seriously immersed because it’s easier than trying to come up with pithy things to write. The last few months have been slightly frenetic with an almost brain tumor, possible leg cancer (mother), dog rushed to the emergency room (my fault there–I snipped not only my dog’s hair, but also his butt), a dying ferret, and general all over stress from watching the horrific news about people far worse off than oneself. If melancholy is a blueprint for creativity, I should be building a few metropolises. I can remember when a good few days of agony could produce 20 new jewelry designs, not to mention Kleenex stock rising. I could weep, wail, and whack out some wholesale orders at the same time. That’s if the agony was slight. Deeper than that, and all was at a standstill.
So, how do writers do it? If a bad week, terrible events occur in their lives, how do they soldier on? I hear too many writers claim they write such and such amount of hours each day, religiously, no deviation. How? They brag about the number of words on their screens. Some might point out it’s not the number but the content, but hey, at least they have words. Is it like my former productive agony days? The more distress, the better the story, the greater the output? Why doesn’t depression keep artists from creating? I wish I had that secret, because I can’t find the energy I should have to process questions for interviews people are waiting on, or describe my day at a antiquarian book fair, or even give a typical bombastic review of one of the best 100 etc., etc., etc. Today that ferret had to be let go, and although that alone cannot account for the grayness, it could be used as an excuse for those who have no clue what struggles with unreliable emotion is like. People need something tangible to account for another’s difficulties. Just being doesn’t cut it. Despite all the inroads of meds, the public awareness commercials, the handing out of anti-depression meds like candy to those who have a bad day once in awhile, most still see someone who is unable to cope with daily tedium joyfully, as just not trying hard enough. If there is a magic potion artists and writers partake of unbeknownst to the rest of us, to help them carry on, one that doesn’t alter reality, or the creative essence within, someone needs to bottle, patent, and get an infomercial. I’d have my credit card out in a flash, even though I’d be paying extra shipping for the bonus second bottle.