Saturday, November 19, 2011

Voices In Your Head: Are Writers Crazy?

I've been working with my third and fourth graders on using periods correctly in connected text.  "Listen to the voice in your head," I said one day.  "If it stops, then you probably need a period."  Not a rule, but a good guideline when the trickier nuances of grammar elude you.  So, I'm teaching children to listen to the voices inside their heads.

Isn't that what we writers do all the time?  Listen to the voices in our heads, follow the craziest, darkest impulses and hallucinations, enter waking dreams, talk to ourselves, project alter egos and multiple personalities that take on lives of their own and tell us what to do.  And we can't seem to stop.  It's pathological.

Some people even believe that you can't be a truly gifted writer, or gifted in any creative field, unless you're mentally ill.  They point to the long, long list of creative geniuses who struggled with mental illness, and, in so many cases, succumbed and committed suicide.  "If they'd had access to prozac, maybe they never would have created such great works."

People don't seem to apply quite the same argument to brilliant scientists.  And I can't think of many examples of great scientists who killed themselves.  Why?  Is the scientific mind less vulnerable to the destructive influence of creativity?  Or is scientific genius simply not viewed with the same mistrust as artistic genius?  Maybe I'm just less aware of the struggles great scientists have had with mental illness.  Perhaps the stigma is greater for a scientist who is insane because their mental illness could discredit their work, while the world may still embrace the works of an artist who is insane.

My husband and I watched the German silent film of FAUST last night.  I was struck by the similarities between Faust and Shakespeare's Prospero.  Magicians, working strange wonders with their mystical books.  Early alchemists blurred the lines between science and the mystical imagination all the time.  And people feared them, saw them as dabblers in dark magic making deals with the devil, or madmen attempting to play God, as in FRANKENSTEIN and so many similar tales (written by us creative types).

Personally, I like the mystical interpretation of creativity better than the psychological one.  Maybe, after all, every human being, in one way or another, has a link to the divine, to the spiritual world.  For some, it speaks through stories, for others through music, for others through science, for others through their hands or their children.  But I guess when your link to the divine seems alien or strange to the rest of the world, they reinterpret it as demonic or crazy.

Or maybe these are just the delusional ramblings of a madwoman.

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