From the Bard College Institute for Writing and Thinking, July 8-13, 2018.
I always go back to this question of who or what I am as a writer. A year or two ago the answer seemed relatively clear: I was a scholar, an academic, even an “intellectual” on my more confident days. I taught an wrote and thought for a living. But now that I am living the post-academic life it’s not so clear anymore. Who am I as a writer and a thinker? What identity do I want to have? I think I should write for a popular audience. I should get paid. But I really can’t think at the pace of the internet, nor do I really want to learn. And yet the slow and painstaking work of developing and sustaining a scholarly argument for a year or two or more so it can be published for…
I mentioned recently that I know what to do when my nemesis comes skulking around, wrecking my mood, sapping my energy, and sometimes rendering me grouchier than usual. It took me a good while to figure it out some years ago.
Your own path back to the technicolor world is unique to you, but these things help me:
Bicycling. I’ve said before and it proved true for me again over the weekend, exercise always helps. You don’t have to ride fast or far, but ride — or run or walk or do something else that suits your capabilities and makes you feel good.
Talk about it or write about it. I’ve done both, the first with Mrs. Smith and with professionals on occasion, the second right here and elsewhere. Great combination for me.
It isn’t always easy to act. Getting results can take time.
Now, back to the final edit of my new crime novel.
My nemesis had not stopped by in many months, maybe years, to remind me that it was still there, waiting. It returned almost imperceptibly.
The thing arrived in recent days like Sandburg’s fog, on little cat feet, while my attention was somewhere else. By this morning all the vibrant colors of the world had faded to black and white and then to drab shades of grey.
Sleep is a haven and waking unwelcome. Numbness is a blessing.
Now that I recognize the old signs I’d almost forgotten, I know what to do, what help I need to send this depression back to its dark lair. Maybe someday it will remain there.
For now, a little patience. Soon it will move on, and so will I.
The chaotic world of social media is awash in nonsense, much of it perpetrated by those who claim to be or imagine themselves to be writers.
They consume precious bandwidth by tossing around famous quotations of questionable provenance, Instagramming their groan-inducing sentiments about “the writing life” and, with their often careless use of language, perpetuating damaging stereotypes about writers and others.
Take the example that set me off today, a post that said:
The poster asked: Haven’t you noticed that all writers are just a little bit… off? (In the best way possible)
A couple of dozen followers agreed, celebrating their alleged lunacy and the apparent cool and oh-so-specialness of their writerly selves. I responded with a simple “Nope.”
Both the image used in the post and the related question make light of the serious issue of mental illness.
The notion that “all writers” are a “little bit off” is a myth.
The term lunatic itself is outdated, pejorative slang, though it does seem to be useful in Twitter snark and other online commentary. It was even removed from the U.S. Code in 2012. Its use may seem harmless and even lighthearted in some contexts, but no serious writer who seeks to destroy the stigma that surrounds mental illness will use it lightly.
Regarding 2, while it is true that some famous writers suffered from mental illness that shaped their creativity (and sometimes led to their deaths), writers in general are no more “off” than the general public.
For the record, I have been treated for depression for nearly 20 years. I’ve been writing for a living a good bit longer than that.