The Beautiful Writers Workshop #9: Mental Floss

My daughter and I recently had an interesting discussion due to a class assignment on mental health concerning OCD, depression, and various other mental challenges. Trying to explain some of the behaviors and levels of severity made me think about my own quirks and habits that can be both positive and bordering on detrimental.

 

Creativity comes with certain mental “flourishes” that often translate into some pretty tortured souls out there, creating brilliant works of art, whether it be through paint, words, sculpture or music. In fact, I think society tends to think one almost must be tortured in some way to create.

I was listening to an interesting podcast with Florence, from Florence and The Machine, and along with her brilliant Scottish accent I was captivated by her story of alcoholism and how she used to think she had to drink to be creative. That she had to suffer, and to be spiraling down to really get to the good stuff of the soul and write music that mattered.

But then she sobered up and realized that it actually got easier to write without the heavy chained idea that suffering is the only way to make meaningful art.

It got me to thinking about how we can turn the chaos inside, into something beautiful by not fearing it. By not suppressing it or numbing it. By accepting the quirk that is you.

It’s like the person with OCD who uses their energies to post-it the hell out of an outline instead of writing “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy,” five-hundred times.

It’s all about how we use our quirks.

This week’s workshop is about finding your quirk. I don’t just want the strange dance you do when you walk through a spiderweb kind of quirk. I want the chronic kind. The one that makes you desperate for a piece of wood to knock on when the slightest terrifying thought crosses your mind. Or that makes you have to park in the same spot at the grocery store, every time.

Write a bit about your quirk, then go a level deeper and see what comes up. Why do you think you do it? Do you remember when it started? What fear drives it? What desire does it fulfill or captivate inside of you?

How can you shift it to work towards your advantage in your life and in your writing?

If you can’t think of anything, can you use your quirk IN writing as a character trait and follow how it changes your character’s life, behavior, and relationships. Write a poem about it and get past the grizzle and into the bone, or find the ridiculous humor of it to laugh at.

Self-reflection isn’t always easy and we often discover things we didn’t know were hiding in there. You aren’t required to share, but allow yourself to hurdle over the fear and discomfort to know thyself a bit better. Turn your downward spirals into whirlwind of thought and brilliance. See you next week.

Roller Coast

Writers, man.

We live deliciously. And when I say that, I mean that we often tend towards the magnificence of highs and lows. I’ve always been more partial to the belief that artists, musicians, writers, poets and the like tend to live life on the shorter wave-length side of things.

Imagine life as a string. We all get the same length of string. Pin it down to one side of the desk. Now, give it a nice, soft undulation of a small lake and see where it lands. That’s a good example of a typical life.

Take another string, same length, same starting point, and make those undulations like the waves of the ocean, impressive highs and catastrophic lows.  The ocean string runs out far before the lake string. This is the life of a creative.

Does that mean we die sooner? Not necessarily. In some extreme cases (think Janis Joplin, Jim Morrison or Jimi Hendrix) death was aided in his cause by the use of drugs or alcohol. But it begs the question, why do such creative geniuses seem to expire sooner?

I have an unsupported theory that living in a creative mind isn’t easy. Often, it’s a discombobulated place, filled with wild fantasy, grim darkness, and a dash of bipolar tendencies. The fantastical neurons are on overdrive and move in spiraling thought storms that are often uncontrollable or at best frustratingly elusive.

That’s not an easy brain to live in.

We may scoff at Hemingway’s whiskey or Stephen King’s cocaine but it’s hard to make quick judgments when we’ve all had to deal with voices in our heads, characters doing whatever-the-damn-well-they-want, plot failures and to top it off, the cycles of elation and rejection that line this path we’ve chosen (willingly or not).

Writing can be hard on the heart.

We get diagnosed with depression, anxiety, panic attacks, emotional disorders or other mental health issues. And I’m prone to believe that part of that comes from a society and educational system that values the boxed in test score measures than the immeasurable brain power involved in creative and critical thinking.

When we’re standing at the precipice of throwing our work into the world, firing out the query letters, calling editors and agents, pitching novels, or even entering contests, the mountains of hope and valleys of despair can be wretched chemical surges that amplify the already swirling thunderstorms in the creative mind.

No wonder we are driven to seek out the numbing magic of fermented fruit or dried poppy milk. We’re seeking to elongate the valleys and peaks.

Unfortunately for the human body, those distractions are just that…distractions. Bandaids over too deep a wound.

My point is this, writer, creator, artist with vividly full skull… you are a colorful, magical, beautiful soul, who’s gift comes at the cost of a little sanity. You will see things and know things the world at large is not ready to see or know.

They may call you a dreamer.

But you’re not the only one.

Surround yourself with people who get it. Who know when you need to pontificate in unruly and unrelated thought strings out loud once in awhile, and who understand when you want to stay quietly tucked into a corner avoiding eye contact. You know… other vividly full skulls.

Find your weirdos and keep each other on the gentle undulation side of things, so that when your mind and talent have created in the frothing whirlwind, you can bring your ideas, books, poems, articles, and novels, to the world while standing on solid ground.

When you are in the fire of creating, let it burn.

Then cull your flames with rest, and good food, and time away so that you have the fuel to burn for a long, long, long time to come.