Ever feel like this?
Like most writers, I have this knack for suffering, for being a complete mess. Maybe this is disclosing too much about myself, but I’ve had this conception that to be a writer—an artist—means that I have to suffer, that happiness somehow inauthenticates my “work.” Even though I know this is a myth, I fall for it every time. I’m a fool like that.
In grad school, I took this class with a Chinese dissident poet who told me that (1) my life is too easy, good poetry comes from suffering; (2) I need to drink more (to which I responded that I’m allergic to alcohol, to which he responded by asking me, in class, if I smoke weed); and (3) there are people who write poetry and people who don’t. I am in the latter category. To this day, I refuse to say I write poetry, probably because of him.
But this myth of suffering, it seems to be everywhere. Being a writer, to so many people, means depression, alcoholism, martyring self for the sake of art. And I want to call bullshit on all of it. It’s self-aggrandizing, self-romanticizing crap, but again, I fall for it every time.
In conversations I have with other writers, we rarely talk about our happiness. Instead, we discuss how hard things are. Almost universally. And in the rare instances when things are going well, it’s described more as contentment, which in many ways is even worse than depression, at least to me.
But back to the myth of suffering that we all, in one way or another, help propagate. Here’s a list of the top ten drunk American writers. I take issue with the list, but the fact that a list like this exists is a problem. Here’s a Wikipedia page about writers who have committed suicide. Here’s a ridiculous article on writers and mental illness, fully equipped with star rating system (unrelated to their mental illness, I hope). Here’s yet another page about more writers and mental illness. My point is, whether we’re romanticizing Modernist “gods” like Joyce or Hemingway, talking about ourselves, or even surfing the web, we’re taught that writers and artists are mentally unstable, or at the very minimum drunks. I refuse to believe this is true. And I certainly don’t want to be like David Hasselhoff, though this is the funniest (and saddest) video I’ve seen in a while.
I mean: Ok people, happy up. It’s sunny outside, and up here in Canada, it’s Victoria Day, a day of celebration for the great queen who gave rise to prostitution by making sure everyone was sexually repressed! Hooray! Mostly, I think it’s just an excuse for people to get ridiculously trashed. By the end of the day, I fully expect to see at least ten people slurring, “This is a mess.”