A good friend of mine sent me an article that dealt with mental illness and creativity. It caught my attention immediately — perhaps I could find the reason for my propulsive desire to write and some kind of inner healing seems to flow from it.
When I speak of inner healing, I mean to remind the reader that creative work is often connected to some dark, discomforting aspect or another: Edgar Alan Poe comes to mind. In reading his story titled “The Tell Tale Heart,” it’s easy to guess that whoever was able to write that masterpiece of horror had to be a bit mad himself.
Perhaps the madness, so to speak, manifests itself as a kind of inner fragmentation, the inner clatter of voices that leads to portraying aspects of life and nature that we normally avoid thinking about.
We know many famous artists were self-destructive and met a bad end — were their creative urges, and ours, a form of therapy in addition to being works of art?
To answer these questions we should also ask, Why do people love art in the first place? In particular, why are so many attracted to the darker and violent forms of film, music, poetry, painting, and literature?
Perhaps artists are providing a kind of therapy for all of us? Indeed, Aristotle long ago did talk about the “catharsis of pity and fear” in seeing a Greek tragedy. He must mean that tragedy takes us on a journey inward, toward the darker, conflicted parts of ourselves, but it’s a safe place — like going on a roller coaster ride at an amusement park; being afraid but also protected at the same time and because of that, feeling more alive.
I only started writing when I was 50 years of age, since then much about myself has risen to the surface in my writing. Some of my friends report being scared when they read it, especially some of my poetry. Others have told me that I speak for them. Yes, it seems we do share a common humanity!
However, the more I write about those inner fragments of my self, the less attention they demand. I’m allowing them to speak, those bits and pieces of myself that have been stowed away for a long time and were once expressed in more self destructive ways.
I once gave a talk on the 11th step of Alcoholics Anonymous and in the process of giving that talk, I came to the realization that my family’s history of alcoholism had not spared me, as I had thought.
While I was in the Navy I partied a lot, drank more, mostly because I was alienated and lonely. However the alcohol didn’t especially take hold of me. During the presentation I shared with those on the 12 step retreat, that something had touched me more deeply than alcohol.
I told them that from a young age I realized that if I did not develop a loving relationship with “my higher power” I would disintegrate. Thus, no matter how much I drank to numb my inward pain, I felt a stronger urge to stay in the pain and go forward, looking for more. God touched that part of myself in a healing, not a numbing, way.
We are never alone, even in our darkest moments, never alone. We have our friends, yes, but we also have our books, and all the works of art, that may provide some clarity, some catharsis. Thus, I will continue to pummel this computer keyboard and, God willing, the result will be of help not only to myself but also to, you, my readers.