What is Your Madness?
Every artist gives up control to the muse. It’s all a matter of degree.
Okay, maybe the above image is not all that fair. The late Heath Ledger and the very much alive Joaquin Phoenix both brilliantly embodied insanity in their respective interpretations as Joker. The latter in the film of the same name began mentally ill and finally lost his tenuous grip. The former’s character was insane from the beginning. Ledger’s was an iconic performance, well worth his Best Supporting Actor Oscar, in a magnificent film for which his role was nonetheless limited in dimension.
In other words, his Joker had nowhere to go.
Phoenix’s, on the other hand, was a whole other beast. I preferred his performance to Ledger’s if only because I thought the script better serviced the character. I was horrified watching Phoenix, the actor, who seemed to tap into a wellspring of human darkness from which many of us strive to turn away.
But the darkness is human, after all, and sometimes the fight can be fatal.
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For this new article, my thesis has little to do with abject insanity, though I am resolutely convinced all artists tap into their madness when they create.
It’s a very human thing to do for those built to make something from nothing, regardless of medium. Artists are all on the spectrum, as far as I’m concerned.
Madness and the Creative Mind: Not a Dime's Bit of Difference?
Introduction I frequently ruminate about my general inability to focus on most anything other than my writing - which I…
But madness is not exclusive to any group.
Rambling on a Theme
The following will be stream of consciousness free writing; at this moment, I have no idea where or how this piece will end.
But I need to allow the muse to sing ...
To reiterate, madness is not the exclusive purview of artists. Most civilized human beings keep their darker natures under control, or at least try.
Read a newspaper, or watch the television. Turn off Netflix for a minute and tune in to the news.
Day by day those of us striving to remain sane are presented with reports of the sullied air of today’s politics, a new shooting or opioid death, or the latest charge of sexual misconduct. We live in an era where medications, social distancing, and the wearing of face masks to save lives during a pandemic becomes a statement of loyalty towards the President of the United States.
And so in our own tenuous grip artists create, as is their wont, such as our prescient science fiction authors who observed their day and successfully predicted the future. Writers such as Verne, and Wells.
And, of course, anyone who ever fictionalized a globally deadly viral outbreak.
Indulge me for a few seconds if you would. There’s a point forthcoming, I promise.
I’ve been long convinced I have undiagnosed ADD — Attention Deficit Disorder — as I was a special education teacher for a decade before writing full-time and I check all the boxes. Many of my students had ADD and for them it was something to treat.
For me it’s a gift to embrace.
I was once asked by a loved one if I would go on medication to better focus on my life and work outside of writing. To be clear, I have a focus issue.
I told them “no,” as I feel I’d be suppressing what makes me viable. The choices I make in my non-writing life are intentional, which some do not understand. I deal with my issue as I choose to.
Does that sound to you like a paragraph written by a normal?
Perhaps to another artist, but to one who does not compulsively exert his or her creativity?
A nutjob, more likely. That said, understand I have nothing against medical help for anyone who believes they need it. Nor meditation. Nor soft music. Nor naps. Nor …
Without balance, what is there?
For me, I ride my bike.
It’s easier for me to create once that balance is stricken.
I learned long ago as a creator to embrace my madness, which is a personal philosophy. One of my favorite authors, Clive Barker, preaches it as well.
I interviewed Clive back in 2005 for a book I had written (long out of print) called “How to Survive a Day Job.”
Check out the interview here, for more of what has made Clive tick:
A Writer’s Flashback: My 2005 Interview With Clive Barker
I interviewed Clive in 2005 for a motivational non-fiction book, How to Survive a Day Job. My intent was simple: I…
To be successful a creator must manage their real life responsibilities with their obsessive need, not want, to create.
It’s not easy. Never is.
One of the two Jokers above, Mr. Ledger, died of an accidental prescription drug overdose. The unfounded rumors that he could not relax following his portrayal of Joker were rampant in the media in the days following his death.
To date the rumors have not been discounted entirely, but nor have they been proven.
Whatever makes for a good story, it appears, as troubling as that story may be. Artists are fodder for not only sideways glances, but perceived medicinal substances (as simple as an aspirin, as hard as heroin or an abundance of alcohol).
But then, isn’t everyone? It’s an effective perspective.
Regardless, we sometimes fight our artistic compulsions in an effort to be like the rest.
I write for a living. I’ve done so for 15 years now and yet I still get this:
“So what do you do for your real job?”
Once again, I’m fairly successful today because I’ve embraced my madness.
I recommend it, though for a healthy head and heart you should never stop working on that elusive balance.
Thank you for reading.
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