Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Occupational Hazard

Writing comes with an occupational hazard. We're not well. I don't know a single writer who says, "I am mentally stable," unless of course, they're seeing a head shrink. I'm not saying we don't have good days, because those do exist. But I am saying that many of us are plagued by self destruction, alcoholism, drug abuse, and a healthy dose of self loathing....which usually leads to suicide, and if not suicide, then missing ears, eyes, body parts, etc. Janet Reid recently posted THIS video. If you're a writer and you haven't seen it, watch it. (It's slightly less than 20 minutes, but it's incredible.)

Yes, this was a pitcher of beer
For a long time, I figured I would be like Sylvia Plath. She was a poet, and a writer. She was brilliant, and haunting, and I can't find any of her writing that is terribly happy. Her voice sounded like cigarettes (in my poetry class in college we listened to her read). My entire life I've had friends ask me to write something with a happy ending. Well, I didn't want a happy ending because I wasn't a happy person. I can't tell you how many times I've tried to kill myself. It's not because I've lost count, but because the lines of self destruction and actual attempts blur together for me now. I wanted to follow Sylvia. I wanted to hold her hand as the ocean waves carried me out, and have people say, "She was brilliant, and she (finally) killed herself." I wanted my writing to affect people the way hers affected me. 

And then this year, I attended AWP in Chicago. Margaret Atwood was a keynote speaker. She made a joke something along the lines of:

I've been around so long people are starting to question whether or not I'm still alive.

Brilliant woman. Still alive.
She was clever, and old, and humble, and funny. She had a spark in her eyes. She had wrinkles on her face. For the first time in my life, rather than wanting to die young, and beautiful, and fast...I wondered what it would be like to live to be 80 or 90, or like my granddad, 100 (he celebrated his 100th birthday this year!). Imagine the connections you could make with people, the lives you could help save. Imagine how many more novels you could write!

A few months after this I was invited to a middle school in Maine to talk about depression, cutting, eating disorders, etc. During my three week invasion, the option to kill myself became revoked. I fell in love with the students there. I told them they could have a future, and each day by querying, by putting myself out there, I am trying to prove to them that you can grow up in a shitty environment and come out swinging.

I'm not saying that every day it's easy to drive my car to work without the urge to veer it into oncoming traffic or off the cliff I drive by. (I actually had this conversation with one of my managers the other day.) Some days it's harder than others. But I don't do it, because I can no longer do it. I have something to prove to those students.

I may not live to make it to thirty. I may not make it to see 25. Who knows? But every day, I am alive, I fight the burden that many of the creative minds have. I am not mentally well, I've known this since I was in sixth grade. But as I said earlier, there are happy days. If live long enough for people to question my existence, I hope it will be a life well lived. I pray that I'll be able to stand in front of a room full of strangers and make fun of my age and the things I've been through.

The moral of all this is that as writers, we have an occupational hazard. We feel more than most people, and sadly those feelings aren't usually happy ones.

Don't give in to it. Don't die from your own hand. Seek help; support groups, therapy, psychiatric wards, friends, family. Live to joke about paramedics coming to your house and asking if you're still alive. Live to tell youngsters about paper back books when they existed.

Just. Live.

That's all.

Happy Monday :) (I know it's not Monday, but I didn't say Happy Monday yesterday, and this is how I roll)


  1. Hey!
    ... stable.

  2. But do keep living! I'm in your corner!

  3. It gets better. You don't think it will, but it does. Then one day you're like "holy sh*t, it got better!" and you never even saw it happening. Every day when I wake up, I remind myself that I have no idea what could happen today and I mean that in a good way. I have no idea what amazing things the day might have in store for me. Most days, nothing amazing happens but on the days that amazing stuff happens, I'm glad I slogged through all the ordinary days. You've got a long way to go. I think in 20, 40, 60 years you'll be astounded at how things turned out--in a good way.

  4. It has never been apathy, it has always been empathy, that causes me pain. Creative people have a great burden, and we too often think we have to bear it alone. But there is so much to be gained, shared, and lost in this world, and if we end our journeys early we and everyone whose lives we may have influenced miss out on the opportunities to feel. To experience. We're all connected, and our ability to interpret and create something from those feelings is invaluable.


Please know that if you comment and I don't respond, it's not because I don't love you. It's because I don't have wifi, but I do have a bad memory.

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