Recently I was diagnosed with mild brain damage. Apparently it is this condition which causes some of my idiosyncrasies and different ways of thinking. This condition combines with emotional issues to inform my writing in execution as much as style. Due to this, I’ve been instructed to attempt new things in order to get what I see in my brain properly translated to the page.
I have never been one to outline. In fact, I was known in English class as the one-drafter, meaning that I wrote one draft and merely polished it up prior to turning it in. My teacher complained to me about how I should put more effort into my work, but I always came back with the excuse that mine was the highest grade so obviously no more work was necessary.
When I transitioned into writing fiction, I considered the idea of an outline again. Having no experience with such a creature, I chose to write by the seat of my pants instead. It is an exhilarating experience. One that allows me to follow the story and not try to force it into a framework it doesn’t wish to go in. My characters are also freer to develop themselves fully, with minimum prodding by me. I feel this lends more credibility to my stories and makes them a more enjoyable tale for the reader.
Sadly, due to my shattered thought process the stories are often jumbled too. Even after two or twenty passes in rewrite, flaws of logic, tone, or clarity still abound. The stories just simply never translate from my brain onto paper.
That is where the ‘new method’ comes in. Now, I still write by the seat of my pants and merely follow the idea into whatever story is dyeing to be told. The difference is, once I have completed that march I set it aside. This is my outline. Then I read through it and look for flaws in the story. Not to rewrite them right there, but to correct the linear flow.
Once that is complete, I start my story paragraph by paragraph. Each paragraph is mulled over and over to be sure it says exactly what it needs to say the way it needs to say it. Only then do I move on to the next paragraph, scene, or section. Following this meticulous method keeps me on track and in tone to tell the story I know is truly there.
You see, even after doing something for years sometimes it is merely trying something new that equals that one breakthrough the artist truly needs to create their dream.
PS … This was a one-drafter.
Sometimes life feels like a large hole I’m continually falling down. There is a free-floating calm to this feeling and no light at the end, which is why I refer to the experience as falling down a hole.
The sensation creeps up on me at times, while other times it falls on me like a wet blanket. Today was one of those days the feeling crept up on me. Early on everything seemed normal and moving in the usual direction. Then at some point a subtle shift occurred and before I knew it all substantial footing was lost.
Usually on these days I disappear, whether amongst a crowd or sparse populace matters little, as I am alone in this fall. In the old days I might disappear for a few days or wonder amongst strangers in a mall while the clouds of numb float around me. Now, I go home and sit quietly watching my family.
The connection between my family and I is thinner while I fall, but it is still there. My wife is even kind enough to recognize the need for me to slide into a hermit shell and so she waits calmly for the darkness to lift away. She hugs me, kisses me, and wishes me well.
I often think a lot during the plummet, wondering if there is a bottom for me to hit this time or not. You see, I never really know if the hole has a bottom. Once, I hit the bottom and stayed there for a few weeks. Other times, I fell and fell only to land on a precipice and walk away without a scratch. Every trip is a little different.
Now that I have a family, I try to fight the falls a bit. I’ve even gone as far as to get tests and solicit professional opinions as to why these episodes occur to me. According to a few psychiatrists I suffer from depression. Soon a medication will be prescribed to assist me in resisting these stumbling blocks in life. I’ll let you know if it works.
In the past, when life was less hectic and time more plentiful, I fell into a good story, either of my own creation or someone elses. Such pleasure is a rare commodity now-a-days though. I still try though. In fact today, once I realized I was in the midst of a hollow trip, I submitted one of my stories to another publication. Though there was no pleasure of disappearing into the imagination, the act of practicing hope towards a wonderful outcome almost sparks a light. The numbness is a little more bearable after such an act.
Even now, as I tappity-tap the keys my spirit is lightened and the plummeting slows. Thus is the life of someone with an artistic mind perhaps, where life slowly becomes a blight that only creation may cure us from. It makes sense, since that is what art is for to begin with, to offer light and wonder and hope and comfort to those pained by the harshness of reality.
Alas, I’m merely rambling now, so I will desist. Fare thee well my reader and pray for me.
Some of the greatest artists and critical thinkers suffered from some form of mental illness. This common denominator can lead one to believe that either a broken mind is necessary or caused by extravagant thought. I prefer to think it is the former that allows someone to step outside the box and rise above the doldrums.
Nikola Tesla suffered from OCD and phobias, Abraham Lincoln had anxiety disorder, Jackson Pollock is suspected of suffering bi-polar disorder on top of his alcoholism, and Ernest Hemingway battled depression, just to name a few. Each of these people were pioneers in their chosen field. They all held the capacity for critical thought outside the norm of society and accepted tropes. History remembers them for their accomplishments, but it is the underlying current of their disease that helped shape them and give them the power to achieve.
One could very well argue that Pollock’s paintings were a direct result of the way his brain filtered the world into his psyche, that Hemingway’s choice of words and writing style was influenced by his depression, and that even Lincoln’s tact as a leader was enhanced by his anxiety. Still, it is uncomfortable to think of how these gifts they all had was so heavily marred by the burdens they carried.
So, is it the illness that makes them great, is it the broken mind that makes art possible?
I’ve always been told I wasn’t right in the head, that my way of thinking was wrong. As a teenager, my peers always asked me what drugs I was on because of my unusual behavior. Of course, the blame for the odd behavior and eccentricities always fell upon the unique environment of my upbringing. After all, having parents from two separate generations and polar opposite familial structures does carry a heavy influence on one’s surroundings.
It is such a landscape from which much of my art pours forth. When people ask me what my life is like, I always say, “it has been very interesting.” After all, do they really want to know of the hate and anger and frustration and confusion and out right fear that trembles under the surface of the face I show the world or do they merely wish to enjoy my imagination?
Whatever circuit that is shorted out or whichever wire is disconnected in my head, it has helped to shape me. It has carried me to the edge of my life and allowed me to look over into the abyss and back; to step outside the box and think the thoughts no one has thought before.
Soon, I am going to get a psych evaluation done. This is because of the severity in which my condition has recently effected my life. Part of me worries about how ‘knowing’ what is wrong might affect me. Part of me is concerned with the idea of confirming that something is wrong. While in a whole, my thoughts journey back to the idea of what change this could have on my art and how I see the world.
So, is the mental illness a cause or side-effect of an artistic mind?