“I miss the comfort in being sad.”—Kurt Cobain, “Frances Farmer Will Have Her Revenge on Seattle”
I’m sitting on my sofa, laptop nestled in, well, lap—awaiting inspiration. Tick, tock; hickery dickery dock. The mouse plunged off the rock.
Hours melt into days and I feel uncomfortably full, like a gluttonous Thanksgiving party-goer with no toilet nearby, a guttural need pulling at me to purge my thoughts in torrents that right now, refuse to even trickle. Writer’s block like this shadows me from time to time and it always seems to loom largest when I’m not feeling quite as depressed. Gather round, ladies and gents. I’ve got a secret to share that a good chunk of you probably already know.
Things looking up? Money and employment situation suddenly improved? Grateful you’ve got a bunch of new blog followers because one of your more existential posts was an Editor’s Pick? Stopping to smell the roses?
Guess what, fellow creators? That shit is boring, and you probably can’t write (play, paint, compose, draw) anything that resonates with people to save your life in this “condition.” Yes, by “you” I mean “me.” Yet, why do our most primal fears and deepest wounds seem to bind us so much more tightly and create more unity out of the human experience than do our reflections after we’ve shed some of the baggage and walk a little lighter?
If the artist is the Phoenix who must burn to create, how much of our souls need we use as kindling, and just how much “renewal” should our bonfire bring? And, when we rise from the tufts of ash and kohl that were once our perforated hearts, what’s the perfect wingspan—that feathery distance between despair and hope—to make our work great? How many more rhetorical questions can I ask before someone mistakes this blog for one of Carrie Bradshaw’s columns from “Sex And The City?”
There exists an unspoken assumption in our society—founded, of course, on a cornucopia of tragic cultural titans such as the doomed geniuses of “The 27 Club”; writers like Hemingway; painters like Van Gogh—that preeminent pain must remain in pure works of raw beauty and truth, in their makers. “Good” isn’t good unless it hurts, sees red, rips the skin from the underbelly of our psyches and exposes how we (poorly) navigate the trappings of our fucked-up world. I walked past a movie production trailer parked on the Upper West Side the other day and two of the character names posted on the doors were “Tortured Hipster Artist 1” and “Tortured Hipster Artist 2.” Thought nothing of it (oh, and we definitely need to discuss hipsters more another time).
There are, of course, countless gorgeous exceptions to the “pain makes art” rule, but I’m clearly not one of them, nor are the words and images I string together. (Disclaimer: I’m certainly not trying to compare my silly, self-indulgent BLOG to anything even approaching any level of greatness or even art. Merely ruminating on why artists and voyeurs alike often link sadness and madness to greatness and feel dependent on that relationship, and why such a ratio in many cases proves tangible).
My inadequacies already overwhelm me and it’s only when I’m at my lowest that I can really let go and create anything. That I can care little enough to tell or show it like I think it is, because when you’re at bottom, nothing anyone says (or worse, doesn’t say; I don’t know which I fear more, being told I’m no good or being completely ignored) can plummet you any further down.
Do I, like Cobain said, miss being sad when I’m not? Is depression something I dwell in out of habit or maybe even secretly—in caverns of my mind I rarely spelunk—enjoy because it provides the fodder I need to create and/or complain? After all, most (charged) art starts as a complaint or outcry.
Shit, man, I do think I subconsciously worry about having nothing to bitch about. Oh, spoiled girl, trapped nowhere and in nothing but her own head, in the soft-worn slippers of malaise. So many would kill to walk a block in your shoes, in spite of your lunacy and the shitty things you’ve been through. They pale in comparison to many others’ problems. How dare you get off on complaining, even if you don’t mean to? How dare you let the word “art” even pass your lips?
It’s an unflattering mirror to look in when I shine a light on these probabilities, and yet I can’t ignore them. Depression, addiction, self-reflection and in some senses, self-obsession, have become deeply ingrained parts of my identity. Maybe I keep my wingspan small because I’m afraid that with flying too high, I risk falling too far—or having nothing talk about at all. And, with the exception of obvious travesties like terminal illness or starving to death or losing children, is there anything worse in life than being not just sad, but silent?
x juliet, couch-bound