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madness

January 23, 2013
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don’t call it a new year’s resolution. (but if anything, i feel a new year’s resolution would be more powerful if enacted in the second month of the year. regardless.) all my life i’ve been pretty much a type-A personality. all sorts of being tied up in knots. it reached a peak in highschool, abated during undergrad, ebbed even more during my master’s degree (how can you be an anxious wreck when surrounded by other crazy writers?). as i’ve written before, moving back to toronto brought up a lot of intense worrying. anxiety is good and bad, and i’ve learned (and am still learning) how to harness it for good, especially in my creative life. for example, anxiety about deadlines and formatting is GOOD – i will get my grant applications in on time, edited and formatted properly. my submissions for magazines will always be sent in the proper way, and therefore not immediately ignored because of a thing like the margins being the wrong width.

on the other hand, worrying about content is not really good. to be honest, i always kind of worry about writing. i get really conflicted – i believe in writing weird, powerful, raw, visceral stuff, and if it makes it off of the drawing board and into the public eye it’s usually received well, or at least with a bit of lovely shock. i believe that writing should shake, show teeth, not be complacent. i believe that writing should be declarative. i don’t want to write poems about trees or roads or linens. i want to write about mania and awkward touch and solid, real, physical moments with a good dose of weird brain-work thrown in. (this doesn’t always mean that i accomplish this, but it’s a goal.) i want to write about what something tastes like, feels like across the tip of a nose or the back of an ankle. i want to compare a partner to the tin man because he kept his axe by his bed, want to write a series of poetry based on the swear words my dockhand friends have taught me, want to observe the way rubber boots move across wet boat rails, the width of hips, the chapping of lips, the tenor of nightmares, the way a girl can dance across the empty training floor of the fort york armoury after hours, after the mess hall.

it’s a two part process – i write something in a moment, and it’s usually unadulterated and unfiltered and totally, completely me (especially if writing poetry, which requires no editing-thinking on my behalf for a first draft, apparently, and is one fell burst of EMOTION on a page). and then once i sit and look at it, i often become a little mortified. the good thing about writing my globe and mail article (i’m linking it because i’m really proud of it, full out brag) was that i was so muddled with emotion and had such a quick and amazing team of friend-editors working on it, and then i sent it out so quickly, that i didn’t have time to think about the ramifications. all of the turn-around was so rapid that it was in the paper before i sat to think about the consequences. most of which were exceptionally positive. but i didn’t stop to think “oh, 1.5 million subscribers are going to be seeing an article where i describe myself as weeping throughout a yoga class/paralyzed by anxiety/having a history with therapists.” instead, i just did it.

maybe that was a big turnaround for me. it seems to be the stopping and thinking that leads to destructive self-editing – not the good kind, where you slice and dice accordingly, but the editing where you start thinking “oh god, my parents will read this, my friends and teachers and colleagues will read this, the person i wrote this about will read this (this is a huge, huge, huge one for me) and what will they all think? how offended will they be?” it’s that afterthought that leads to creepy self demons, that tamps down the beautiful madness and leads to redaction.

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don't ever need an excuse to post magritte's the lovers.

don’t ever need an excuse to post magritte’s the lovers.

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back to the idea of the new year’s resolution.

i’ve been thinking a lot about madness lately. madness seems to be such a tenuous, subjective word, because someone who is not “mad” looks in from the outside and sees as aberrant behaviour as bad or chaotic. whereas someone in the eye of the bacchanalia sees nothing wrong with anything, and sees aberration or deviance as glory. which option is the right one? don’t think there’s an answer to this, but someone it all ties back to my cousin’s friend’s resolution, which was “do what feels good.” maybe a dangerous maxim, but an interesting one to consider. it’s so easy to fold in on oneself and cede to anxiety. it’s a lot harder (for me at least) to give into that thin edge of madness that defines all the stuff i create.

and we all have it, that madness. it has different names, some of which i’ve already mentioned – chaos, maelstrom, bacchanalia, aberration, deviance, eccentric, eclectic nature. it’s that voice at the outer edges of your brain, the one that urges you to write what you want when you want to, to sequester yourself and be alone if you need to be, to drag a carrot through downtown toronto, to cry when you need to do or give into anger if need be. it relates to caring less about what other people think – of any aspect of your life, not just writing. some of us just are better able to access it than others. i’m afraid of accessing the dark side, but i have more and more people in my life lately who are able to tap into it and have become strange role models for me. the people who can access the disaster, the crazy, and are able to rein it in and ride across it are the ones whose art and whose personalities i’ve always been fascinated with. they are the ones who we remember generations later, it seems. i’ll leave you to fill in your own blanks here. van gogh and pollock and schumann and holst come to mind for me at least. i never liked bach.

we go mad in love, sex, violence, clearly. and creating, art, obsession. but we can go mad in our day to day life, becoming the ultimate extrovert and not caring if we make a fool of ourselves by being willing to talk to anyone and everyone. we go mad in planning, mapping. we also go mad in isolation, in shutting ourselves up and taking time to become the hermit. we access the madness if we let ourselves do what we want and feel less guilt about it. (at least this is my definition.)

doing what feels good always, and madness, are dangerous, it could be said. anything is bad if made bad. but i’m speaking from far over on the other side, the rules side, the side where i never let myself experience madness for fear of going too far over or deep. i feel as though the badness of madness has already been expounded on, and not enough attention has been paid to the creative potential of writing without caring of the consequences. so it’s time, for this gal at least, to redefine the term ‘madness’ and continuing experiment with loss of control in all aspects of her life, including writing.

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