Having talked about the myth of the poor artist, and how attached to it we all are, how poverty somehow feeds the artist, how he must be hungry or needy, in some way, in order to produce something of value, I was thrilled to be introduced to an opposing view while listening to Front Row last night.
Angela Gheorghiu, the singer, found that she was unable to perform when she was in a state of emotional distress. She actually left the stage and was hospitalised, during her divorce, and, quite literally, found it impossible to sing. For this artist, at least, hardship did not feed her art. To perform, this woman had to feel calm and content.
I wonder whether this holds true for other artists of other stripes. I suspect that it might. I suspect that it very well might hold true for artists who require the use of their bodies to make their work. An artist who cannot hold his pencil or paintbrush, because he’s so nervous or upset that he is shaking, an actor who cannot speak because he is so anxious he is hyperventilating, a dancer crippled by nausea resulting from grief or distress... None of these things is hard to imagine.
I wonder whether it might hold true for writers, too. I wonder whether I produce my best work when my life is easy. On the face of it, of course, my life is permanently easy.
On the other hand... I have stated, more than once, that I can work under most circumstances, that I simply sit at my computer and get on with it, because that’s what professionals do, and it’s true. What I don’t talk about much is the years that I spent editing and proofreading, and not writing, at least not much and not longform fiction.
I write a lot, now, and I write through all sorts of difficulties. I very rarely have a day when I absolutely cannot put words or thoughts on file. They do happen, but I can reliably pick myself up and move on again, quickly, usually within a day or two and without any real fallout.
Those years spent editing and proofreading and working at the periphery, and wishing I was doing other things and wondering whether I ever really would were also the years I spent choosing not to medicate for my bi-polar.
It’s a choice that a lot of bi-polar people make for a variety of reasons.
We’re used to writers and artists and creative types being a little eccentric; we rather like them to be that way; it’s part of how we understand who they are and what they do. I have no problem being considered to be ‘creative’ or ‘artistic’ or ‘neurotic’ or even, at a pinch, ‘difficult’. In fact, during the time I’ve spent with the husband, and it’s been a bloody long time, it’s been a sort of charming aside that he rather likes ‘difficult women’.
I’m rather glad it became sufficiently unbearable for me to opt for medication in the end. I’m rather glad I decided I needed a break from all the things that I thought made me who I was and needed to be. I’m rather glad that my creativity was finally allowed to breath, that I was finally calm enough and content enough to be able to sit at a computer and put those thoughts and words down consistently and confidently, and do it often enough and for long enough to produce finished work, and to do it for... how many books is it now? Seven? With how many more in the pipelines? Well... that'd be telling.
Just like everyone else, sometimes we have to live with poverty and mental illness, but being creative shouldn’t bring with it a life sentence of either or both of those things. They don’t help us any more than they help any one else.
Poverty and mental illness are problems wherever they occur; there is no romance in them, so let’s not pretend that there is... even for creative types.