Can writing drive you crazy?

I mean, literally: can writing cause, or aggravate, mental illness or instability?

Since giving up on Gunpowder Tea I’ve written very little, and I haven’t written anything in the last month. Haven’t wanted to, and haven’t pushed myself. For several weeks I was feeling an almost physical revulsion for writing. That’s easing off, but I’m still far from having any kind of appetite for writing fiction.

And I feel good. Even with the stress of house hunting, I’m happier than I’ve been in ages. The OCD stuff has decreased to an entirely manageable level, and I’ve hardly had any trouble with irrational anxiety. I feel like myself, by which I mean I can recognise this mind as my own, rather than some strange foreign territory into which my awareness has been dumped.

Perhaps I’m just relaxed because I’ve let go of an obsession that wasn’t leading to any sort of satisfactory creative output, and because I’ve stopped forcing myself to Write No Matter What.

Pondering the association between writers and mental illness, I’ve been wondering whether writing itself might be a factor in some cases. What might be the effects, upon the brain and nervous system, of prolonged, intense imaginative effort and of dwelling in language and pseudo-reality? No doubt the effect would depend on what was being written, how, and why; I’ve never felt freaked out from, say, writing class notes. But when I’ve been intensely involved with fiction — feeling that my mind is mostly elsewhere, dwelling upon the unconcrete untruths of story, obsessing over words, and using writing as a means to leave the mundane, while at the same time trying to be at least somewhat entertaining — that’s when I’ve noticed my nerves going bad, and ultimately my mind starting to head south.

Rimbaud — precocious writer and forsaker of writing — declared in a letter: “I want to be a poet, and I’m working at turning myself into a Seer. You won’t understand any of this, and I’m almost incapable of explaining it to you. The idea is to reach the unknown by the derangement of all the senses.” If writing was the chief method (along with hashish and absinthe) he used in this project, he probably discovered that writing in a certain way can derange the senses, but that it’s a false road to transcendence, because it doesn’t go further than the limits of language and the mind. You can end up pushing the mind’s limits until it becomes like an overstretched balloon — but you’re still inside the balloon. And no, bursting it won’t help.

That isn’t to say that writing fiction or poetry will drive you crazy, of course, or that as a writer you won’t go crazy for some other reason — hashish and absinthe, perhaps.


Looking for Aldebaran

House hunting has been chewing up a lot of my time, but I’ve still been getting some art done. My skygazing minotaur is pretty well finished. I just need to decide whether to put him on this base or stone.


It came back to me recently that one of my earliest career ambitions was to make movie creatures for the likes of Jim Henson and George Lucas. As a kid, Dr Seuss, the Muppets and Star Wars were probably the biggest influences on my imagination. I was always drawing fantastical critters, and my fascination with imaginary beings has never faded away.

Trying to dig into why they charm me so much, I’ve come up with various answers. They inhabit various states between being and nonbeing, and so can represent our own strange existence between birth and death, unconsciousness and consciousness in its various degrees. By creating them physically, we cause them to exist a little more solidly, somewhere between dream and waking — even if their waking is only a projection of our own.

The more abstract little entities I’ve been making, the eggs and balls, are intermediate life too — and thinking of them in this way makes me think of all art like that: it’s less than life, but more than a mere thing; art encourages animism — leading back to the point that all life forms and all identities are intermediate, in terms of evolution, the life cycle of an organism, and the passage between life and thing (dead/inert matter).

None of this explains the charm of imaginary beings and kinda-beings, though perhaps it helps to explain some of their power over the human imagination in general, since from intermediate to intermediary is a short step, making them ideal conduits or guides to other worlds or states of consciousness. (The word “monster” derives from the Latin monstrum, “an omen, supernatural being or object that is an omen or warning of the will of the gods.”)


To detach

“To detach yourself elegantly from the world; to give contour and grace to sadness; a solitude in style; a walk that gives cadence to memories; stepping towards the intangible; with the breath in the trembling margins of things; the past reborn in the overflow of fragrances; the smell, through which we conquer time; the contour of the invisible things; the forms of the immaterial; to deepen yourself in the intangible; to touch the world airborne by smell; aerial dialogue and gliding dissolution; to bathe in your own reflecting fragmentation… ”

– Emil Cioran


Saving face

Dim Sim — now sporting a collar — on his morning excursion across balconies, taking a breather snuggled in the dip of the tiles on a balcony roof, detects the approach of a squirrel two houses along. DS rises, stalks to next roof, assumes hunting stance. His enactment of having a chance to catch the squirrel is poignant. The squirrel hops to a narrow wall; DS remains poised to leap. The squirrel hops to a telephone wire; DS sinks at once into the receptive curvature of the tiles, stretching and rolling with ostentatious evidence of bliss, as if all along his intention had been to take pleasure in that particular bit of roofing.