How did an old-school scribbler—a garret-sitting recluse and hater of newfangled technology—make the leap to electronic publishing, social networking, and that bête-noire of all things authentic, self-promotion?
The leap is not complete. Right now, I’m skidding between safe harbors, grappling my way up the slopes of a “vertical learning curve.” Whether I manage to touch down lightly in the high-tech literary world remains to be seen. You’re invited to watch the virtual Reality Show of my struggle, right here on the Blog at the website I never thought would bear my name!
What forces a formalist poet and literary novelist like yours truly to attempt such a jump in the first place? Short version: I found myself at a crossroads where I had to make a drastic change. I needed to take my artistic future in my own hands, or else do something destructive—reject my identity as a writer: erase files, burn journals, rent out my office to a deserving graduate student.
As writers (or artists of any stripe) our own psychology is no doubt our greatest asset. It can also become a terrific stumbling block. Before I began inching forward with self-publishing plans, I had hit an all-time low. I fell into a depression and suffered from agoraphobia, refusing to leave the house for days on end.
One of my favorite cartoonists, Peter Vey (www.pcvey.com), brilliantly captures aspects of those feelings in an item I ran across in The Funny Times (www.funnytimes.com)—
Writing can be a lonely business. For almost two wasted years, I DID feel that writing had ruined my life: While others engaged with the world, teaching children to read, growing food, or building cars, I sat in my garret pondering a fuzzy navel. I had dedicated my “talents”—paltry as they seemed—to a cruel muse who offered fewer satisfactions with each passing year. Self-expression was my be all and end all, but if no one beyond the self takes the slightest interest, what’s the point in expressing anything?
What do you think: Is writing an isolating occupation, or does the exercise of imagination let you connect with all humanity? Are artists more prone to depression than people in other walks of life? Please feel free to comment on other relevant matters, as well.
Join me next time for further adventures in indie publishing!
For me, writing is intimidating. Certainly history gives us many examples of the artist as an afflicted individual whose affliction contributes to their art. I am curious if there any statistics that might corroborate this view.
I will check on the real-world statistics, if I can find some, Cathy. Thanks very much for your thoughts!
So, Cathy, here’s the scoop, at least according to HEALTH magazine—
Out of 21 professional categories assessed for a recent study, “Artists, Writers & Entertainers” were the 5th most likely to report an episode of major depression in any given year. For men, however, these professions are the no.1 most associated with such an episode. As for ongoing mood disorders, people in these fields are thought to be at high risk, although no statistics were provided.
The 4 professions more likely to report major depression are (beginning with 1st) Personal Care Providers, Food Service Staff, Social Workers, and the Health Care Professions.
I think it goes to show what we all suspected: that folks in the caring professions bear a heavy burden for the rest of us. And artists are likely to be whiners (ha-ha, just speaking for myself).
More details here: http://www.health.com/health/gallery/0
To B or not to B has always been the question. Wonderful that you have taken the reins and reigns of life so vigorously. I recommend your collection of essays to everyone who enjoys the genre. We all have dark valley’s in our lives, but we will be measured by how we proceed and where we go rather than where we have been. I hope you will provide periodic updates on how you feel about coming out of your dark valley into the sunlight of vital and impressive creativity. Please keep us updated on the positive side of becoming your own best literary agent.
Thanks, BB! I appreciate your good words on my essays and overall vote of confidence. It is my plan to continue presenting the process here in this forum. Will do my best to keep it positive.
Wow! Thanks Anesa for the info. Very interesting. I also appreciate BBs comments as one who enjoys your vitality and creativity immensely.
Artists/Writers are not more depressive, they are just more publicly expressive about their difficulties.
Writing is isolating if you use it to withdraw from the world, it can also be an amazing way of connecting to others across distances, across time, and irl.
The APA article that JB mentions below says, “people most likely to have the blues are also those most likely to express them”–just as you suggest, Michael. And those expressions of emotion may go directly into creative work, while also making the artist’s life (personal and/or professional) a bit more difficult.
Thanks very much for weighing in.
Interesting post! I came across an brief article a while back (American Psychological Association) that makes some interesting observations about creative people and their tendency toward depression–that those tendencies may be have a lot to do with our propensity for self-reflection. (http://www.apa.org/monitor/jun05/selfreflection.aspx)
I am grateful for your comments. It’s good to know, J.B., that the American Psychological Association makes a distinction between an ongoing mood disorder and a major depressive episode. The latter will, hopefully, be of more limited duration. HEALTH magazine passed over this point a bit too quickly, I thought.
Since many of us focus on emotional experience in our writing (& no doubt in other art forms), it makes sense that we need to plumb our own feelings through self-reflection. Maybe this leads to rumination and dwelling on the negative.
Here’s another link that I found was more comprehensive: Why We Sing the Blues: The Relation Between Self-Reflective
Rumination, Mood, and Creativity. Fascinating stuff, especially for those of us that experience these sorts of mood fluctuations. Here’s the link (that I also sent via Twitter, in case it won’t open there). http://www.hawaii.edu/hivandaids/Why_We_Sing_the_Blues__The_Relation_Between_Self-Reflective_Rumination.pdf
My off-the-cuff reaction: Surprising to see this study comes from Hawaii! Isn’t it often rated the happiest state in the US? (For residents, not just visitors.) But maybe that’s only one author’s affiliation.
Thank you, J.B. I’ll read this with interest.
Hello Anesa, I’ll be following your journey through self publishing and promotion.
It’s an interesting concept — the promotion of self — are we looking to promote a holistic and multi-dimension self to the world — or simply an aspect or two that we want others to see? I believe that true artists — those of us who contemplete, reflect, and attempt to understand our place in the world/universe are more aware of the multi-dimensional aspect, and that — among other things — places us outside the norm.
Living outside the norm — sitting alone, transferring thoughts from mind to screen or paper — puts stress on us, for sure. And often a sense of depression / disconnect arises. We like to put the blame on the individual and give it a medical label — but that furthers the disconnect from the cultural / social / economic / political influences that certainly come into play. In the great machine of capitalism, we are cogs that fit nowhere. Our choices are to modify our selves or to live more and more isolated.
A friend said to me once, “You have a very rich inner life,” and I was pretty sure that she meant it as a judgement, if not an insult — that I was not properly engaged with outer life. Artists do have a deeper relationship with the inner life — and while that does include an intellectual / emotional relationship with all beings, it does not necessarily include an obvious physical relationship with the world. In our very material culture — this focus on the inner life is not valued.
I believe we need to become strong in our selves, to allow the richness that we have to flow out through our words, or brushes, or pens, through our hands and our voices. We need to feel that the foundation of our selves are solid enough to walk through the confusion or loneliness that will roll through our lives again and again.
Thanks for the opportunity to share a few thoughts,
I am so grateful for your in-depth reflections, Emma! As a Luddite, I used to make concerted efforts to avoid TV, limit internetting, make time for silence, record my dreams, and all such practices to enrich the inner life. They work! My mind was replete with self-determined meaning (if I do say so myself)! I was also very lonely. Connecting with fellow artists didn’t always go so well. But also, I would say it has become more challenging over the past decade to follow practices that limit electronic distraction–almost as if the web and the tube and the economic system they support are more intent than ever on sucking every last human mind into their vortex. Okay–that’s as far overboard as I’ll go at the moment…but I certainly appreciate your thought-provoking comment.
Good post and discussion. I’ve seen a couple of studies linking writers with depression and suicide, too. You just have to drive with your lights on, so to speak. http://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2012/10/study-writers-are-twice-as-likely-to-commit-suicide/263833/
Thank you, Karen, for that contribution. It’s a very interesting piece and important to keep in mind for writers and their loved ones. Hope you’ll stop by and comment again!
realization=living to write, experiences are less for the moment