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On the Value of Depression

One evening, after our workshop let out, four of us from my MFA fiction cohort crammed into a car to drive through the Caldecott tunnel. We were discussing class, probably discussing our classmates and their work--I don't remember the specifics. What I do remember, however, is one of us saying that a particular classmate was neurotic. "Of course he is," someone else said, indignant. "We all are. We're writers."

I would be lying if I said that there weren't times when I've wondered whether being mentally healthy is a liability in my chosen path, that maybe I've gotten myself to a point where I'm too sane for greatness. 

I don't think it's just that we expect extremes to go together, whether extremes of talent, personality, behavior, or whatever, even though that's clearly part of it. Culturally we are far more likely to forgive, or at least overlook, eccentricities if they come packaged along with incredible talent. (What, Mr. Jobs? You want a genetic background of that sushi you just ate? You got it.) I think we've come to demand it as a method of artistic authentication. And when I talk about writers, I'm not talking about the Malcolm Gladstones or Michael Pollans or Jonah Lehrers of the world, although that group's clearly been having its own problems lately, problems indicative of a whole other batch of fallacies about writing and ideas and public personas (but that's another post). I'm talking about the fiction writers, the painters, the singers, the actors--David Foster Wallace,  Amy Winehouse, Heath Ledger. Go back a little further and there's Sylvia Plath, Virginia Woolf, Vincent VanGogh. And so on. I could go on for quite awhile.

And it's dangerous.

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