Sunday, October 11, 2009

We're all mad

"But I don't want to go among mad people," Alice remarked.

"Oh, you can't help that," said the Cat: "we're all mad here. I'm mad. You're mad."

"How do you know I'm mad?" said Alice.

"You must be," said the Cat, "or you wouldn't have come here."
Lewis Carroll wasn't directly talking about a gathering of artists when he wrote the above, but he might as well have been. Assemble a group of creative people, get them all talking, and in a short time a pleasant sort of madness is likely to abound.

E-pal (as in: we've never met in person but are pals), fellow writer, and scientist John Lambshead posted an interesting essay on this topic over in his blog. John tackles the topic primarily scientifically, making a good case that it's useful to the human species for a certain percentage of us to be highly creative, though that creativity appears often to come at a cost.

My own take on the subject is decidedly complex and likely to lead to multiple future blog entries on the topic. That many creative people suffer some sort of mental illness seems indisputable; I don't know, though, whether there are any causal links between the two. Nor do I understand the boundaries, where being too mad will stop you from being usably creative or being too creative will make you appear mad to at least a significant number of people.

I also believe that most people are, or at least were, far more creative than they believe or typically have the opportunity to demonstrate. To see this, you have only to watch a group of very young kids at play. The creativity level is amazing. Watch the same kids a decade later, and much of that creative energy has gone, vanished in the maturation process of our culture.

I'm further confused by how to define madness. When, for example, does anger at bad things cross that line? To paraphrase Henry Rollins, if you're not angry, you're not looking. On the other side of things, when does the willingess to see the world's magic turn mad? As I've constantly quoted Bill Watterson, there's magic everywhere--but most of us don't pause to see it.

Of only this am I certain: When I'm sitting alone, writing, and it's coming well, the words flowing and the world of the novel clear and vivid and filling my head, even if later the words prove, as they always do, to be less than the vision, in that moment I may well be mad, but I am happy.


Michelle said...

I have always wondered, if you are truly mad, are you aware of it? If you are only partially mad, is it more obvious? Can you even be partially mad? Does it really matter to what degree you are mad, as mad is mad? Burning questions.

Mark said...

I'll save my complete thoughts for a later post, but I believe that the answers depend on how you define the term, "mad." If one defines it as the state of having some mental illness, then I suspect almost all of us are mad to one degree or another. Self-awareness in this area, as in others, almost certainly varies widely.

More later, though I right now can't say when, in a post.


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