Addicted to Suffering
Are you beginning to see how screwed-up this is?
It is not only aspiring writers who feel this way. Older, established authors say exactly the same dark things about their own work. (Where do you think the young writers learned it from?) Norman Mailer claimed that every one of his books had killed him a little more. Philip Roth has never stopped talking about the medieval torments writing inflicted upon him for the duration of his long-suffering career. Oscar Wilde called the artistic existence “one long, lovely suicide.” (I adore Wilde, but I have trouble seeing suicide as lovely. I have trouble seeing any of this anguish as lovely.)
And it’s not just writers who feel this way. Visual artists do it, too. Here’s the painter Francis Bacon: “The feelings of desperation and unhappiness are more useful to an artist than the feeling of contentment, because desperation and unhappiness stretch your whole sensibility.” Actors do it, dancers do it, and musicians most certainly do it. Rufus Wainwright once admitted that he was terrified to settle down into a happy relationship, because without the emotional drama that came from all those dysfunctional love affairs, he was afraid of losing access to “that dark lake of pain” he felt was so critical to his music.
And let’s not even get started on the poets.
Suffice it to say that the modern language of creativity—from its youngest aspirants up to its acknowledged masters—is steeped in pain, desolation, and dysfunction. Numberless artists toil away in total emotional and physical solitude—disassociated not only from other humans, but also from the source of creativity itself.
Worse, their relationship with their work is often emotionally violent. You want to make something? You are told to open up a vein and bleed. Time to edit your work? You are instructed to kill your darlings. Ask a writer how his book is going, and he might say, “I finally broke its spine this week.”
And that’s if he had a good week.