Tuesday, February 28, 2006


It's an old topic of conversation, at least for the English majors. Do you have to be depressed to be brilliant? Do you have to be out of touch with reality in order to communicate with the muses? Do you have to be crazy to be a genius?

I know there are other ways to form these questions. And I know the easy answer is "no" or "hell no," if you prefer. But the question came up this morning during my TTh tap dance in 218--those few moments before Professor Howe comes and the class asks me random questions about writing and music and clothes and books. Today--and I'm not sure how this happened--the question was about depression and if you have to be depressed to be a great/good/decent/passable writer.

I should pause here to note that (as far as I know) Gwyneth Paltrow is not depressed or crazy. This picture is from {proof}, a movie I finally got to watch today in the comfort of my own tan recliner, lap top on lap. It was a play on London's West End when I was there in 2002. Of course, with Paltrow starring, everyone wanted tickets and very few people got them. I didn't, so I was thrilled to see it made into a movie and then disappointed that it was only in the Provo theatres for a week. But it was at Hollywood today and that was all a mad tangent before getting to the story. Paltrow is a mathematician's daughter--a genius mathematician's daughter (played by Anthony Hopkins). He's recently died and it's quickly made known that he was crazy most of his life after making brilliant contributions in his early 20s. For three years he just wrote in notebooks. Jake Gyllenhaal is an old student of her father who is determined to look for some small piece of sense in the notebooks. But when he does find a proof, she claims authorship.

I know, I know. Get to the crazy part. The whole movie she is wondering if she is like her father, if she's mad. If her genius means that she's also insane. Does this have anything to do with being a writer and being depressed? Who cares. It's an excellent movie. Go rent it.

So what I told my class. Well, I made them answer the question. I asked who in the class wasn't depressed--I sure as hell can't answer that question. Would I still be a writer if I wasn't depressed? Who knows. I'd like to think so. The answers people gave ran along the lines of depression being extreme emotion and if you're not depressed, you have to find another emotion and depend on it. So much for the rational author.


Master Fob said...

I've wondered about this before, as I am a writer and, while I frequently feel depressed, I don't think I am depressed (if that distinction makes sense). I certainly feel passionately about a lot of things, though. Who knows? Maybe I'd be a better writer if I slit my wrists every once in a while.

Your mom's depressed.

InDialect said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
InDialect said...

I think it is more important that an artist/writer is watching, than in any particular state of being. Watching themselves, watching others, then acting. Watching what happens when they try to realize something in whatever medium they choose.

"If you're a poet, you do something beautiful. I mean you're supposed to leave something beautiful when you get off the page and everything."
-Franny Glass

Melissa said...

Maybe you already know about this guy, Peter Kramer, who says depression is the new tuberculosis. More precisely, he claims we've linked depression culturally with the whole "melancholy artist" ideal. I haven't read his book so I'm not actually sure I agree with everything he says. As a fellow English major, I'm much more comfortable with making hazy connections than arriving at actual conclusions. I do think the whole idea's a fascinating study and am still half-heartedly hoping to contract a nice case of TB in the hopes of becoming a better writer.

Sorry to intrude. I enjoyed your post and couldn't resist joining the fray.

Saule Cogneur said...

I can only look in from the outside. But I always thought writing was a form of expression. People need to express themselves regardless of depresssion.

Still, maybe depression yeilds more meaty themes. Maybe it is the most introspective of emotions. Maybe it's just what people want to read because they too are depressed and don't want to feel alone. Maybe writing is therapy.

Either way, I guess I wouldn't know.

erin said...

You would still be a writer. Yes you would.


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