by J.D. Rhoades
First off, I want to thank everyone for the birthday wishes
sent to me here and elsewhere in the last couple of weeks. They were greatly appreciated—and
See, my birthday notwithstanding, January’s always a
tough time for me. I don’t know what it is exactly. Maybe it’s the cold weather
(Yeah, I know, it’s colder where you are. Thanks for the information. I’m still freezing). Maybe it’s the bare trees. Or the fact that everything
seems to be colored gray, black or brown. Post-holiday let-down may have something
to do with it. It’s most likely a combination of all of the above.
Whatever the cause,
January’s the month when every regret, every fear, every hurtful word ever said
to or by me, every failure, every humiliation and
embarrassment, comes to roost on my shoulder and whisper in my ear. And those
bastards are heavy.
I am not, as you may have surmised, a barrel of laughs in
But here’s the thing: I feel like hell, but I’m writing like
crazy. I finally got a handle on the main character in my current work in progress, and it’s taking
the book in a new direction that I really like, one that’s a lot edgier than before. When I can
grab the time, I’m blazing through a thousand-plus words in
an hour and a half. There are pages and pages of notes in my notebook about not
only the WIP, but a half dozen other ideas for other projects. I’m throwing off ideas like sparks.
It’s not the first time this sort of thing has happened. When I wrote The Devil’s Right Hand, I was tremendously depressed that my
first book had sunk without a trace. I was in a funk. But the words kept flowing.
Nor am I the first person who’s noted a link between
depression and creativity. There’s the long, long list of great writers and
artists who suffered from depression: Hemingway, Van Gogh, Woolf, Tolstoy, etc.
(This is the point where the black bird on my shoulder whispers “you ain’t
Psychologist Eric Maisel wrote a book called The Van Gogh
Blues in which he theorizes that artists tend towards depression because, more
than other people, they look for “meaning” in their lives, and when there’s not
enough of that, they have a “meaning crisis” which brings on depression. He
doesn’t explain, however, why depression can actually seem to stir creativity. (Or
maybe he does. I gave up on the book after a chapter in which Maisel used the word “meaning”
thirty-two times on one page. I don’t see the efficacy in replacing depression
with severe annoyance). Psychiatrist Kay Redfield Jamison theorizes that many creative people actually suffer from bipolar disorder. So when I answer the question "Why do you write?" by saying "mental illness," I’m only half joking.
A few years ago, I actually did seek professional help and
went on medication for the depression that was, at that time, eating me alive.
I don’t remember much about that time, which worries me. I do remember that it
was shortly after I gave up the Wellbutrin that I started writing creatively again after not doing it for over 15 years.
This leads me to the inevitable question: Would I trade blissful happiness for
not being able to write as well–or at all?
So what about it, fellow ‘Rati? Do you think you write
better when you’re depressed? Is there something seeeeriously wrong with us? Or is it just me?