It is always stupid for me to write about or talk about process. In fact, I am convinced it’s a form of self-sabotage. It’s the final step of a creative project, where I cut myself off at the knees and go back to a safe place.

It’s when the oxpecker shows up and pecks me bloody.

I was thinking this must be one of the horsemen of a creative apocalypse, so I googled. Nothing is original after all. There are a couple of models for the four horsemen of the creative apocalypse, actually. Discussing process isn’t included. But now I am thinking Googling any idea should be.

My grandmother said to me, “Karen, I never understand anything you are talking about, but I’m glad you’re happy.” It could be she said, “… but it’s nice to hear your voice.” I’m not sure anymore. Those conversations took place years ago.

It’s amazing how people close to you can simultaneously make you feel acknowledged and completely irrelevant. Dismissed, with a pat on the head.

We may not remember the details but we remember the feelings.

Am I still spouting half-words and nonsense melodies? I am the madwoman in the cellar, in the outhouse. The deluded relative. Fed. Humored on occasion.

“I’m happy for you.”

“Isn’t that nice.”

I guess it forces the question of self-fulfilling prophecies. It spotlights the need for approval and permission, which are met so often with glib responses like, “Who cares what other people think?”

Not caring what others think comes from a position of privilege: that voice comes from someone with a waiting seat at the table, not a stool at the pulled-out cutting board in the kitchen.

Otherwise, not caring is just another form of self-destruction. Mental illness.

This morning a random essay found its way to my inbox from Academia. I have absolutely no idea why. It takes up Sylvia Plath, and her bipolar disorder as a manifestation of Thanatos. And by doing so lifts Plath’s story – Plath herself – to a mythic plane. Which is very different from the reality of dealing with a mental disorder. To the flesh and blood, and the decaying corpse of a mother of two.

The article further promotes the idea of the “true artist” as a kind of martyr. And it led me down a rabbit hole looking for the origin of the suffering artist. Back to saints of the Middle Ages: Romantic artists as secular saints to the god of exceptionality, exile, and death itself?

I don’t know. I just know none of this is Romantic. And none of these feelings are conducive to getting the work done.

I read a bit of the article:

Unsure of where the emotion originated from, it could be interpreted that Plath’s rage is not towards any person or matter – she is not a victim of these, but a “victim of her own brilliantly imaginative brain” (Stevenson 1), the protagonist of a self-depicted tragedy. Therefore, the possibility of the unconscious Thanatos playing trick onto Plath’s mind, creating internal drama should also be taken into consideration while reading ‘Edge’. Further, as Kaufman (47) denoted, some poets “may envision the muse as the sole sources of ideas, with themselves serving as a vessel of their creative works”, implying that by placing herself as the protagonist of her works, Plath is placing her mental health at risk, by creating and living in a hopeless world. The intersection of fictional and real worlds might have brought her illusions that her sufferings doubled as she shares feelings with the character she creates, worsening her manic depression.

Interesting speculation. (Not that I follow the author’s line of thinking where muses as sources for ideas implies anything about Path’s choice of the confessional form).

But no matter. I wonder though, all this is to what f-ing end?

Is the implication here: “Aren’t we glad she did it?”, “And now she has the legacy she dreamed of”? “Her self-destruction is the evidence of her true martyr/genius?”

Is this a psychiatry paper or a literature paper? A hagiography?

No speculation is ever put forth without an underlying tenet.

No fact is ever presented free of context.

I remember reading that Plath and Sexton, both conscious of legacy, discussed their suicidal fantasies. That Sexton was pissed Plath beat her to it.

But I may have dreamt that.

It’s probably not a fact.

Dorothea Dix, the 19C reformer knew mental illness. And she wrote that she “dare not” write poetry, and turned to oration. But not all autobiographical work needs to be reflexively ruminative or Confessionalist.

There are such things as facts. Even when facts are feelings. And context can be restructured. Perspectives can broaden.

It may not keep the oxpeckers away, but Thanatos wasn’t the god of poetry. Dionysus was.

It’s 7:25 am. too early for wine.

3 Replies to “Overthinking”

  1. I was prisoner to that idea of the suffering artist once. I thought you had to be drunk on red wine to write good poetry. I realised soon enough all that did was to make my words illegible in all senses of the word. I like that you tracked this myth back to the saints from the Middle Ages – another example of organised religion leading astray and destroying? And thanks for that perspective on not caring what other people think of us – it chimes with much I learned through my therapy; that those of us who were ignored and patronised tried to make ourselves different so that we would get noticed, because we wanted other people to notice us. …

    1. Or not. There’s that horrible thing they say to kids here “ikke gjøre deg til”. I think my whole body will explode when I hear that. I stopped being different… or tried to. To whittle myself into somethings acceptable 🙂

  2. I find the literature on Plath very thorny. Some of it is romanticizing and some is hagiographic and some is pop-psych (I used to find psychological analysis of dead artists interesting speculation, but now I find it annoyingly speculative–age’ll do that to a person).

    Keep working with these idea; you are onto something quite lovely here: “not all autobiographical work needs to be reflexively ruminative or Confessionalist. / There are such things as facts. Even when facts are feelings. And context can be restructured.” Yes, THAT is what artists/poets do.

    You’re right that it’s not Thanatos who is the god of poetry, if poetry has a god. Dead people don’t write.


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