Years ago I wanted to join a mental health fair to give a lecture on creativity and mental illness. I hoped to call it what this Blog is called, “The Rising Moon.” The truth is that it is much easier for me to be creative when I am on my meds, but mental illness (in specific Bipolar Schizoaffective Disorder) is in a way an impetus to being creative. Why? Because the people you meet in being sick form a kind of prism within which you see the world, as does the illness itself. That being said, mostly I write about people who if they are normal are only a tad dysfunctional. It is difficult for me to realistically portray bipolar or schizophrenia.
In my book Brazil my only classically mentally ill character is Carlos. Carlos was hard to portray, as was his relationship to his rabbi. The book takes place in the country it is named for, where I assumed it was difficult to find adequate care even for the wealthy–and Carlos is only “middle class” (just above the poverty line). I want to believe that someday I shall write the story of Carlos going to Portugal to get well in a hospital. I hope that is not a spoiler for Brazil. However, either way, the book would be called Carlos, after that character’s name.
If I ever do read it, I shall read my Dr. Oliver Sachs omnibus. However, I have my doubts if I ever shall… I have so many story ideas…
I do believe my journals of ideas and documents on my computer reflect the fact that ideas occur to you if you are mentally ill that other people don’t have… I won’t list any (I already went overboard giving the outline of Children of the Cat Goddess.). Yet I will mention a comedian I love for his eccentricity who used to be on the Tonight Show with Johnny Carson and who like me had Bipolar. Though his comic skits are funnier than either his movies or his book, I do love the book Winter’s Tales.
I love Winter’s Tales for its bizarre vividness and strange humor. I also like this about the man: despite his illness and celebrity of a sort, he was a wonderful father. To point to the stories, though, they all have McGuffin’s or O. Henry like twists. And the intended reaction of these stories is laughter and not tears. I wish I could tell jokes as well received as his were on the Tonight Show. I am less sure I like sharing the distinction of having been in mental hospitals for health reasons with him. Of course, I can still drink small amounts of alcohol; he had to give up drinking because he feared he would become an alcoholic if he kept going. Winters said he gave up the drinking “for the kids.” Why? Because he didn’t want his children to suffer because of his drinking. Yet he had the audacity to subtitle his work “Tales for the Unusual.” His daughter gave him a poem he quoted in the book for his birthday, “You taught me to be proud to be strange.”
Yes, there is a strangeness in great literature, whether it is Dickens or Kafka. Dickens’ eccentrics and Kafka’s allegoric resonance both tell of a weirdness in their imaginations that most people aren’t blessed with. I have always believed that weirdness is a part of mine, too, though my sense of humor is not truly appealing to as many people as the (late) great Johnathan Winters. My world inverts Hemmingway whose sun “Also Rises,” because one of my discarded projects is a book on folklore called, “The Rising Moon.”