A guy I know killed himself recently. We weren’t close; I worked DPW with him. He wasn’t the first, either. I don’t mean to sound callous but I can’t say I’m surprised. And I say this, not due to any reflection of his personality or mental state, but because what I find surprising is that more friends aren’t offing themselves.
I know thousands of people – to varying degrees of “well” – and it’s fairly accurate to say that a large percentage of them could be considered “creative types.” From writers to musicians, dancers to designers, photographers to crafters, painters to performers, many are artists of some sort. And the 21st century simply doesn’t embrace artists.
Years back, when Big Pharma first introduced mood-altering anti-depressants, the press was all a-tizzy about prescription substances that could, essentially, change one’s personality. My friend and fellow fanzine publisher Selwyn Harris bemoaned these drugs, postulating that most “good” artists are tortured in some way and that with these brave new drugs, art would suffer, as artists would all be medicated and, therefore, happy. Would Van Gogh have painted his wild night skies if he’d been spaced out on Celebrex? Would Bukowski have penned as much anguish if he’d been comatose on Zoloft? And if the Merry Pranksters had been weaned on Adderall, then progressed to Prozac, would they have been so eager to experiment with LSD?
Selwyn eventually partook of these substances, if I recall correctly, and now he is, actually, happy. Productive, sober, married to a nice girl and…happy. The question is, of course, how does his current work compare with his output while he was gloriously tortured? And is it worth being a tortured artist? Self-medication on alcohol and illegal drugs has fueled a number of “magnum opi.” And resulted in an equal number of “accidental” suicides.
But I digress. (And to even further digress, a recent study finds High Childhood IQ Linked to Subsequent Illicit Drug Use. Not surprising. All my creative friends are also quite clever.)
Today’s world is not kind to artists. It favors the “entrepreneur,” the businessman, the schemer, the shyster. It isn’t easy for the freak, a category into which, again, many of my friends and acquaintances fall. Sure, there is “Glee.” The zeitgeist has never been so “freak positive.” Sarah Jessica Parker was once a “Square Peg,” now she’s the queen of “Sex in the City.” “Blossom” star Mayim Bialik is currently the wry wit of “Big Bang Theory.” And could there be a more unlikely leading man than Zach Galifianakis? Okay, yes, as a matter of fact: Michael Cera.
“Glee” glorifies the loser – the creative, talented, late-blooming loser – who we all know will eventually get to college and flourish. Yet there they are – corpulent or queer, band geek or wheelchair-bound – experiencing – GASP! – gratification! Happy, positive high school experiences! Acceptance, even! Who’da thunk it?
But again, I digress. Yes, “Glee” and other products of mainstream media have come to recognize the inner beauty of the odd kid out. Yet still, life isn’t easy for those of us who just feel “different,” in whatever way we each define different. It’s difficult for us to find – and keep – jobs. We struggle to relate to our relatives. We flail in our efforts to find a place in society where we can freely express ourselves, find reason to get out of bed in the morning, live one more day. Well, at least I do.
I’m not looking for affirmation here. I don’t want pity. But I would like to acknowledge that, while I recognize the stultifying beauty in every autumn leaf, full moon or falling snowflake and appreciate everything life has to offer me, I also find myself depressed, disgusted or discouraged on an almost moment-to-moment basis. So when someone opts out, I actually understand.