13 October 2008

Take good care of your (writer) self.

So this idea that writers--and artists in general, for that matter--have to be train wrecks, it has been on my mind. And not because I'm anywhere near that right now. My version involves no sleep, and subsisting on diet coke, granola bars, and antihistamines. Until now.

I'm not sure what's gotten into me, but lately (and I'm almost embarrassed to say this) I've been thinking about wellness. Maybe it's the tough Midwesterner in me, but I always feel like I have to prove myself by being hardcore. Like giving a final exam while having contractions two minutes apart, then driving myself over to the hospital, and grading papers while they hook up the monitors. That kind of thing.

I have two kids and a demanding job, so naturally I'm overextended. Not taking it easy has been a survival instinct as much as it's been a recreational activity. I stay up late reading. Sometimes I sit on the hardwood floor so that I don't fall asleep. I procrastinate so that I can use the pressure as extra energy.

Lately, though, I've been feeling kind of relaxed, even in the middle of things. Today I listened to NPR instead of Van Halen (sorry, EW; you know I would never have done that if it was Jamie's Cryin'). I've been really enthused about sitting on my screened-in porch and commenting on student poems. The leaves look really pretty this year. And sometimes I even get excited to pet my cats. Now: I get to share my house with these amazing creatures! Two weeks ago: These little shitheads are shedding and getting underfoot. Bah!

No, I'm not on medication. I'm just getting more sleep, and not drinking diet coke any more, and trying to be frugal with my shopping, which is strangely exhilarating.

I hope that I can still write poems if I'm not stressed out.

What do you think about the mind + body connection, especially for writers? Do we have to be wild to succeed? Should we ignore all of those catastrophic tendencies of yesteryear, and take better care of ourselves? Is the wayward stage a rite of passage that we should eventually outgrow (or not)?

Perhaps I will open a spa for writers in my copious spare time. They can come drink tea on my porch and pet my cats.


Jay Robinson said...

For me, in order to be a productive writer, I need to be busy. If I've got nothing going on, then I'll lay around and watch baseball and wonder why I'm laying around watching baseball. But that doesn't mean that the busyness needs to stem from not taking good care of myself. I've never bought into the idea that vices fuel creativity. Perhaps neuroses do, but not drama.

Penultimatina said...

Hee hee. I like that neuroses versus vices argument.

Should I get some new neuroses? Start washing my hands even more?

I'm with you on being busy, though. I stagnate if I have too much time on my hands.

Anne said...

I actually write better when I'm not so terminally stressed out. Stress gives me tunnel vision; when I'm more relaxed I have time to look around and really notice things and let me thoughts be a little random -- both of which (for me anyway!) lead to better poetry. "Oh crap oh crap oh crap" is sort of the anti-poetry-mantra in my life...

John said...

I think we should always be pushing ourselves to the edge, whether it be to the edge of our abilities, perception, capacity for fuzzy shitheads, etc. I think that if the individual, especially if the individual is a teacher-writer (not the other way around), is suffering from Catcher-in-the- Rye syndrome everything we do becomes tinged with duty. Loving is sometimes about duty, but loving is also sometimes about loving-- doing it because it feels good. I think my writing is best when it’s driven by both impulses.

Penultimatina said...

"I think we should always be pushing ourselves to the edge, whether it be to the edge of our abilities, perception, capacity for fuzzy shitheads, etc."

I just about fell off my chair reading that, Captain!

ccpl said...

Mary Oliver wrote: "What more can I do with wild words?" I like to think of words as wild. I think poets need to be equally wild to somehow coax the words into a poem.

but not if wild = unhealthy.

Laura Without Labels said...

This is a really interesting topic that I find myself struggling with a lot. I have a lot of close creative friends who are making art of some kind and so much of it is wrapped up in their dramatic lifestyle. Or their unhappy childhood (and I say this in a very serious way - like, mental and physical abuse). I think that art/writing can be a great tool for healing in that way. But for me, I had a great childhood, supportive friends and family, etc. I'm actually pretty reliable, organized and I try very hard to keep myself this way.

However, lats week I had an incredibly stressful week that resulted in a strange stomach cramp under my ribcage. This pain/discomfort inspired a poem! I do also write and create when I'm stable/less stressed.

This also makes me think about specifically the issue of mental health, which you kind of danced around in the post. I know a lot of my creative friends have suffered from various kinds of mental illness, including myself. Is it something about the creative brain that needs to be a little bit "crazy" to create? I'm stereotyping here of course and I know virtually nothing about psychology but they are certainly interesting questions.

John Gallaher said...

Health! I hear you. A few months ago I realized with a shock that I was happy. The kids were running around me and Robin was in PA and things were crazy and in the middle of it, I realized I was happy.

I wondered if I'd ever write again. We have all those stories of what "writers" are . . . yeah. Drunk and promiscuous and crazy and unhappy. And often suicides.

I'm making a choice to be as happy and healthy as I can (I go to the gym and get enough sleep and don't drink much and eat right and laugh as much as I can, etc). I hope that art doesn't need crazy to flourish. If it does, well, I'll choose health.


Penultimatina said...

Laura, you are totally right--I absolutely omitted the mental health aspect. Maybe it's because I am this bizarre anomaly (especially given family history and artistic inclinations). I don't have depression! Somehow, it must have missed me. I'm a bit OCD, perhaps, but I've never had mental health issues (though I've spent my whole life dealing with them in people close to me). It seems somehow...unpoetic.

Sometimes, I really try to be thankful for it. Sometimes it frustrates me (I think I could never have gotten away with that, etc). But ultimately, it's something I don't have to deal with. If only I could say the same thing about coffee addiction, but a girl's gotta have a few vices, right? ;)

Thanks for your thoughts, folks!

Justin Evans said...

You know how much I hate to talk at length about this sort of stuff, but I thought I would uncharacteristically drop in and give an answer on this issue.

I never take a day off. I have 115 sick days accrued at my work, with this being my 10th year in the district. I don't even take the 2 free days we get each year.

If I can walk, I go to work. Sometimes I hate myself for that, but I am such a control freak that I cannot stand people in my classroom. They might teach something the wrong way!

My health definately takes a back seat to almost everything else in my life, writing included.

Adam Deutsch said...

It seems that stress is not synonymous with self destruction or wild-whatever. I'm with Jay that being busy is good. Being busy and keeping healthy has been fine with me. The healthier I am (eating better, walking more, not drinking myself sloppy), the easier it is to get into the head to write the poems. Easier to breath, listen, and love.

Not that the more wild days weren't fun. But learning from them is nice. Like my pop used to say every time he left me alone in the house, "Don't do anything stupid."

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