Like most sensitive and interesting people, before I was twenty-two, I had got me to a therapist. I was not getting out of bed, and sticky with unhappiness about the end of my growing-up love affair, and I was ready to have someone talk some sense to me. She said, “If you don’t want to be on drugs, you can try to manage your moods yourself. But you can’t let yourself get so low like this. It’s too hard to climb back out.”
I had been moody and crazy, but at that point in life, I’m not sure calm and secure is a possibility. Twenty-one, in and out of college. That was hard. At least I always knew I wanted to be a writer, and that I didn’t want to be an alcoholic or a lunatic. Alcoholism and lunacy weren’t appealing to me: I had that in the family, hidden from me, to protect me from it, but used as a cautionary tale. It didn’t look romantic.
So I read Thoreau, his solid , stubborn, if nonconformist sanity. He was all about building things and being alone. Natalie Goldberg, who practiced Buddhism to become saner, really saner, not conventional or conforming. And Madeleine L’Engle, who described an artistic work ethic that funneled passion strictly into the work. See plays, play piano, talk to smart people, make babies, make dinner; read, write. That sounded good to me.
This is why I roll my eyes every time people love the Charles Bukowski painting at the bar. Wouldn’t it be easy as pie to abuse yourself and numb your feelings? Can’t anyone, with enough training and practice, down a whole bottle of whiskey in a short period of time? Even I’ve learned to drink two or three. It’s easy. And I’m not interested in the easy thing.
Yesterday I went hiking. Two and a half miles out, two and a half miles back. I met three huge deer, three does. The first one stood and looked at me forever. I stood and looked at her. Her body was a huge mass, a wall that made me feel like a pencil sketch. She shifted her weight and looked around several times, that’s how long we hung out together. I was unhappy when I set out on my walk. Agitated. Unsettled. The deer helped. Every time. They amazed me. But then I was back at my car, and I was just tired, not enlightened.
The next night, rather suddenly, I was ready to paint. Wine, brushes, Marvin Gaye station. I planned some squares and rectangles out on the floor. I dragged out this canvas that I’ve been messing with for two years, and some of its issues resolved themselves. I could do something to this picture. So I did.
What my mentors, Thoreau and Goldberg and L’Engle, would say, is that you make yourself a solid life, get your head on straight, and then you have enough room to wack out while you’re making things. You have to every day bulldoze a straight, flat place, like wide enough for you and a large deer to stand on, so that you can build something, and if you get really psyched, praise the Lord, then you could dig foundations and bury some steel supports and get something significant that other people could live in. They were good voices for me to hear when I was very young. I grew up wearing those comforting messages so close that I hardly read them anymore– they are my skin.
This is kind of sad fun. Cheers. http://listverse.com/2008/01/22/top-15-great-alcoholic-writers/