20. Touched with Fire – Kay Redfield Jamison
The title comes from a line in the Stephen Spender poem “I Think Continually of Those Who Were Truly Great.” The subtitle of this book is “Manic Depressive Illness and the Artistic Temperament.” After finishing this book, I know two things: 1. I am not manic depressive. I have never been manic in the manner described in Touched with Fire; although perhaps in retrospect it will seem like I was when I finished so many creative things this year. And I haven’t even put all of them up in my store . 2. I relate more to Henry James than I like. I hated reading Washington Square, now I begrudgingly respect it. Actually, I still have that “ugh” feeling in my gut thinking about reading it, so it may mostly be a product of whatever mental state I was in at the time.
One of my favorite aspects of Touched with Fire is the list of artists, composers, and writers who were either manic depressive, had probable cyclothomia, or had major depression. It’s marked with who was hospitalized, who made a suicide attempt, and who committed suicide and it was super interesting seeing who did what. Like extremely late to the party gossip.
There was also a section of shorter biographical pieces dealing with the family histories of “madness” of famous artists and writers called “Genealogies of these high mortal miseries” after a phrase by Herman Melville that I truly love and that was the section that resonated with me the most. Writing and art are both solitary pursuits and when you consistently wonder if anyone is ever going to connect with your work or why you should care or if you should really be doing this work when you’re not that stable financially and it’s not really helping with that and you know that it’s all you’d like to pursue regardless but you can’t put aside everything you care about aesthetically just because people tell you should if you want to make money… well, that whole section just provided a lot of material for me to relate to. There are a lot of differences between the time period when Herman Melville was writing and now, but, those differences are easily bridged by the mental anguish a large swath of artists and writers feel on a regular basis.
Personally, I remain true to my artistic vision regardless of what anyone tells me; which doesn’t mean that I don’t listen to criticism. I just look for relevance in the criticism. Sometimes you’re doing something people don’t get, and the main thing to consider in that case is whether or not what you’re aiming for people to “get” is coming through. If it’s not, there’s work to do. If it is and they don’t like it, that’s a different story altogether. You’ll have to beat them to death with their own shoes. Or not. To be fair, I know that many people are not ready for guinea pig domination or ladies being clever in realms where men are used to being the only clever ones. I would like things to be different and therefore I create. And I had a shitload of catching up to do after my on and off dealings with depression over the past thirteen yearsish. I proved to myself that even if I’m very stressed and very depressed I can write and paint and when I can focus, I can write and paint A LOT. I did drop one giant amount of baggage between last year and this year, which enabled me to focus on myself and what I want and apparently that was to finish manuscripts, print, paint and paint and paint, print some more, and actually execute some of the ideas I’ve had for so long while still working full time in a job that can be really stressful in so…many…ways. And I can’t say that me doing all of this has been met entirely positively. Some people really want you to stay in the place they expect you to be. But it’s not up to them and I have also received a lot of very encouraging sentiments too and I do want to specifically thank everyone who came out to see me at the Wizard Worlds I participated in this year, it made it clear to me that my work is unique, and, Cute, – and a special additional public thank you to those that facilitated me actually being able to participate. Overall, my experience reading Touched with Fire worked like a door through the darkness I get overwhelmed by sometimes and reminded me that I’m not the only one like this, even if I’m on the major depression side and not the manic side. To borrow a phrase from Mr. Presley, I’m a bit more “Filled with fire” now than anything else – no touching-; although that fire has turned to a smoky haze quite often in the past. No phoenix metaphors, it was there the whole time.