Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Why Am I the One Stuck Saying This Stuff?


Yesterday a very talented, hard-working creative person died, in circumstances that suggest suicide. And today I see lots of people posting suicide hot line numbers and clips from Aladdin or The Dead Poet's Society. And the one time I look at comments, inevitably (why do I ever look at comments on news stories?) some troll condemns him as selfish and weak; and pretty soon somebody's going to turn up the old chestnut about how creativity and mental illness go hand in hand. And by the time the autopsy's done it'll be too late - there'll already be an Official Public Version of the death, shellacked hard, and everyone will know what moral to point from this.

And it'll all be crap, because you know what doesn't get talked about?

The ways in which we in America (and other places, but I am American and have even less control over what happens in the rest of the world than I do here) treat creative people in order to drive them crazy. The way we take it for granted that creativity is madness (when all the people with mental disorders I know who are sufficiently self-aware to have an opinion agree, that creativity is the opposite of madness); and treat it also as a moral failing, and go and do things that make it punishingly hard to make a living creatively. Like, structuring the economy and intellectual property law so that it's easier for corporations to make money off of a creative work than those who do the creating do. So that a creator has to spend far more time and energy on promotion and public image than creation.

Like the way we treat creative work as less valuable than other kinds of work, demanding to be entertained 24/7 at no cost, or at absolute minimum cost. I have been told to my face that I should be grateful to be read, rather than hoping to be paid enough to cover expenses, let alone make a living at it; every day, authors and illustrators are asked to allow their work to be used for a payment of "exposure." You can't pay the electric bill with "exposure," y'all - sorry.

Like the way we put pressure on creative people to be creative but not too creative; to be creative and personally accessible and to give not just our work but our time, our attention, our personalities, to the world. Which will then feel free to judge what we do and say, and how we look, and how we match up to other people's fantasies about the creative life, without mercy.

The way we are told that because we are creative we must also be depressed, or abusers of substances, or obsessively devoted to our art; and that depression, substance abuse, and obsession are all moral failings.

The way we can't get good mental health services because (I speak from experience here) counselors don't know what they're doing; don't understand, even, that what they do best is to help people understand the mechanisms of their own malfunctions based on a huge database of similar malfunctions; and that this approach works best on people who fall within the thick parts of the bell curves generated by that data. I have never been to a counselor whose generalizations applied to me. I don't react the way most people do; therefore, advice based on the expected reactions is irrelevant. If those of us on the skinny parts of the bell curve are to be saved, we have to save ourselves. No one is helping us.

How many of the people who bring us pleasure, insight, joy, and escape have to go through this wringer and get spat out dead before their times before we stop doing this?

Before we stop doing things to depressed people that make them worse?

Before we stop doing things to people, ordinary or extraordinary, that make them depressed?

And yes, I know - (believe me, I know!) that depression is a physical problem. I was born with a biological tendency to depression. I've been there, I've done that, I've taken the bottle full of pills - and, thanks to a confirmed habit of introspective intellectation and emotional honesty(for which I have been punished all my life by most of the people I've come into contact with), I was able to pull back in time. Nobody gets the credit for saving me, but me (and the wonderfully calm nurse in the emergency room who knew exactly how to make me throw it all up). Which makes me reject any attempt to blame a suicide who didn't save herself. The odds were stacked against me and against everyone else in this position.

A clinically depressed person can be in an ideal situation and still get depressed (and be even more depressed because she can see her situation is ideal so she must be fundamentally wrong to feel so bad and clearly something as wrong as her has no right to clutter up this ideal situation), just as a non-smoker can get cancer without smoking. But natural biological tendencies are exacerbated by environment; and the environment of American society is toxic for depressives.

So toxic that it is easy to translate "circumstances suggestive of suicide" in the case of someone fantastically talented and with a gift for making people laugh, into a firm judgement at first sight, in the absence of any details, in the absence of any right to make a judgement.

And it's because we will not face up to this that we keep being toxic. Nor is that the only thing of which this is true. We are still racist because we won't face up realistically to our racism; we are still sexist because we won't face it; we are still unprepared for global warming because we'd rather drown than face the fact that we're going to drown; we perpetuate evil because we keep looking for evil out there in things and people we can't control instead of looking for the evils we can control. Our own.

We are all society and we should knock this crap off.

And that will remain true whatever Mr. Williams's autopsy tells us about he, as an individual, died.

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