My house in not in order. Yes, my literal house: dishes unwashed, clean laundry unfolded, the dog hair unswept from its new home on the floor. But also my mental house. My mental house is messy. I mean, it’s always messy–I’m a creative, impulsive person who changes her mind, her opinions, and her desires from one day to the next (What? I know that on the day we met I said I didn’t like olives, and it’s awesome that you remember that, but I tried them last week and now they’re my favorite food!).
But this is different messy. This is darkly messy and bleeding, like when you dye your hair black and it stains the back of your neck and rubs off on your sweater and sheets and lover for weeks. And you notice the stains everywhere, and you know that if you just washed your hair a couple of times, it would stop bleeding all over, but you’re just … too tired to care.
That last part is the important part in all of this. Knowing that none of your houses are in order, and not being able to find the energy to do more than notice it and feel unsettled by it. But fix it? Why bother? The dishes will be dirty again tomorrow, the dog will shed again, my mental space will derail into the dark.
None of this is new to me. I’m 42 years old, and self-aware, so I recognize this for what it is: a very mild form of depression brought on by repetition, boredom, a sense of sameness. I’m a neophile. I need something new to keep me excited about life. I am easily bored, easily overwhelmed by having to do the same task again and again, easily discouraged by the thought of living a life where I am not constantly growing and learning. I would rather fail wildly at some ridiculous new thing than succeed, exhausted by repetition.
Former partners of mine (and probably some of my friends) have found this part of me to be an overwhelming flaw. “Why do you always have to want more?” “Things are fine, why do you need to change things?” “Why can’t you just be happy/content?”
It’s a fundamental difference, I think, in ways that people see the world. Because I can be stunningly, beautifully, ecstatically happy while still striving for something more and different and better. I am an optimist. I believe I am lucky every day to be alive, to do what I love, to have amazing friends and family, to be who I am, with a healthy body and an inquisitive mind.
It is only when I am stuck, when there is nothing new to explore and entice my senses, that I feel discontent with my current life.
Last night, I saw a program by Jad Abumrad, host of Radio Lab, on “Gut Churn” and the process of uncertainty in creativity. He talked about “going into the German Forest,” this dark scary place that happens to most of us when we’re about to take a big leap, creatively or otherwise. People who want to make their living doing creative things must find a way to walk through the forest, or sit in it, or otherwise deal with it, so that they can come out on the other side. And they must recognize that they will do this again and again, their whole lives, each time that risk appears.
I was listening to him, and nodding, but I was also thinking that I like the German Forest. It is one of my favorite places. Perhaps this is why I am so enamored of fairy tales, why I adore the big bad wolf, why I like the teeth and claws more than the basket of cakes.
There’s always been talk of the way that mental illness and creativity goes hand-in-hand. I don’t buy it as a blanket statement (but then I rarely buy blanket statements), because we’re all so very different. For me, creativity is the thing that keeps the wolf at my door — and I need the wolf. We have a symbiotic relationship. She scares me so that I feel alive. When I feel alive, my house is in order and I create the beautiful bloody things that feed her. And this is how we go round and round.
But sometimes she doesn’t show up, for reasons that I have yet to figure out. And then I don’t get scared and I don’t feel alive. And I don’t make anything, and she doesn’t get fed. It’s a great cycle when it works but when it breaks… like now… I am lost.
I miss the sound of her claws on my door, the scent of her breath in my face, the long slow flick of her tongue over her bloodied teeth. My house is not in order, and maybe, in the end, that is why she doesn’t come.
But here’s the thing I know: by breaking through the walls of my own apathy and depression to write this post, I have cleaned up one small bit of my house. I have created something new. I have cared about something. I have found my way back to the German Forest, and I am going to sit here until I hear the pitter-patter of claws scuttling across the dark earth. And then I am going to feel alive again.
HURRY UP PLEASE ITS TIME
Kiss kiss bang bang, s.
**Title line and last line courtesy of The Wasteland, by T.S. Eliot