Since most of you can’t easily pop over for a visit at Casa Callender, may I let you in on a little secret? My house is a wreck. The toilets are a health hazard. My bedroom closet should have CAUTION tape across the door. The piles of too-small kids’ clothes I swore I’d take to the Goodwill in May still sit in the guest room. Summer Projects look like they will become Fall Projects (or Never Projects).
In my personal life, things feel equally ignored. I have mostly stopped exercising so everything’s feeling rather low and swingy. I keep forgetting to call about a haircut. The whisker on my chin has run amok, and I hardly care. I find myself saying no to coffee dates or walks with friends. My inbox overwhelms me, and my list of must-be-done errands keeps shifting over to the next week.
Yes, an apparently manic gang of Muses has slapped a sticky pair of blinders on my face. As a result, I hardly see the domestic messes or the amoking chin whisker. I ignore my bursting inbox and attempt to explain to my very patient friends why I am saying “no.” That I hope they understand I must spend time with my characters. That I need to write. That when I can’t write, when I don’t write, I feel itchy and crabby.
It feels terrible to be this obsessed; it also feels fantastic. It’s a wonderful problem; it’s also a little worrisome. With my hefty case of chronic depression, I already feel like a protagonist in the DSM IV saga. Does this recent obsession mean I’m even more up a creek, mental health wise, than I previously thought? Maybe. I certainly blame my easily-obsessed, easily-addicted brain chemistry.
I also blame the Muses. They have donned their hard hats and, as they always sub out the heavy-lifting kind of work, they have hired word-loving architects, concrete layers, roofers. A heavily-tattooed gal with a backhoe. A saucy plumber who’s a whiz with the sewer snake. There are also a few caterers, thank goodness. Certainly a bartender or three. All of these ladies have invited their pals, and those pals have invited their pals, so really, it’s a grand ball of sorts, a summer-long rave pounding in my head. I suggested hiring a bouncer, but the Muses said, “Sorry. Everyone’s invited. Get out on that dance floor and dance, Cinderella!
So I do. I have no choice.
My fingers dance and dance across the keyboard, churning out a LOT of really bad stuff. But I don’t let myself care. I also don’t let myself care about the good stuff that appears, like bits of cubic zirconia, shimmering and hopeful in vats of sewage. I only care about the work. The buns-in-chair, produce-your-pants-off, dance-typing work driven by an invisible but powerful Something.
It feels scary and dangerous, this single-minded focus. Even overly-hopeful. Certainly crazy. But at some point it occurs to me that “scary” and “dangerous” are not necessarily unhealthy.
In her collection, Bloodchild and Other Stories, writer Octavia Butler shares a story called “Positive Obsession” in which she details her personal road to authorhood. Butler writes, “I saw positive obsession as a way of aiming yourself, your life, at your chosen target. Decide what you want. Aim high. Go for it . . . [Whatever was driving me to write], I couldn’t stop. Positive obsession is about not being able to stop just because you are afraid and full of doubts. Positive obsession is dangerous. It’s about not being able to stop at all.”
Yeah. I get that.
Socrates, too, had his ideas about obsession and creativity, saying, “If a man comes to the door of poetry untouched by the madness of the Muses, believing that technique alone will make him a good poet, he and his sane compositions never reach perfect, but are utterly eclipsed by the performances of the inspired madman.”
Ah, so it’s acceptable, even necessary, to experience the “madness of the Muses?”
When I shared the details (and my concerns) of my lopsided summer with my friend Robin, a therapist who’s pretty much my own personal Socrates, she shrugged. “There are obvious downsides to obsession,” she said. “But there are upsides, too. Being obsessed about your writing, maybe that’s the thing that allows you to start and finish a novel.”
Right, that’s probably true.
Still, obsession doesn’t feel sane. Obsession doesn’t feel like something A Good Girl should embrace. It feels pretty awful to ignore my friends, to be so distracted by characters who only exist in my head, to say “no” to social things so I can sit in front of my computer and build something that may or may not work.
But I can’t help it. Plus, my dear writing partners tell me to hold tight to the rope and allow myself be pulled through the choppy waves, bouncing along behind the ski boat driven by that gaggle of shrieking Muses.
My equally dear husband says, “I’ll take the kids so you can write.”
And I’m sane enough to know that while the Muses are throwing parties, I best get on my dancing shoes. A writer never really knows how long the music’s going to last.
If you have found yourself in an obsessive phase, what have been the greatest joys and challenges? How have you balanced your real life with the fictional worlds you are building? How have your friends and family responded? Does anyone know of a self-cleaning toilet? I welcome and appreciate all thoughts and suggestions.
Photo compliments of Flickr’s ohskylab.