This past weekend I ran across an interesting essay on Twitter and it took me back to countless discussions I had as an English undergrad: What is it about creativity and insanity that make them seem to go hand-in-hand? Does creativity invite insanity, or does insanity entrap and engulf the creative? Why are artists so tortured? Do we know something about the world that no one else does, or have we got it all wrong?
Another thing that struck me—and I don’t remember when, but it wasn’t long after I read that excellent essay—a friend on social media posted: “I wish I could just stop thinking for just a few minutes.” And wow, do I echo that sentiment. I can’t even watch television with a completely switched-off brain. One of my favorite shows is Revenge (don’t ruin it for me, I’ve missed this whole season, partly by choice and partly not) and even then I can’t sit passively and watch. I’m constantly analyzing camera angles, framing and light choices, color palettes and even wardrobe. Everything is important; a cigar is never just a cigar. I’m forever latching on to lines of dialogue, pinching or poking my husband and gleefully asking, “Did you get that reference?”
You probably wouldn’t have been able to stand me while we watched two of my favorite Breaking Bad episodes, “Ozymandias” and “Felina.” As a matter of fact, I drew so many connections within “Felina” alone, you can anticipate an in-depth analysis of that episode in the coming days.
I suppose all that is why the essay stuck with me. Here’s the passage that stood out:
A few months back, Andreas Fink at the University of Graz in Austria found a relationship between the ability to come up with an idea and the inability to suppress the precuneus while thinking. The precuneus is the area of the brain that shows the highest levels of activation during times of rest and has been linked to self-consciousness and memory retrieval. It is an indicator of how much one ruminates or ponders oneself and one’s experiences.
For most people, this area of the brain only lights up at restful times when one is not focusing on work or even daily tasks. For writers and creatives, however, it seems to be constantly activated. Fink’s hypothesis is that the most creative people are continually making associations between the external world and their internal experiences and memories. They cannot focus on one thing quite like the average person. Essentially, their stream of ideas is always running — the tap does not shut off — and, as a result, creative people show schizophrenic, borderline manic-depressive tendencies. Really, that’s no hyperbole. Fink found that this inability to suppress the precuneus is seen most dominantly in two types of people: creatives and psychosis patients.
What’s perhaps most interesting is that this flood of thoughts and introspection is apparently vital to creative success.
Hm. So. Suddenly, everything made sense. The way I hate being quiet, can’t stand being bored, it’s not because I have ADD. I’ve never believed that. I just can’t stop thinking about things. I can’t rest. Everything is connected and nothing is coincidence and I must discover, must learn, must read, must write, must know, must create.
Often, I’ve tried to describe this to other people and the only thing I can think of is “I feel like a hummingbird.” My brain is constantly moving, seeking out new ideas and connections and new things I can create or learn or research.
Of course it’s difficult to sustain, and sometimes like my friend I wish I could just turn it off. But it does get me some great ideas. And yes, sometimes those ideas are things I would never show my family. Sometimes things I would hesitate to show my family. More than once I’ve had the great internal debate: If this actually got published, would I need a pseudonym? More than once, I’ve thought: yep.
And I’d like to note that the beginning of this article does seem a little off to me. Sure, there have been writers who drowned themselves in alcohol and ruined their relationships, but all writers and all creatives aren’t overtly mean people who sabotage themselves and those around them. I mean, I personally like to drown myself in soda! (Seriously though.)
But it all stems from this: everything I see I try to relate to something I’ve seen before, heard before, felt before. There are no individual moments. Time is an ocean, not a garden hose, as you might have learned from John Dies at the End, and we are just adrift on it and trying to find the shore. And so when I start writing I may end up with a noir slasher story, or a paranormal coming-of-age piece, or a haunted house tale with more truth in it than you’d believe. I don’t think it’s because I’m crazy, just like I don’t think horror writers are crazy. Turns out we just see the world a little differently.