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The Jekyll and Hyde of Creativity

October 4, 2012

Creativity is an interesting gift because it’s so hooked in to our humanity.  There’s such an elemental, even primal, emotional aspect to it.  Creativity seems alternately fragile or compelling in the wake of emotion — a rather Jekyll and Hyde-ish characteristic, if you will.

Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde was originally written by Robert Louis Stevenson.

I saw a movie in the past couple of weeks, The Words, that aptly described how emotion compelled  creativity.  The Words was the layered film of a young author who stole the work of another man when he found a manuscript in an old valise bought from a shop in Paris.  The story was so gripping that the young author wanted to experience the sensation of those words leaving his own mind and fingers, so he typed it into his computer.  I won’t spoil the story for you, but the original author finds him eventually and relates his tale of how the story came to be.   The real author wrote it obsessively after his child died and his wife left him.  And it was brilliant.

I also recall seeing a documentary on Claude Monet, the impressionist, at the Minneapolis Institute of Art a few years back when several of his paintings were displayed.  In one section of the film, they read from his journal regarding an incident immediately after his first wife’s demise.  He reported being utterly grief-stricken at seeing her lifeless face.  But, his Muse (his word, not mine) imprisoned him in obsessive creativity.  He was compelled to execute his “Death Mask” painting while being horrified in one part of his mind because he should have been grieving.  Because of the shame he felt around it, the painting was not released for public viewing until after his death.

In my own life, emotion plays a big part in how available my creativity is to me, which I’d suspect many of you can relate to.   Recently, being unemployed, my creativity has been wide open, kind of like a fire hydrant – woohoo!! And believe me, I’m unabashedly wallowing in it!

However, a month or so back, my mother called me and laid into me — for no darned good reason.  She’s elderly, 79, endured and survived breast cancer, chemo and radiation, a stroke and seizure, my father’s death a year ago and is showing signs of dementia, which is hereditary in her family.  But, her diatribe pushed my buttons, major – regardless of her circumstances.  I spent the next few days mad as hell, hurt, frustrated, and my anxiety  was Mars-high.   The obsessive thoughts going through my head weren’t pretty nor was it any fun for the calmer side of me, listening to it and at its mercy.  And could I write?  Hell, no.  Until.  I got up in the wee hours one morning and slashed all that emotion down on paper as a rough poem.  Then, the obsessive thoughts were completely gone – a minor personal miracle.

I haven’t looked at that piece of paper since, and that’s okay.  Some of those emotions are still pretty raw.  I may never look at it again.  It may not really be a poem, instead just a way of getting that toxic* emotion out of me.

But it was an interesting study in emotion and how it first blocked my creativity and then exploded in a welter of creativity as catharsis.

Food for thought.

*For me
  1. Don Allan permalink

    Hi Deb,
    I just read your Jeckyll and Hyde piece and wanted to get back to you. I especially like the ending where you talk about the therapeutic function of writing and how it was an emotional relief to get it out in words. I’ve experienced this kind of relief through my writing, too. I’ve noticed that if I can get anger and frustration out on paper it helps to clear my mind.
    I think this is one of the characteristics writing has in common with the arts in general. Painting, acting, musical composition and many other creative endeavors can similarly work to release negative as well as positive emotions. Up until I completed my MFA thesis in 2000, “Laughing at the Abyss,” (a memoir), I frequently sought to read philosophers who expressed negativity about human existence. At first it was difficult for me to find such writing because so much of what is written is sugar-coated. Most folks like to read uplifting stories.
    Then I discovered Schopenhauer, a true pessimist who spoke out about the suffering inherent in life.
    Schopenhauer had a powerful influence on Nietzsche, so much so that much of Nietzsche’s philosophy can be viewed as a reaction to Schopenhauer. Nietzsche found a way out of Schopenhauer’s pessimism. He agreed with Schopenhauer that life is inherently meaningless, but the way out is through human creativity. All of human culture is the result of human creativity, and this is how we create meaning and transcend the abyss.

    Deb, this is probably more than you ever wanted to know about my own path to the centrality of creative process in my life. I’ll stop here, and I’ll try to read more of your writing during the next few days. Based on what I have perused thus far of your blog, it looks like we share the value of creative process in our lives. Thank you for your very positive contribution to our Creative Process Meetup. It really helped to have you there as a model of someone who has faced creative blocks and overcome them.

    Don Allan

  2. Deb, I’m looking back through your blogs and really feel a kinship to your feelings and the duality of emotion and creativity. When I’m feeling blue or down in the dumps I don’t turn to drink or drugs or high risk behavour like some of my siblings have, I turn to art. I know I have to do some crafts.I’m still working on getting writing into the creative side of me that depends on that expression.

    I can sympathize with your having to deal with your mother lambasting you out of the blue. I think strong emotions can stir up the cauldron of crap we carry around with us all the time. The hurt, anger and wrongs done to use fill us up. And instead of taking it out on others or abusing yourself with harmful behavor you wrote out all that crap onto paper. You could burn that paper and let the flames break down the emotions. Just a suggestions.

  3. Nice suggestion! Thank you!

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