What will happen if you don't write?
To live is the rarest thing in the world. Most people exist, that is all.
— Oscar Wilde
What happens if you suppress your creativity for too long? You invite depression.
Last year, a friend introduced me to a Canadian writer named Alison Gresik. Like many writers, Alison had gradually prioritized Normal Life over Creative Life. She’d done it for so long, the groove was deep and habitual. She knew the despair that is creative frustration.
Last year, Alison quit her Normal Life. She and her husband gave away their jobs, their mortgage, their car, and all of their belongings. They packed their suitcases and laptops and took their whole family overseas. No more corporate ladders. No more stuff. No fixed address.
Knowing that there is no creativity without uncertainty, Alison and her family chose to live this way for the whole year. They were vexing the system (and, I’m sure, more than a few of their friends).
I loved her moxie, so I kept an eye on her story to see what would happen. This is what happened: she wrote a book! Alison’s writing is smart, brave, and elegant. When I read the first chapters of her insightful memoir, I jumped on her Indiegogo campaign. (I mean, right now millions of people are reading 50 Shades of Grey. I can’t do anything about that, but at least I can help get a meaningful book into the world.)
I was so impressed and heartened by Alison’s whole experience – rising above depression, abandoning Normal Life, prioritizing her creativity, writing a memoir and then publishing it herself (!) – I asked her to write you, my dear readers, an encouraging letter.
Be forewarned: as you learn more about Alison, her life, and her new book, you may feel dangerously inspired. But first, make sure you read this terrific short story, “Harrison Bergeron,” by Kurt Vonnegut. I am very grateful to Alison for introducing me to it.
post-dated ps: Alison’s publishing campaign was a success, and she reached her goal! Congratulations, Alison!
When I talk about my experience of debilitating unhappiness, I often use the word depression. People recognize the clinical term: it says, this is serious, doctors diagnose it, pills treat it, people die from it.
But depression is an insipid word. A depression is a dip in the road, a dimple, a thumbprint.
Let's use misery instead.
Misery is a forty-seven-pound weight padlocked around your neck, the tooth-rattling noise that scrambles your thoughts, the wavy glasses that poison your vision. Misery is a handicap that brings you down to the level of subsistence.
Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. gives us these images, in his story "Harrison Bergeron," of the bright, agile, and beauteous who are shackled with impediments. In Harrison's world, the handicaps are imposed by a totalitarian government bent on making everyone equal.
In our world, we tolerate misery of our own volition. We keep walking despite the birdshot and scrap metal hanging off our body. We try to write in between the blasts of sound that shred our concentration. We may even stop noticing how weighed down we are — the handicaps become our baseline.
And why do we put up with misery? Because these crushing handicaps keep us safe. We can't be expected to soar with weights around our neck. So we are spared the crash of failure and disappointment. We can't hurt someone else's feelings, make them envious, threaten their ego, when we are fettered so. We cannot be attacked for overreaching when we can barely stand. We are all equal here in misery: no competition, no sniping — and no excellence.
In the story, Harrison Bergeron is a magnificent specimen, subject to the most oppressive handicaps the government can devise. He escapes from captivity and declares to all who can hear that he is an Emperor.
I get chills when I read his words: "Now watch me become what I can become!"
Then he rips off his handicaps as easily as Sampson snapping fresh bowstrings with a flex of his muscles. Harrison and his Empress ballerina transcend gravity in an exquisite pas de deux that has them kissing the ceiling.
When I realized that misery was not my natural state, but something separate bolted on, I didn't shed it as easily as Harrison. I removed a few lead balls at a time, the obstacles between me and the writing I loved. And now, ten years later, I can say that I levitate with happiness. I am free to rise to the true level of my abilities and ambitions.
There is as much joy in seeing others escape from misery as there is in doing so ourselves.
Will you, too, doff the handicaps of misery, the glasses that give you headaches, the squawking radio that interrupts the flow of your imagination? Don't be afraid — there is no Handicapper General with a shotgun to drop you to the ground.
There's only you and the dance and the sky.
And we will thrill to watch you become what you can become.
Alison Gresik is the author of Brick and Mortar (Oberon 2000), a collection of stories nominated for the Ottawa Book Award. She also coaches writers and artists who are prone to depression and want to make their art a priority. She is currently crowdfunding her forthcoming travel memoir, Pilgrimage of Desire: An Explorer's Intimate Journal of Art and Flow as a Way of Life.
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